Throwing Out Best Laid Plans

March 5, 2012

The plan was: Leave Fargo March 1. Arrive Nairobi late evening March 2. Fly with AIM Air to Duk Payuel on the 3rd. Move into the ASAH Boarding School for Orphan Girls and help orient the first twelve ASAH girls into the place they will call home during the school terms. Stay until the 16th and fly with AIM to Juba, where I will stay for a week with Manyok to procure materials and supplies for our compound, and the Maras and Jef will fly JETLINK to Nairobi.

Soon enough it became clear that if we wanted the ASAH girls to move in while we were present, Manyok and I needed to go NOW to Juba to procure the materials to fix the water tower. If you watched our exciting video of the raising of the tower, you know that I left Duk Payuel expecting that very soon we would have functioning toilets and showers. It was not to be. The steel tube platform on top of the tower had been welded with the four -inch side of the 2 X 4 inch tubes laying flat instead of skinny side up, which offers greater strength. When our tank was filled with water, the tubes began to bend. The tank was taken down. It still provides water but is not at a height to provide water pressure to run the toilets and showers.

As it seems to go, as the need arises, opportunity presents itself. IMA World Health, the new medical group that may or may not take over the neighboring NGO compound now being vacated by IRD, had a car traveling to Bor, the capitol of Jonglei state. This is about 125 miles, I believe, though the drive takes five or more hours. I’m not sure that 125 miles is an accurate measurement, but that is what people have told me, and it seems about right. The road conditions are so bad, the vehicle is sometimes traveling at only 10 or 20 km per hour. This is the kind of ride where the handles above the doors and on the dash are held.

When I asked Mike Wagner, former JDF clinic manager, if we could hitch a ride—he said, “Are you willing to sit in the back?” As it turned out, I shared the middle seat with two men, and Manyok sat with the luggage and a Sudanese woman on the bench seats in the back of the Land Cruiser.

During the long and rough ride, I got to know Kon, one of the clinic staff, a little better. He’s a quiet guy amongst a lot of boisterous Sudanese at the JDF clinic, so we hadn’t talked much in the past.

My other seatmate, Jacob Nuer Deng, who works for IMA World Health in Juba, asked me where I lived in the US. When I said “Fargo,” he said, “My sister lives in Fargo.” “Who’s your sister?” “Sarah Deng.” “I KNOW Sarah,” I said. “She spoke at our Get Your Panties in a Bunch Lunch in 2011, and she attends Christ the King Lutheran Church in Moorhead which is currently raising money so that we can bring more girls into our program.”

You don’t know how small the world really is until you meet someone new in South Sudan whose sister lives in your community in the United States—especially when the community is the size of Fargo-Moorhead. Miriam remarked that it’s strangely comforting, and I agree.

We had intended to get hotel rooms and fly in the morning, but Kon was planning to get public transport. He was on his way to visit his wife in Juba. We elected to share the cost of a taxi and keep going.

The road from Bor to Juba is longer—about 153 miles, according to a Google search—but somewhat faster at around four hours. Improved in some stretches, undergoing construction in others, but still potholed and difficult to navigate in places. We had to pull over at a bridge near Juba as a convoy of about 100 military vehicles crossed the one-lane bridge. They were part of a deployment of 150,000 soldiers heading to Jonglei state to begin disarming the tribes, to reduce the tribal violence, particularly between the Murle and the Nuer tribes, that has plagued parts of the state since independence, causing deaths and destruction of villages.

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