Archive for the ‘Enormous expanses of sky’ Category

A few tukuls masquerading as a market. People’s homes. Nothing else.

Here is Motot in all its glory:


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Last night the horizon was ablaze. People are burning the long grass in a bid to uncloak enemies who might wish to lurk there. Tomorrow the ground will sport nothing more than charred stubble

We looked out as the night sky was lit up by tens of fires glowing in the distance. From afar, the crackling flames and protestations from displaced animal inhabitants are on mute: we saw only the soft, orange glow against the blackness.

In the morning my hair smelt of faraway bonfires.

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Last Sunday a trio of us embarked upon a rather English Sunday morning stroll through the bush to the Motot drinking pool. The imagination-defyingly unvaried topography in this area makes the pool the one and only tourist attraction. Although tourists are a little thin on the ground in these parts, admittedly.

It’s an unexpectedly pretty walk. Now that the waters have receded, the once-swamps have metamorphosed into sandy bush land, littered with seashells (a wonderful mystery to me). Here and there, a flower supplies an astonishing splash of magenta along the way. The pool itself is vast and lily-topped, though it is not big or full enough to sustain Motot’s cattle; already the young boys have led their cows away in search of greener pastures.

The pool is a momentary lapse in an otherwise homogenous landscape. Oh, but it is beautiful, this strange and arid place.

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So I’ve finally made it and it’s everything and nothing like I imagined it to be. I knew there’d be mudhuts and naked children. I didn’t know that I’d fall asleep each night to the sound of singing and beat of drums from the village next to the compound. Nor that I’d feel suddenly and inexplicably at home – something I didn’t ever really feel in Juba. It’s a different world here in every conceivable way, and it’s not just the bucket showers, pit latrines and diet lacking in micro-nutrients.

When the charter plane deposited us in nearby Pieri, a hundred little faces with matchstick legs and bellies swollen with worms watched and laughed as we loaded ourselves and 500kg of food and medical supplies onto the waiting landcruiser and set off through open fields to Motot. I was rather pleased to have secured the only seat next to an open window and squeezed in next to three 7 foot Nuer men, ready to take in the view. I realised why the seat had been left vacant as soon as clods of mud and cow poo began flying in and splatted me in the face.

From a distance Wuror county in Jonglei is a beautifully verdant, pastoral landscape. At a closer glance, the rainy season has transformed it into swampy marshland where children wade knee-high through water and mud in order to get anywhere. Our driver battled valiantly, but we were soon stuck and I looked on as water poured out of the rear doors of our sinking vehicle. Mercifully we were only a couple of kilometres away from the compound so after an hour frying in the midday sun, feeling useless watching men try and winch about two tonnes of weight out of a bog, I gave up and walked back to the compound with the guard, who was kindly carrying what I believe is to be my new double mattress on his head.

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On Friday, I left Juba for Motot on a wee charter plane. I was excited and nervous and emotional, but ready. By Friday evening I was back in Juba after what was possibly the shortest field trip ever! Suffice to say I spent the best part of a day on a teeny, weeny, flippy, flappy plane. It felt much like being in a small car – a mini metro, perhaps – thousands of feet up in the air. Whenever I felt hysteria brewing I deployed my unique gift for sleep and promptly shut my eyes.

The plane journey taught me so many things. It taught me just how big Sudan is: flying for hours with the land stretching out flat and green from horizon to horizon, not a landmark in sight.

I learned a lot about clouds too: I didn’t realise quite how precisely they cast shadows on the land. Only in Sudan where the canvas is so bare is it so evident. Nor did I realise how much Boeing 747s protect you from the full force of turbulence. In our little plane the clouds shook and rattled us like abusive spouses.

I didn’t know that when I stepped off the plane in Pieri  airstrip (three hours walk from Motot) I would feel like I was nowhere. Where is this place? Who are these people? Does the world even know it exists?

At Pieri, I caught a tiny little girl creeping up behind me, hand gingerly reaching out to touch my skin without me noticing. Just as she made contact, I turned around and she screamed in abject terror. It was funny.

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