On Saturday I had taught Daniel, one of the boys in our documentary, how to use the video camera so he could shoot video at the panties distribution after church. Daniel is 14 and in grade five. He hangs around the clinic a lot and does odd jobs from time to time. He’s smart, helpful, reliable, and speaks English quite well. I also enlisted Peter Thiong’o, a Kenyan lab technician in the clinic, to shoot photos with my second camera, because he had been asking questions about my camera and expressed interest in learning more about photography. My husband insisted that at least a few photos include me. I have to say, though, I’m not able to put on my most photogenic look—this is the sweating, untamed hair, no makeup, dressed for the African bush, Duk Payeul version of Debra Ann Dawson—Debora (with the rr’s rolled) Agot.


Church starts early—around 7 or 7:30 and goes until 10 and beyond. Caroline and Rebecca, the midwives, accompanied me and some young men who helped us carry the bags filled with panties and pads for girls and women through the water route to the church. Perhaps it will be dry in a month or so. It was drying up a bit around the compound, but we’ve had rain and sprinkles since, so it’s a little muddy in spots.

At the church, Caroline laid out a tarp, and we laid out the piles of panties I had sorted by size. The size six pile was high in comparison to the smaller sizes, which was too bad because the girls here are stick thin. We’re grateful to our donors, but realizing that we can’t picture an American teen when selecting underwear for Sudanese girls. They’re thin partly from malnourishment, but also because the Dinka are extremely tall and thin—supermodel material. (In fact, Alex Wek is a beautiful Sudanese supermodel who wrote a book about her own escape from Sudan. She has a line of beautiful handbags whose purchase helps support girls in Sudan.) Many women in the village are more than six feet tall, and the men are even taller. It’s quite extraordinary. I’m 5’7″, and I generally feel tall in a group of women. Here that’s not the case. Still, all the panties will find homes—some older women have broader hips or a little weight on them, but we are best off bringing girl’s sizes 8-14 and women’s sizes 4 or 5. In the end, we gave out more than 300 pair of underpants and about 400 pads. Not close to enough in a village of 4500 people, with about half women.

We invited schoolgirls first. They each chose two pair of panties and four pads—which caused a lot of giggling. It started out well-organized with a front and a back to our station. The first girls selected, and then more girls came out of church and selected, and then we invited the women. There were so many of them. The organized piles started to look like a sidewalk sale table, and the women began to crowd in as the supplies diminished. Caroline and Rebecca solved the problem by picking everything up and putting it in the bags and waiting. We got the women in a line and started over.

Some women from Patuenoi, a nearby village, had to return home after church, and we promised we would save some for them. But it wasn’t possible. After we returned to the compound, other girls from the village—perhaps not at church—came by and the panty supply was depleted. The leftover pads will stay at the clinic for distribution to their maternity patients.


Back at the ranch, Victor had started putting together one of the three treadle Singer sewing machines I bought in Nairobi. There was quite a group helping him. These are the first sewing machines in Duk Payuel. We got it up but couldn’t get it running. I know how to use an electric sewing machine pretty well—I like to quilt, but I have never used a treadle machine. It comes with a leather belt that has to be adjusted and cut to size. Within a day it had loosened in the humidity. The instructions were all pictures. Nice for multi-language communities, but the pictures weren’t easy to understand. Eventually we got it threaded and got it to sew a few stitches. But we weren’t very smooth.

Maduk, a Dinka who works as a private contractor for himself and the NGOs in the village, strolled by, saw the machine, sat himself down in the chair and proceeded to sew like a tailor. Turns out he used to work as a sewer (seamstress?) I think his father told him it was important to learn many trades, that way if one doesn’t work out, you will have another way to make a living. So he is a carpenter, a seamstress—maybe a mechanic, too? Several of the men helping to put the sewing machine together are interested in learning to operate the machine as well.

That afternoon, Joh and I walked to Gideon’s compound, where he invited us into his tukul so I could see the advantages of this type of construction for our project. One of the barriers to beginning our work here with orphans is that the cost of construction is doubled by the cost to transport materials, and made more challenging by the lack of skilled labor. The tukuls are primarily made of local materials, the labor to build them is available locally, and they’re suited for the climate. Tukuls are built with mud adobe walls over a framework of local wood—twisted, rough looking small branches. The roof is thatch, which is supported by “tick” poles, the same supports that form the corner posts. The tukul is cool in hot weather.

Like all tukuls, it was necessary to bow to enter the low doorway. It was much cooler in Gideon’s tukul than outside or in my stuffy army tent. The ceilings and walls are draped with colorful printed fabrics—we saw this in the huts at Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2007. The ceiling fabrics keep dust from falling from the thatch (which is waterproof); the wall fabrics are cosmetic. The windows are screened with simple curtains for privacy.

One outside wall of Gideon’s tukul was slightly damaged by the heavy rains during this flood season, but he will add new mud when it dries up. I shot some photos inside and out and will post them to Facebook in a few days. There are always difficulties knowing when the power will be on, and likewise when the Internet will be on. If the generator is running, which it does daily but no longer than necessary, then all is good. But the cloudy days don’t allow the solar panels to charge the storage batteries, so then we conserve. And it’s been cloudy the last few days. The plus for me is that it isn’t so beastly hot.

After dinner, I watched “The Other Guys” with the crew and then retired to my tent. From inside I could hear them playing African Soul, American Heart. When it was over, they played the bonus features and then watched it through again.

The Internet here isn’t the speediest, and the navigation tabs on many websites show up in Arabic. I guess they figure if you’re in Sudan you read Arabic, so it’s a bit of a click and wait, click and wait, until you find the proper page. I’ll get this posted so I can catch up on Monday and Tuesday since it is now Wednesday.

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