Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not to be overdramatic...

I have just touched down in Boston after 48 hours of travel. I look and smell hideous. The drug dogs stopped me - probably because I smell like goat. The customs guy let me in despite bright red marks put on my papers at passport control - probably mostly out of pity.

And all I can think of are the words on the Statue of Liberty which take on new meaning when you actually are the wretched refuse from a teeming shore:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

If I had a million dollars...

The Bare Naked Ladies song, 'If I had a million dollars' has been going through my head now for almost 24 hours. Sing it with me if you know the tune...

"If I had a 1,000,000 (If I had a 1,000,000)
i'd but you a green dress ( but not a real green dress that's cruel)
If I had a 1,000,000 (If I had a 1,000,000)
I'd but you some art ( A Picasso or a Garfunkel)
If I had a 1,000,000 (If I had a 1,000,000)
I'd buy you a monkey (haven't you always wanted a monkey?)
If I had a 1,000,000 If I had a 1,000,000 If I had a 1,000,000
If I had a 1,000,000 I'd be rich!"

The song has stuck because I am trying to get a million dollars out of a donor. Well, not a million dollars exactly...it's more like 1,716,589 euros...but you get the point. The donor seems to be enjoying the cat and mouse game they're playing with us. E-mails with pedantic questions. Calling us for a meeting and then sending us away without having met with us. More pedantic questions over e-mail. A patronising e-mail or two. A meeting in which we schedule another meeting to discuss the matter further. It makes me wonder at the things we're willing to do for money.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Attack of the monkeys...

Sometimes I think that my life can't get more bizarre...and then it does. Like this morning when the staff were all singing Christmas carols in the other room a very ugly monkey - standing about 3 foot high - strolls in through the door and takes a seat on the door right out side my office and begins watching me. I find this unacceptable so stand up and pick up a stapler to throw at it. The monkey jumped off the chair and bounded out the door. I followed still holding the stapler in a threatening manner which was meant to convey: 'Don't mess with me cause I will brain you with this cheap, Chinese office implement.'

I edged toward the door to close it when the monkey...obviously not finding either me or the stapler all that threatening...rushes the door that I barely managed to slam in time and he bounced off it. He took a few steps back and stood there staring me down. I tried to make noise to scare him off but he just too a few more steps back and then took a running leap grabbing on to the wire mesh of the window and shaking it while screeching. I screeched back. He jumped down and sulkily started to wander off while shooting looks over his shoulder to see if I was still watching him.

And I swear I am on no medication.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Disturbing things…

Motot is quiet at night. Dead quiet – with the exception of the drums that some drummer out there seems to enjoy playing all night, and the occasional dog barking, or herd of cattle moving around. It is beautiful in it’s complete and utter silence. You can hear people talking across the village. The moon has been full and bright throughout my entire visit so that the night never gets fully dark and you can walk without a torch (inadviseable but possible). Thus, when the silence is broken at 4.39 in the morning by one woman, then another, then another screaming the high-pitched cry of celebration/warning that sounds like a swarm of banshees it is one of the most eerie and disturbing thing I have ever heard. Dogs began barking. The guards began running. Everyone begins shouting. I go out and stand authoritatively in my pajamas, in the middle of the compound, hands on hips realising that I haven’t a freakin’ clue what is going on. The guards are peering out through out through our reedy fence.

‘What? What? Murle?’ I keep saying – totally exhausting the depth of my Nuer language. The Murle are a nomadic tribe that come through from time to time stealing cattle, women and children.
‘Ma Murle,’ they say still peering out through the fence.
Comforting…it’s not the Murle but we’re still no closer to knowing what is going on. A woman – one of the banshee swarm, I assume – is on the other side of the fence now talking to the guards. It is at that point that I look up and realise that the moon is gone and the sky is filled – I mean crammed filled with stars. More stars than I imagine anyone else has seen in their lives. In the history of the world no one has seen so many stars as I did right then. Our logistician comes over after speaking to the guards and informs that some local cattle rustlers had tried to steal some cattle but the local women had woken up and begun screaming – at which point they cattle rustlers tried beating them to keep them quiet (betraying not only an ineptitude at cattle rustling but a general lack of knowledge about women. I’ve never met one is going to scream less the more they are beaten). When they realised that they were waking up the neighbours (read: our guards) the rustlers took off and some of the local army was now giving chase. There was nothing to be done. Either a gun battle was about to ensue or nothing was going to happen. I figured that there was just as much chance of bullet coming down through my tent as in the middle of the compound so sat there for awhile just looking at the millions and millions of stars and then I went back to bed.

About four hours later I awoke to another, less disconcerting, bru-ha-ha. Another snake to be killed (yawn). The men did this with the finesse of those who are currently killing 10 snakes a week.
‘Wait, wait!’ our new area coordinator said from the inside of his tukul. ‘Let me get my camera!’
‘Dude, forget your camera,’ I said. ‘Get yourself a nice long stick.’
After the snake had been appropriately ground into the dirt one staff picks it up with a stick and starts marching off with it.
‘Uh, hey,’ I said. ‘Just chuck it over the fence.’
‘No,’ said our logistician. ‘We put them down the latrine.’
I stood in shock giving time for all the immediate scenes of horror to sort themselves out in my mind. ‘You…WHAT!?!?!’
‘We put them down the latrine.’
‘No, no, no!’ I said. ‘No! Why? No! Seriously, that’s not ok.’
‘Why?’ our logistician said leaning on his snake-killing stick. ‘They’re dead.’
‘But what if they’re NOT dead!’
‘Then they’ll die down there.’
‘But what if THEY’RE NOT DEAD!’
‘They can’t come crawling out,’ he said calmly.
‘BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE NOT DEAD!! Why take the chance?!?’ my voice rising to a tone that I’m pretty sure only bats could hear.
At this point the staff standing around are divided about whether the whole latrine/snake disposal system is a good idea and I’m pretty much looking like an irrational wus. But, I’m a wus who would prefer to not position my exposed derriere several times a day over a pit of poisonous vipers – dead or alive. And, I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this argument but am getting no back up. Our logistician turns continues his march toward the toilet. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and vow not to drink anything between now and when the flight arrives in the morning.

In the most beautiful life...

There is a Romanian photographer who has published a book called: In the Most Beautiful life and as the plane bumped down in the field site today just like it had hundreds of times before; as the children from the village run up to see who might be disembarking; as staff stood on the airstrip waving as if their lives depended on how effusively they wave; I find myself thinking of the title of this book. How many times a day, or a week, or a month or sometimes even in your whole life do you find yourself grinning thinking, ‘I can’t believe I get to live this life!’