Tuesday 9th June 2009
Hello hello again everyone!
Firstly, thanks for all my lovely birthday messages! I had a great birthday weekend, I went for a lovely meal with some friends and had a very relaxing day!
Now, on to the much more exciting stuff!
I have just got back from Kajo Keji, a small town just next to the border with Uganda, which is beautiful! It’s very lush and green, and most people seem to consider it more Ugandan than Sudanese. We even had to change all our money into Ugandan shillings, even though we are still in Sudan. It’s much cooler down here, and quite hilly, and we’ve had some incredible thunderstorms.
We are staying in the Sudanese Health Association Compound – they have a bunch of tukuls (round huts with grass roofs) that you can rent out. The tukuls are lovely, very clean and again, surprisingly cool. Inside the compound they also have an assortment of pets, including a mama and baby goat, a monkey, who is unfortunately kept tied to a tree, and two young antelope (apparently called Mary and Peter), who are extremely tame and very beautiful. They are very content wandering around the compound munching grass quietly. (I’ll be putting more pictures up for you to look at as soon as I get to a better internet connection!).
The compound doesn’t have any electricity or running water, but they do have a generator, which they turn on for a couple of hours each night so I can plug in my computer to charge the battery. Showers are surprisingly pleasant – the cooks go and fetch water from the handpump across the street, so there’s always a big drum of water available for us to use. We each got given a bucket and a bar of soap when we arrived, and every morning and evening one of the guys starts a little wood fire next to the shower block and heats up a big pan of water, so we can wash with hot water.
The latrines are really nice, clean, squatter type ones – actually thanks to my technical support training I know that they are VIP latrines, which means they have ventilation and stuff. They even have wooden covers to stop flies and things.
At least, I thought they were pretty nice, until I had to go at night. It turns out, my swanky new head torch is great, but the beam tends to point wherever I’m looking at the time. I went to the latrine on the first night, and the first thing I saw was about twenty cockroaches in the cubicle, which I bravely managed to chase out without too much girly squealing. It was fine.Then, just as I was about to squat, I happened to look down (as you do). Obviously I was expecting to see a pit full of, well, poo, but actually the pit was so deep I couldn’t see much. What my torch beam did light up was the wall of the pit, which was LITERALLY teeming with cockroaches. There were HUNDREDS, probably even thousands of them crawling all over the walls. It was like the insect scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Now, I am relatively proud of myself for single handedly killing a cockroach back in Juba, and I like to think I’m reasonably mature about insects, and try to stay calm, but I really, really hate cockroaches. What’s more, when squatting with your bare arse inches away from an enormous pit teeming with cockroaches, that could potentially all come rushing out of the hole at any second, well, it’s actually very hard to pee in those conditions! (it’s like being watched).
So, I managed to avoid the latrines until morning, when I was basically about to burst! Thankfully, cockroaches appear to be nocturnal, and by morning they were all gone. I harnessed my awesome powers of imagination, and convinced myself that the other cubicle was cockroach-free, even though I know from my training that it’s the same big pit under both cubicles. So, I am now able to convince myself that there are no cockroaches there at all in the daylight hours when it’s all quiet and clean, and I try to avoid going anywhere near them after dark. (They’re like vampires! Uuugghh!).
So, apart from not being able to pee at night, everything else is fine and going well. My research is going very slowly. I’ve been caught up working for CHF on this and that, and really have to pull my finger out to get enough interviews before I leave so that I can actually call it “research”! However, I’ve spoken with a lot of NGO and UN staff and made some really interesting discoveries. So far I’ve managed about 16 interviews and a couple of focus groups, but I really need to get to at least 20, or maybe 30 if I can. However I still have a week to go, so I can hopefully get a fair few more interviews done before I go.
So, apart from the wildlife here, I’ve also been helping the CHF staff do a road survey, as they are supposed to be doing a construction project down in Kajo Keji. We tried to rent a car, but the route we needed to go was so bad the driver said we’d never get a car through, unless it was a 4×4. As there weren’t any 4×4’s for rent, we had to go with option number 2: Boda-bodas (motorbikes).
It was a lot of fun, but also pretty gruelling, as most of the ‘road’ was actually just a dirt track, and it was pretty rough going. On one of the trips we did, it took us 5 and a half hours to get there and back, and on the way back, the chain broke on one of the bikes! We had to leave the driver to push his bike the rest of the way (it was still a good 15km or so back to town, up and down hills…), while Habim climbed onto my bike between me and the driver. With three of us squeezed on, and me hanging off the back for dear life it was pretty exhausting! I woke up the next day with all of my muscles aching and really bruised palms where I’d been clinging to the bar on the back of the bike!
We also had to drive through several live minefields along the road we were surveying, but don’t worry, we checked with all of the relevant de-mining agencies and UNMAO before we started and they confirmed it had just been cleared, to a width of 8 metres. So bouncing along on our boda-bodas, we saw the painted rocks that mark out the edges of the minefield, and were VERY clear with our drivers about staying inside the markers!
Of course, this obviously wasn’t scary enough, as halfway to the village we were heading for, my driver turns to me and says:
“This place there are MANY snakes.”
“Oh, really? What kind of snakes?”
“I don’t know their names, but they will kill you.”
Oh goody, I thought.
In case the minefield wasn’t enough, it has to be infested with poisonous snakes too. Why not?
You’ll be pleased to hear that I didn’t come across any snakes, or mines!
I also went out to interview some of the guys working for the big construction company a few km’s away, and discovered their camp was paradise! I was perfectly content with my tukul, bucket bath and squatter toilet until I saw their air-conditioned rooms, pool tables, cable tv, wireless broadband and all the rest! I guess those guys get paid pretty awesome money, and they work 7 days a week, so they deserve to have somewhere nice to relax and chill out at night.
Anyway, the construction crew were brilliant, and invited me back the next night for a BBQ with them. I was desperate to go, (as they even had running water and a proper flushing toilet!), but had to break the news that I was a vegetarian! They mostly thought I was insane, but promised to have something vegetable-related for me to eat! The de-miners came along too, and we had a great time – they’re all big, rough South Africans, mostly HUGE ex-military blokes, but it turns out, they’re just like most of the other men I know, so there was lots of beer, swearing and dirty jokes, and once they realised I wasn’t remotely offended by any of the jokes, (I told them a few of my own filthy jokes) we all got on really well.
However when I told them about the frog-squashing incident the other day, Joe looked at me dead serious, and asked why I hadn’t worn my torch. I told him I’d just left it in my room, and he informed me that in future I should always use it, “because where there’s frogs, there’s snakes, mate”.
A sage piece of advice that I won’t forget in a hurry!
So, I’ve just arrived back in Juba this afternoon, and am now coming down with a nasty cold, so am going to crawl off to bed to recuperate shortly.
Basically, things are still going very well, and I’ll be home in a couple of weeks,
Hope you’re all well, and avoiding frogs, snakes, landmines and cockroaches!
tons of love
boda-boda lovin’ Maya