Jef Foss was supposed to be here. The shock of his passing has given pause to our students and staff, our builders and the community of Duk Payuel. We’re lucky to have his wife and our board member, Keiko. and their son, Rygo, here taking stock of the site and buildings he designed, and the plans for future buildings as we add students and facilities.
Untimely death is not unusual in this part of the world. The last statistics I saw showed average life span around 47 years old. One in 10 women die in childbirth. One in five children don’t live until age five. Last year ASAH lost a staff member to hear attack – our security guard, Dhieu, whose orphaned daughter is now one of our students here at ASAH. His son is in our program in Kenya. Dhieu was respected and was being considered for a position as a chief. We lost one of our builders as well, a local Sudanese who built the rafters for our large dormitory tukuls. He was shot on the outskirts of the village by another villager – mistaken for a Murle cattle rustler. The shooting was investigated and ruled a tragic accident.
Construction of a dormitory to house eight of our 11 new students is underway. The rafters went up when we arrived, and it is now roofed. Peter, our Kenyan contractor, knows that Jef would have preferred the rafters be constructed of 2 X 6 (hardwood if possible) and we have a few of them at the peak. But this size and type of wood is unavailable in Juba, so our rafters are made of poor quality wood – reinforced in ways that make me glad we have ceiling tile. The ceiling tile Jef suggested were squares to fit into a grid. This too, is unavailable, so instead we have large ceiling panels.
Our building color scheme is white and blue – Kris Schmitz from the JDF Lost Boys Clinic calls it our “Smurf” theme. The colors were chosen by Manyok and Dau when our first tukuls (adobe thatched huts) were built and painted. Generally tukuls are left their natural color, but I grew to like it, and we have carried the colors through on our concrete buildings and our gates. When we built the first concrete dorm, we chose a blue metal roof, and we ordered the same in Juba for the new dorm and our kitchen. Imagine my surprise when they began to roof the new dorm in green iron sheet. We ordered blue. The merchants loaded green on the truck. So now we will have a dorm with a green roof and our kitchen/dining complex will match. I disappoint easily, but I’m working on saving it for things that are actually important. Here, people make do.
We spent most of Wednesday morning measuring and placing stakes for our kitchen/dining complex. The kitchen includes a pantry and is linked to the dining room with a wide hall for food service. The dining room will accommodate tables to seat 50 people, and we will have a patio and an outside grilling area. Though in most cases in this village – all cooking is done outside. We’ll have hand washing sinks outside the building and a two-sided sink for washing and rinsing dishes and for preparing food.
But how do we preserve Jef’s vision for the site’s aesthetics, which includes preserving trees and placing buildings at angles to enhance views and to allow for a small community feel when the builders think in straight lines? By insisting. When Jef and I and the builders measured and staked for the foundations of the first tukuls, which he’d designed in groups of three placed in a semi-circle, only to return the next day to find the stakes moved into a neat line and our builders digging the foundation in the wrong spot. We asked them to fill in the holes, and we remeasured.
Jef hadn’t included the measurements from the fence to the kitchen/dining on our site plan, so we figured it out, but as the stakes went into the ground, I could see that the building angle was not as Jef intended. In his design, the building would sit at an angle looking out across our site and visible to people entering our gate. I stood along the line marking the side of the building and held out my arms so our staff and Peter would see what Jef hoped to achieve. They agreed, and we moved the stakes, and then we moved the building a bit from Jef’s original placement to better accommodate and save the trees he loved.