Friday, November 28, 2008

A eclectic collection of thoughts that have crossed my mind today...

"Mmm...I haven't had goat for seven hours now. Wonder what's for dinner?"

"How many frogs in the shower is actually too many frogs to shower with?"

"Is there an actual conspiracy by staff to prevent me from getting any work done by coming into my office every 2.5 minutes?"

"If the plane doesn't come to get me tomorrow will I burst into tears on the runway?"

"Would it be considered bad practice to pay the tribal drummers around here not to drum?"

"If I were to take a broomstick and jam it roughly and randomly into the thatched roof of my tukul I wonder if I could scare away/kill the bat that is up there rustling around ALL NIGHT."

"I'm tired of chewing."

"I don't think my feet have ever been this dirty."

"Isn't it funny how staff cannot come to the office to file their reports but have no trouble making it through the floods to get paid?"

" lizards. How cute."

"Please, no snakes. Please, no snakes. Lord, please, please, please let there be no snakes." [prayer as I crossed the compound in the pitch dark having left my head torch in my tukul]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I was glad to receive an e-mail yesterday from our head office saying that anti-venom is on it's way out to the field on our charter this coming Friday. Phew! That's a relief! So if I had been bitten I would only have been dead for six days before the anti-venom arrived. :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to kill the Black Mamba

Should you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to use the latrine in South Sudan at about 9.30 on a pitch-black evening and, upon crossing the compound, you shine your head torch to the right and find – approximately 12 inches from your bare, flip-flopped foot – the highly poisonous Black Mamba I will now give instructions on what to do.

1. Freeze and stare
2. Back away as quickly as possible out of striking distance while yelling: ‘Uhhh, snake! Quick!

3. Somebody! There’s a snake!’

4. Keep your head torch on the Black Mamba cause if that thing stays on the loose you’ll never sleep soundly again.
5. Sudanese staff should come running. Note, that is it only the women because the men don’t hear the screams for help due to a football game on tele.
6. One, particularly noble Sudanese nurse dressed only in a towel and bathing cap, named Selina (always make sure you have her around!!) will grab a large stick and will start hitting the snake on any part of it’s body that she can reach.
7. This will piss the snake off like nobody’s business so it will try to take off but feeling that it can’t get away will turn – intermittently, raise itself up to ½ it’s 4 ft height, puff out it’s hood and try to bite anything within striking distance.
8. Try to keep your head torch focused on it so Selina can keep bashing it and not get herself bit while you try to remain out of striking distance cause that thing is SCARY.
9. After enough bashing it will begin to give up and curl in on itself.
Selina will then finish it off by grinding it’s head into the dirt. You might not know this but that is the only complete way to kill a snake…crushing it’s head.
10. Then you and all the staff will stand around discussing how if you had been bitten you would be dead since its venom kills humans in 15 minutes. And, how we don’t have the Black Mambo anti-venom and how there’s no way a plane is going to reach you in time to medi-evac you.
11. Another brave nurse will pick up the now lifeless body and hurl it over the fence.
12. Last, but not least, after the general hulla-ba-loo the men will wander out from the dining hall looking confused saying things like: ‘huh? What’s going on?’

You do learn something every day, I tell you. Here's more from Wikipedia on our dead friend.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Well...that went badly...

Some days you get to the end of and, exactly, did everything go so wrong? It started out just like every other one. Got up. Checked the floor for cobras. Flicked a dead insect or two off the mossy net. Made some coffee. Read a psalm. Had some bread. Came to the office and then...POW! Everything goes wrong.

By four o'clock I had officially declared it: "Storm out of the office day". Additional points for door slamming. Seriously, I feel like I have about 300 badly behaved children who are having a strop for no particular reason except they feel like it. And yet...yet...bad behaviour isn't going to change my mind.

Someone once said that the problems that you're dealing with right now are going to be the easiest ones in your life. No matter what it is the challenges only get harder, the problems only get bigger, the situations more complex. If that is the case, I fear tomorrow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to start paying attention...

I followed my own good advice last night...something I rarely do and it paid off. Let me paint you a picture:

It's about 9:30 and I've been reading in my tukul for awhile. I think about getting up to use the latrine but have a debate in my head about whether to wait until morning (there's not much to do here in the field so I find I talk to myself a lot more than normal). I finally decide to just get up. I put on my head torch and tromp across the compound dodging the bats, hedgehogs and assundry of abnormally large 'other' living things flying about...and then I tromp back.

As I have bent double (our little huts have very low doors) and just started to push wooden door open I notice an odd black wire running into my little hut. ' odd,' I think. 'I don't remember that being there before.' And that's when my good advice comes to mind. If it looks like a snake it probably is a snake. So, as I let the door fall shut and back away the head of a cobra whips out of my room and looks at me...who by this time is thankfully out of striking distance.

