Archive for the ‘Roads (or lack thereof)’ Category

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.

Road Builders in Motot


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.


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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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When being dropped off somewhere it is generally safe to assume that the place will still exist when the time comes to pick you up again, but not in Juba.

This morning one of our drivers dropped two of my colleagues off at some official building or other to meet with someone. When they emerged, they discovered that during their 30 minute meeting, the entire length of the road had been dug up.

It’s fast paced here, oh yes.

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First Nairobi, soon to a mud hut in Motot. But for now, Juba: a sprawling town made up of  tents, tukuls (mud huts) and old freight containers masquerading as houses, restaurants and NGO offices. And yet a capital city, nonetheless. It was little more than a village when the NGOs flocked here in their droves after the civil war ended, leaving Lokichoggio in Kenya (their previous base) a ghost town. Now it is bursting at the seams as it tries to accommodate the fledgling government, the swarms of aid workers and the occasional UN swimming pool. Over the last two years it has changed dramatically, with all manner of facilities operating out of containers at the side of mud tracks. Old, rusting military tanks lie by the sides of roads as motorbiking men with kalashnikovs whizz past. Next door you might find an expat running a coffee shop out of a shipping container with a nice little cheddar cheese import business on the side.

The roads themselves have some way to go, however. Even in the obligatory aid organisation land cruiser I am left battered and bruised and lamenting my lack of a sports bra.

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