I’ve left Sudan.
The Haiti earthquake happened and Tearfund offered me a job working on the Haiti relief response, starting immediately. Before I knew it, I was on a place heading back to London and I’m still reeling from the speed at which it all happened; let alone the change itself.
I may be in London, but I’m not ready to leave Sudan behind altogether. You can’t put your head and heart into a place and then expect to extricate yourself from its – oft’ oppressive – embrace, overnight. Not to mention the fact that I had too much still to write about.
I wanted to write about the day the Russians and Moldovians arrived in Motot with their bright yellow Caterpillar diggers and their vodka. They were building a road from the State capital and it was to take in Motot on its way. Day by day, inch by inch they piled high the silty, sandy earth and steam-rollered over it, compacting it into a smooth, hard mud road – which one can only assume will melt away come the rainy season’s onslaught; but perhaps I am wrong. I hope so -because a road will change everything.
Giant, shiny yellow machines and white faces ploughing through the long grass with mud huts dotted around, was the most incongruous sight. I wondered what the road builders had made of the place they had landed in. Perhaps they gave it no thought at all – after all, they had airlifted in their own little world complete with portacabins and televisions and toilets. But when they sat behind the wheel of their enormous vehicles, bulldozing through nothingness, and looked around them, what did they think? Of the women with their babies in baskets on their heads; of the mud huts and cattle; of the swollen-bellied children. Of the complete absence of anything else.
I wanted too, to write about the day Duol was born. His mother, Nya Pal, had walked for four hours through the night to reach our clinic and delivery rooms. She walked alone and told me that whenever the labour pains were too severe she would stop and crouch in the grass, waiting until she was able to move again.
Women in Wuror County traditionally give birth at home in a mud hut, with the help of a traditional birth attendant. Home births may be very in vogue in the developed world, but the maternal mortality rate in South Sudan is the worst in the world. Even if you’re lucky enough to get through the labour itself, one in seven children die before their fifth birthday. It’s a dangerous game, being born, for all parties concerned.
When the delivery room was first opened in Motot, it stood empty. No one came to give birth and no one wanted to. But then in November ’09, one of the Tearfund nurses ran a series of mobilisation workshops in the surrounding villages. She gathered together the traditional birth attendants and trained then on safe delivery methods. She gathered together pregant mothers and explained the benefits of a sanitary space to give birth, a clean implement to cut the cord, and qualified professionals who can assist if somethign goes wrong. She gathered together the men and told them that their wives and children stood a better chance of surviving if they came to the delivery rooms. And she told them they’d get a towel, a bucket and some soap if they did.
Days later, the women started to come. These days, there is at least one baby a day born in the unit. For somewhere like Wuror County, the figures are extraordinary.
I had just put my head round the door of the delivery room to ask a question – I was told that the labour had at least two more hours to go. No sooner was I inside, one of the nurses exclaimed, Nya Pal let out a muted groan and over someone’s shoulders I saw the head crown. Seconds later, a slippery pale little body was pulled out. And so Duol was born. With the cord around his neck, but with a nurse to quickly remove it.
Duol, means ‘meeting’, a name his mother chose as a big community meeting was taking place as she delivered him. It could have been worse: whilst out on a survey I met a child called ‘argument’.
Reuters picked up the story, before I even had a chance to put it on my blog: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/ASAZ-83FK3M?OpenDocument.
Oh, Sudan. Such a frustrating, imagination-defyingly complex and incredible place.
Sometimes it feels as if I was never really there.