Now, for you long-time blog readers you know I've always wondered what I would do if confronted with such a snake and so now that I know I will tell you: I didn't run nor did I scream. I did yell rather loudly and lamely: "Uhhhh, hello! Anyone! Help! There's a snake! It's in my room! There's a snake in my room! Is anyone there!" At which point people came running and with sticks. I held the flashlight on it and they bludgeoned the thing to death grinding it's head into the dirt floor.

And that, was that. They lifted it and threw it over the fence. I said that they should leave it as a warning to others that might be slithering by but was told that if they did that others would come to 'mourn'. I didn't ask what a cobra wake looked like cause I'm pretty sure I could already imagine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Me and CSB...

I sometimes feel like I’m living one of those fourth grade math word problems. You know the kind: if a train leaves Detroit going 40mph and another train leaves New York going 60mph which will get to Paris first?

Except my math problems go something like this: If two health staff take two weeks off, and one nutrition nurse takes three weeks off, and you have to keep four people in the main compound and two people in the sub-base for security, do you have enough people to keep the programme running until Christmas?

Or: WFP delivers 1050 bags of CSB (Corn-Soya Blend – used in nutrition programmes) unexpectantly because their logistics and planning are worse than UNICEF’s and you can’t store them in the WFP warehouse because their guards are a bunch of thieves and MSF says you can store 700 in one of their empty warehouses and 300 in another but the second warehouse has to be empty by Tuesday where are you going to put the CSB? Lucky for you the tribes nearby have stopped fighting so you can move 533 to another location to pre-position for when more fighting will, hopefully, stop and you can deliver it out to the mobile centres and you find two tents that you can set up in your own compound to house about 450 bags. So, how many bags will be left at the MSF warehouse and how many 2 hour trips will it take you to get the 533 bags to the other location remembering that you only have 11 barrels of petrol to last you until January and can only take 35 bags per trip?

Some of the problems are easier: If you have 5 drums of kerosene and need to keep two refrigerators running in order to keep the vaccines in the EPI cold chain good and you use one drum per refrigerator every two weeks how long will the kerosene last?

Or: If you hire two day labourers to help you move the 450 bags of CSB and you can fit 28 bags per vehicle trip between the warehouses but after two trips you realise that you might have hired two of the slowest, laziest guys in town so you start hauling CSB yourself to shame them into the recognition that 25kg bags are not actually all that heavy and that you are, after all, a girl who is working faster than they are. How many days will it take you to move all the CSB and how many ibuprofen will you need to take for the next week because after a day of hauling 25kg bags of CSB every muscle in your body is extremely pissed off?

Have I mentioned that I hate math(s) [for the British audience]? The last math(s) class I took was when I was fifteen and I have managed, rather proudly, to survive the rest of my life without another one. I hate everything about the subject. Numbers don’t make sense to me and word problems are just plain offensive. Throwing some numbers into a bunch of words just ruins a good story and never tells you what you actually want to know…why was the New York train so much faster than the Detroit train? When was that tunnel to Paris actually completed? So, you can imagine how much I look forward to rising every morning to sort these things out. It does make me wish, however, that I had paid more attention in the fourth grade.

Stupid BBC World Service...

My watch stopped at 11.12. Standing in the airport our watsan advisor asked me why I was wearing a stopped watch. “I like it,” I said. I didn’t mention that I thought it was appropo of going out to the middle of nowhere the day of the U.S. Election. No electricity, no televisions, no phones, no contact with the rest of the world for a week. It would be like time was standing still. No McCain, Palin, Obama (poor Biden…never got much of a mention). It would be blissful in it’s own cocoon sort of way.

Tuesday night I went to sleep with the mice, lizards and bats scratching out a living in the top of my tukul smug in the knowledge that my blissful ignorance might carry on for a full week. There have been few things that I have cared less about than this election and it’s nice sometimes not caring – about everything just because we’re told that we should.

But then, on Wednesday morning, I was awoken by the squawk of a badly tuned radio catching a frequency on and off. And there was a voice. In English. Telling me...and probably most of the rest of the village...that Obama had won. When I emerged bleary-eyed from my tukul our Kenyan staff started shaking my hand and slapping me on the back while congratulating me as if I had personally seen the man through to victory.

"What your people have done is truly amazing," our CHE Project Officer waxed eloquent. "With this election you have eliminated racism, poverty and broken families. Thank you! Thank you!"

"Uhhh, you're welcome," was all I could say.

Then came the announcement that Kenya had declared a national holiday. The Kenyan staff all looked at me plaintively.

" way," I said. "He's my president and if I, and the rest of the American people, have to work then you have to work."

So let this be a lesson to you. There is never, nowhere left on earth where you can truly 'get away from it all.'