Arrival in South Sudan

March 3

With a long day of flights planned for the caravan, we had two pilots. The rules only allow for so many hours of flight time per pilot per day and per week. We waited as the freight crew loaded the plane with our cargo, the fresh fruits and vegetables AIM purchased for ASAH, plus the school uniforms, sweaters, blankets and other supplies that Andrew and Miriam selected for us to carry to the village.

To allow for more cargo, the pilots reduce the fuel load and make additional stops to fuel. We flew two hours from Nairobi to Eldoret, refueled and then flew another 2 ½ hours to Juba. There Jef and I purchased Visas to South Sudan—single entry, one month–$100 each. Miriam and Andrew paid the same price in Nairobi in a process that took three days at the embassy, requiring the visa seeker to leave their passport behind in the process.

The flight from Juba to Duk is only about an hour, and though the pilots kindly circled our site so that we could take some aerial shots and video of our site, giving our people some time to hear the plane and get to the airstrip, we landed to a greeting party of children only. Planes land here often enough these days that it doesn’t draw the entire community as it once did, and from our site, the airstrip is a good 20 or 25 minute walk.

Soon, Manyok, our program director, and Dau, our program manager, arrived. Then Akuol, one of our ASAH girls whose extended family lives near the airstrip, came running up and gave me a big hug. Soon, six more ASAH girls arrived in a group.

Our cargo was unloaded—here the pilot has no freight crew to help, so we all pitch in. The pilots had a quick turn around, and we backed off the strip for their take off. Then wondered how to get the cargo to our site. The JDF Lost Boy Clinic vehicle has been out of commission since the rainy season last summer, and the IRD vehicle was away and not expected for a few hours, so our ASAH girls carried our personal bags on their heads to the clinic, and we left the rest behind for a vehicle.

At the clinic, as usual, the cooks treated us to a lunch of beans and rice, enhanced by the delicious chili sauce condiment—though it’s a challenge to pour a small amount from the two-liter plastic container.

The baggage-laden ASAH girls accompanied us from the clinic to the ASAH site. I was anxious to see the progress since my last trip here in November/December 2011. The first change was noticeable from afar. Our tukuls, adobe thatched huts, which blend in with the dusty gray of the sandy ground in the dry season, now stand out, painted bright white with a blue base. Our vehicle and pedestrian gates are now attached (painted with the same color scheme) with white globe lights topping the entrance posts. Beyond the tukuls, the toilet and shower block is also blue and white. The building materials that had previously littered the site were now in a neat pile in the background.

On the other side of the compound, I was happy to see our temporary kitchen, built of iron sheet with mesh wire windows. Inside the cooks were already preparing food for our dinner over the concrete wood-burning stove. Jef is here to help design the kitchen and dining hall we badly need before the rainy season in July. We’re raising funds for this now.

Manyok assigned one of the large dorm tukuls for Miriam and Andrew to share. Jef and I are each in smaller staff tukuls, and Manyok and Sam Leek, our main teacher, are sharing the tent I stayed in last fall.

As I settled into my tukul, set up my bed and organized my cameras and baggage, the girls pushed open the door and started filing in, sitting on the mattress across from me. I had them go outside and knock and ask, “May I come in?” (The next day, Sam Leek incorporated that bit of polite behavior into his lessons.) The girls are visiting the site daily, but have not moved in as our toilets and showers are not yet functioning. One of our tasks on this visit is to oversee the welding of a new platform for our water tank. The 2″ X 4″ bars of the first platform were improperly placed with the wide side down, which didn’t provide enough strength to hold the weight of the 6000 Liter tank. In the meantime, two temporary iron sheet showers have been constructed. This requires a hose and buckets. We are a three minute walk from the IRD compound, and they are willing to share their bathing and toilet facilities with us kuwajas (foreigners).

The girls in my tent looked at me expectantly. I opened my bag to find some treats to share and came across my package of black licorice, a favorite of mine, but not to everyone’s taste. They were suspicious, but each of them accepted a second stick.

Miriam, Andrew and a few of the girls played a rousing game of volleyball. On Facebook, I posted some pics of one of the girls, Akon, playing with Andrew in the background.

Our Internet access is more limited than in the past as I must come to IRD to use it when the generator is on, which is often when we are busy with the girls or eating meals. So my postings will be delayed.

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