First Experiences in “the Field”
I have an appetite but the food here is not appetizing or filling to me. I feel hungry often. I am eating rice, corn meal porridge (sadza/ugali), overcooked, oily cabbage, oily overcooked green beans and carrots, fried fish from the Nile, boiled green bananas, goat meat and livers (which I couldn’t stomach), oily beans (pretty decent), salty lentils (which were great!), oily floppy fries, and some great thick tortillas called chapati. The over-all culinary themes would be bland, oily, overcooked, and mostly carbs. We don’t have much fruit here at the compound, but I have seen mango and papaya trees around. I think they just aren’t in season now. Somehow we did get oranges and apples, and we’ve also had tiny bananas which disappear quickly. It would be much nicer with some spices and sauces, fresh salad and veggies, juice, and chocolate.
There is no fridge where I am now, in Mingkaman, Awerial County, LakeState. We do have wifi though! There is a TV here but I’m not sure it works. We do have electricity. In the evenings, it cools off outside but the bugs are unbearable and in the tukel (hut), it’s cooler in the day than outside, but then at night its still hot from the day. I wish I had a fan! The toilet here is a latrine. There are shower stalls for bucket baths. Two ladies cook the meals and wash dishes. A woman is hired to bring us water from the borehole. Some of it is filtered to drink. We take bucket baths, and the shower stalls are nice, with cement floor. I am sleeping in a mud/cement hut with thatch roof on a mattress on a wood frame with a mozzy “dome”. The compound is 100 ft from theWhite NileRiverwhere the local people bathe, wash, gather water, and where the mosquitoes and hippos hang out. I haven’t seen a hippo yet… The bathing area is right outside our compound and no one seems to be very modest, meaning I accidentally saw some naked men while taking a walk. I don’t mind, but I wasn’t expecting it or desiring it either, and I wondered how it made them feel having a white woman see them in the nude.
The team is kind and welcoming to me. On Thursday, I sat in on day 3/3 of the hygiene promoter training. It was good to see. I already have ideas about how to improve the health and hygiene promotion (HHP). Next week, there will be another in a different location, as well as a 2 week training of locals for a vaccination campaign as part of capacity building and expansion of a local health clinic/hut. Medair finished the construction of gender-separate latrines today for the health clinic. It was joked that the latrine facility was nearly the same size as the health clinic building…which Medair will also expand.
I was given a laptop in Nairobi but by the time I got to South Sudan, it was broken and needs to be sent back to Nairobi for service. As I was typing that my temporary laptop works fine except for the E key, it suddenly decided it needed to shut down and now it informs me that it has no operating system. So now I am borrowing laptops of team members as they become available. Thank God for internet, and for my iphone!
Apparently, the first road into Awerial Countywas built in 2009, so these people are largely
unreached by aid. I am told the religion here is Christianity. Many speak Arabic and their tribal language, Dinka. They also seem to have Arabic/Middle Eastern cultural influences. There is more of a language barrier than I anticipated. I can’t say I am very excited to learn any Arabic, but I am sure I will. The tribe here has the tradition of scarring the face with decorative patterns, a V on the men’s foreheads and eye “laugh lines” for the women, and sometimes both. Some cuts are very deep and wide, and some were made just on the surface. It is considered a rite of passage. I shudder to think how many youth have died from infections after this scarring ritual. This people own cattle and many move their settlements according to the season and the vegetation. This area has never seen war, being so remote with no access roads. Remarkable! However, there are many soldier camps that have sprung up in the last year or so. Let me not deceive you to think this people has not seen suffering. There are many health problems, and of particular interest to us is the plethora and use of cattle dung and other products. If you follow your cattle and live with them and care for them, there is no escape from their feces and urine, and they even use it in everyday life. Most of the children are not vaccinated. Open defecation is habitual. The land is not their own, so they don’t seem to care for it, letting trash gather all around. Sometimes trash is gathered and burned in pits. Tradition is to burn the grasses and land, uncontrolled, to allow new grass to grow and keep the height down for safety. Driving from Juba to Awerial, I saw several active uncontrolled fires in the brush and acres and acres of charred land. Seeing it, one might think it’s the aftermath of decades of civil war, but they actually burn their own land!
There’s been a song on my heart, called “God of this city” and I’m singing, “you’re the God of this nation, you’re the hope to the hopeless, you’re the rest to the weary, you’re the love to the lost ones, you’re the wisdom to the leaders, you’re the savior to this people! There is no one like Our God!”.
Oh yea, and perhaps the worst, worst thing that I’ve experiencedhere is that the children are afraid of me because I have white skin and blue eyes and soft hair. The babies cry at my smiles and the children dare each other to touch my hand after running and screaming when I put it out to greet them with a handshake. Some of them warm up, but then there’s the language barrier which makes it difficult to connect. I was, however, successful at teaching a few kids a circular hand-slapping game, which they found quite amusing. I’ll take a lesson from my friend Julie and try to write a song in their language about hand washing.
Note: I don’t get service on my cell out here in Awerial.