It’s hard to stay clean. The soil is fertile river valley soil, topped with blown sand – the Sahara sands eventually end up in Duk. In the rainy season, the soil doesn’t stick to your gum boots, your sandals, or your feet if you stay on the path, but in the dry season, the fine sandy dusty soil, the smoke from open-fire cooking and burning grasses moves with the breeze, coating tables and chairs, beds, and skin. Traveling by air, the haze from the fires and fine dust obscures the view. The soil sticks to my legs, magnetized with sunscreen and hydrocortisone ointment to treat the swelling from the tiny Mosquitos who seem to bite only me, not the other kawaja I’m traveling with – Jean Wood. On me they swell and redden and scab, though I never scratch them.
My sandals are comfortable but exhausted from the life I’ve put them through. They’ve made four trips with me, walking through water, mud, dust, and grass. I’m wearing socks every day now. White ankle socks folded over at the ankle, like I’m stuck in the 50s. They’re filthy within an hour, but I wear them all day long.
Barefoot in the blissfully cool, not shockingly cold, shower, I shoo the frogs, keep an eye on the huge brown spiders – up to three at a time. Unmoving, they lay flat, plastered against the tile. I’m told they’re poisonous. I’ve never seen them on previous trips, so they must be a January phenomena. One lives in my tukul but generally stays hidden behind the fabric covering the walls. We coexist peacefully, though today, I asked Abier, one of our cleaners to remove their bright white nests from the fabric on my tukul. I don’t want to live with their hatchlings.
Jean is deathly afraid of spiders and snakes. She has learned to tolerate the big brown spiders who never move in our sight unless disturbed. They like the light which attracts their prey, and we aren’t preferred prey.
I’m grateful for the bats that swoop in and out in the early evening, dining on whatever plagues my ankles. At the JDF clinic office where we are able to access Internet, a bat often visits us every few minutes even mid-day. Out as swiftly as it flew in.
There are dangers, but the big ones don’t impact me. I never see any snakes, though I understand there are many, some dangerous. A few days ago, a woman who was fishing with a spear thought she’d caught a fish and reached in to grab it. It was a large water snake. At least one of the ASAH girls is orphaned because a parent died of untreated snake bite. This woman was treated within a couple of hours, but her arm is swollen many times normal size, her fingers spread and unable to bend. Tall Paul, her nurse, tells me he has done his work with the medicine, and now she is in God’s hands. He told her she would suffer but would not die, and she managed a chuckle. She is improving, but still in the hospital. I don’t fish at home, and I don’t plan to fish here, especially standing in water that contains snakes and thrusting a spear toward whatever moves beneath the surface.. Yesterday one of our guards killed a large snake in our kitchen. The previous day the snake had eaten one of Tabitha’s chickens which roam our site occasionally.
My troubles can’t be considered suffering, not with what I’ve seen of actual suffering. Still, I am prone to complain a bit, especially if I am very hot and sweaty. I’m a North Dakota girl, after all.
I trip on sticks and uneven terrain. I started wearing socks – socks I brought for our students – when one thorny sticker wedged its way under my sandal strap and left me with a nasty scrape. At home I’d be in a heap. Just ask my husband. Here, the staff hovers and worries and protects me, and I shrug it off, stating that I’m a little clumsy. No one here holds my unsure footing up to ridicule. The graceful ASAH girls have seen me bump my head and scrape my shoulders on the thatch, exiting tukuls and raising my head or turning to the side before I’ve cleared the thatch. I think I have now developed muscle memory for entering and exiting those low doors, and I scan the uneven terrain as I walk.
One of the tents I brought is pitched along my route to the showers and toilets. Several times I tripped over the thin anchor rope that extends four feet from the tent edge. I moved the trash can to the anchor point. A visible obstacle. It gets moved from time to time. I drag it back.
Deb Dawson, January 24, 2013