TIA: This is Africa

Prepare for the unexpected. Prepare to be disappointed. Prepare to wait. Prepare for confusion, insects, danger, and corruption. Cultivate patience. Manage your reaction.

My experience in Africa began in 2007 and is limited to Uganda (brief), Kenya (eight visits), and the Republic of South Sudan (and before that Southern Sudan). I’ve lost count of the weeks/and months – I think it will be close to 32 weeks, most of it within the past two years.

I’m high energy and high efficiency, but have been known to lose my cool under stress. But that doesn’t often happen to me here. What good would it do? It does little good at home either, but I trust in the world around me to absorb my irritation and soothe my frustration.

I’m accustomed to bats and frogs and hedgehogs and tsetse flies and termites, though I did pause when I saw the brown recluse spider in the shower which caused my companion, Jean Wood, to elect NOT to shower until Leek Sam, our head teacher, sprayed it with Doom.

I’ve helped raise a Kob antelope and a Topi while staying at the JDF Lost Boys Clinic before our school opened, and I looked forward to seeing  our ten-month-old male gazelle, Chill, who is now practicing head butting. He came when I called and gestured to him, then lowered his head. I put out my fist and we wrestled knuckle to forehead. One of his five-inch antlers is sharply pointed, the other blunt – an encounter with a rock or tree? When I turned my back he butted my leg with those little antlers. I stopped encouraging him.

In Kenya, service is slow but gracious. Expect lines, slow scans and inefficient bagging at grocery stores. Expect hand-written receipts (or no receipts) and a calculator instead of register at many markets. Wireless Internet is available at many hotels. It’s slow.

At the quaint Pinetree Hotel in Eldoret, the staff was kind. We were told to order meals 30 minutes ahead and then come to the table. Still, one night we waited two hours.

In Duk Payuel, South Sudan, there is no hotel, no restaurant, no shops. Our meals are ready when they are ready, which is often long after I am ready to eat, as we are dependent on scarce firewood and the labor of two hard-working women. to prepare meals for 30 people twice daily.

We have Internet when we walk to the JDF Lost Boys Clinic. Unfortunately, the best time to access it is late at night, when walking 20 minutes in the dark is not advised. I’ve been spoiled in the past while staying on the clinic compound. Skype worked most of the time, and I could call my husband on Skype. Now, however, the clinic staff has increased dramatically as they are offering more services to more people, and many of them have come with computers. And our staff comes here, too, as it is the ONLY way we can communicate. There is no mail service, there are no cell phones, and road travel is impossible six months of the year due to rain. Now the tiny bandwidth available here often slows to a crawl from the demand.

If ASAH were to contribute to the monthly cost. . . JDF would buy additional bandwidth.

On my last three trips flying on AIM Air to the village in 2011 and 2012, I secured my Visa upon arrival at the Juba airport, so I stopped using the three-day process visiting the Embassy in Nairobi to secure them in advance. This time, when we landed, I learned from the AIM pilot they had “sort of” changed the rules. There are no published policies and procedures. Much is left to whoever is in front of you on any given day.

At the Visa window, the clerks waved some paperwork and wanted our travel permit. I’ve filled this paperwork out at the airport as recently as June 2011. They examined my passport. “You last visited in March?” I told them there was another Visa from June – both issued at this window. The clerk didn’t ask us to fill out any documents. He said “$200,” which we paid, though I knew the price was $100 and considered objecting, but I feared being detained or required to turn around and return to Kenya. We requested receipts. The receipted amount was $100.

We are fortunate to have AIM Air fly us into this undeveloped country to this remote place. They are a mission group – Africa Inland Missions- and I’ve gotten to know staff and pilots over the years. I had carefully planned the weight of cargo and passengers for the 1050 kg Caravan. Just before I departed the US, I learned the Caravan was undergoing maintenance. Instead they would offer us a C206 (capacity 400 kg) AND a C210 (370). One of the items we were to carry is a 50 Litre capacity enclosed wood-burning cooking stove. The company told us it weighed 200 kg, but it exceeded the capacity of AIM’s scale (250 kg).

In the end, one plane carried only the stove – which they estimated at closer to 350 kg – the plane’s capacity. As often happens, the cost of transport exceeds the value of the goods. But a stove like this is not available in South Sudan, and truck transport out of Kenya requires special permits and the owner traveling with the goods. Our cooks spend hours in an iron-sheet kitchen inhaling smoke, stirring food over an open fire, and we have difficulty getting sufficient firewood. So we are changing that in this expensive manner.

This is a land where there is only one paved road – about 100 miles of paving. And that road doesn’t lead to Duk Payuel. It takes 9 1/2 hours to travel here by road from Juba – a little over 200 miles away. The closest small market is Poktop – about seven miles, but most years the road is flooded, and this year the flooding was excessive. Even in the village, when walking from the village center on the path to our compound, the water was thigh deep in some areas.

Still, though I understand how difficult it is to get basic necessities like food, I am disappointed that eight of my ten 50 pound bags and totes and two of Jean’s were left behind. Of course AIM will bring them when they pick us up February 4, or perhaps we can get them on the clinic meds flight that is expected in a week or two. Or, there may be another AIM flight in the area that will divert and ferry our bags to us. Things tend to work out, but not always on the expected time-table. Flexibility and patience. I remind myself.

So why come to this difficult place? I come because the people of South Sudan are warm and welcoming and have a strong faith that carries them through tremendous hardships that would break most modern-day Americans.

I come because during the rainy season our gardener, Joseph, produced a crop of maize that we are still eating, along with many types of greens and vegetables, and has let the last of the onions go to seed for the next crop. He took me by the hand to show me the dry season garden he has expanded. This garden is near our water supply and is grown in blocks with raised paths around. And our girls are learning to plant and harvest.

I come because our Kenyan maintenance man and builder, Zablone, showed me how he has repaired the toilets and sink and showers, replacing parts, clearing a blockage in the septic system.

I come because the cooks and cleaners and teachers and our tailor depend on the income they earn here to support their immediate and extended families.

The main reason I come is because 23 orphaned girls would not get an education without our help. At ASAH, we protect our students from forced marriage, educate them in school subjects and practical life skills, empower them to be leaders and to give back to their communities.

The ASAH girls will change the world they live in.

Deb Dawson, January 6, 2013.

2 responses to “TIA: This is Africa

  1. Pingback: Looking closely at the long and short forms « Kevin Brooks·

  2. Pingback: Tiny Miracles | ASAH School for Orphan Girls·

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