After spending a week in Juba orienting the M & E team, I headed into the heart of Sudan Abyei, it ended up being a typical African travel experience. I flew out of Juba on the WFP flight to Wau (pronounced Wow) at 8:30 with Piper, my M & E Officer and Tony from Finance. There had been rumors that flights from Wau to Agok were cancelled, but they weren’t confirmed until we arrived in Wau, when a WFP official came on and said the flight to Agok was cancelled, but would fly the next day. Rumors were that there were VIPs visiting and a polio vaccination campaign going on.
Since we had people who needed to catch the flight, they sent a car from Agok to Wau. While we waited for our colleagues to arrive we sat in the airport “bar” and ate “ham” and cheese sandwiches. I think it was canned ham, but it was good. The car arrived at 12:30 and we got out of there by about quarter to one. In addition, to the three of us, we also had to drop off a consultant in Wunrock, before we headed to Agok. I guess it would have been about the same amount of time, because Sudan doesn’t really have a highway system. It took us four and a half hours to get to Wunrock. We would have been in Wunrock earlier, but we were stopped to make way for the President (they said it was the president of South Sudan) who was using one of Sudan’s few roads, we waited on the side of the road for 40 minutes and I thought he might pass by, but he didn’t. It seemed like poor planning to me, but then again since most Sudanese don’t own cars, they probably didn’t care about inconveniencing Khawjas (the word for foreigners when used by an adult a bit derogatory, but children don’t know better). In the four and a half hours on the road, we maybe passed 20 vehicles and spent the entire time on dirt roads. When I worked in Iraq, under Ali who was Sudanese/Canadian he told me that even if there were only two cars in one village they would inevitably find each other and crash; I thought he was joking.
The first two hours passed pleasantly enough; in Africa, they do live in mud huts, with thatched roofs, called Tukuls.
Children run around without pants on, women carrying things on their heads and I did see one woman who was bare-breasted, but for the most part the women wear long colorful pieces of fabric wrapped around themselves. My colleague refers to them as bed sheets; but the fabrics are far more colorful than bed sheets.
The country-side was filled with tall brown grass and medium sized trees. Goats galore and the occasional herd of cows. I think the cows are Brahmas, but I have yet to be able to identify the goats, some of them look like the five types of goats you find in the states, but they are smaller, note to self must do research on Sudanese goats. By about 2:30 p.m. I had to use the restroom; however, Sudan doesn’t really have rest stops. As a matter of fact I was just reading a project brief that stated one of the reasons to build household pit latrines was so that the women don’t have to go into the bush to relieve themselves “which protects them from harassment and pregnancy.” I didn’t want to spread the rumor that going to the bathroom causes pregnancy so I asked for clarification; I’m pretty sure the author meant rape, which may or may not result in pregnancy.
I thought about asking the driver to stop, but I didn’t really know the driver and I didn’t know if it was appropriate to stop by the side of the road, so the next two hours wasn’t as enjoyable, as soon as we hit the compound I limped quickly towards the pit latrine, fortunately for me the pit latrine on the left had a seat. It was a bit embarrassing to limp past the staff that had come out to greet me, choosing the restroom over shaking their hands, but I couldn’t wait.
After taking care of my most immediate needs, I went to meet the staff. I can’t remember all their names, but the cleaning woman’s name was Monica and she had facial scarring which is common with the Dinka and Nuer tribes; she had beautiful skin. We spent about an hour at the compound; there were tents that were in bad shape and about three Tukul like houses with thatched roofs.
We finally got back in the car and on the road again and although we had dropped the consultant off in Wunrock, we
picked up three other people to take back to Agok. The land rover type vehicle we were driving had a front seat and then benches in the back which looked like they could fit ten people uncomfortably, with five people and the luggage it also looked pretty uncomfortable. We took the “new” or soon-to-be new road to Agok. They are doing improvements and there are huge piles of dirt everywhere it looks like they are making it into a four-lane highway, but I doubt. A half-hour outside of Agok right after a checkpoint, the checkpoints here are big sticks in the road, which indicate that you are supposed to stop, but in reality wouldn’t be hard to drive over; however there is someone near in some semblance carrying a gun, so people usually stop.
The tire was changed in about 30 minutes and we were back on the road without further incident. We had seen very little wildlife during the trip, I had seen one monkey that looked like a Gibbon, but in the last half-hour we saw a large troop of Baboons at least 15. I also saw one blond monkey scamper across the road.
Pulling up in at the compound in Agok, the first thing I saw was my boss, Provash working in an open Tukal, what they
refer to as an Acuba; mud side walls, a quarter of the way up, then a thatched roof. Getting out of the car I was a complete mass of red dust, like Pig Pen out of the Peanuts comic strip.
The operations manager took me a long this broken up sidewalk and said “That’s your tent,” pointing to a little yellow tent a little ways off; that was the extent of my orientation until I tracked down my M & E Officer to get a fuller picture.
After taking care of a few work things, I had some sludge for dinner and then hung out with my boss Provash and my M & E officer; I did a little disability awareness showing them the video of the first 360 wheelchair back flip and the singing group “Boys on Wheels” hits include, “Making Love in the Handicap Toilet,” “I Wanna Pee,” and “My Ball are O.K.”
Showered at around midnight, I didn’t have a flashlight, they said there were frogs in the shower, and I saw some movement near the shower head, but after the recent conversation about snakes, asps, mambas and cobras and scorpions there was no way I was sticking my hand up there to check it out.
You think someone might have mentioned that I needed a flashlight.