Not like a Lost Boy . . . but still a long walk

I should have known something bad was going to happen when we had to be pulled out of the mud within the 1st 5 minutes of our drive to town. I had arranged to ride to Bor with Paul Anyang, one of the local guys who takes people to and from Bor for 10 Sudanese pounds each way. I had to make good on my promise to pay the first installment on our tractor and none of our vehicles could make the drive . . .

Riding with Paul is an experience. He has an Isuzu SUV (not sure the model) that is a 4WD vehicle – but only 2WD now because some parts are broken. It had rained several times and the roads were pretty muddy. After getting pulled out BY OUR NEW TRACTOR, we hit some places where the water was as much as 3 feet deep, but the ground was solid underneath so we passed right through. It did look pretty scary, but turned out to be no problem. As we left, I’ve never seen a 5-passenger vehicle so loaded. There were 5 people squeezed into the back seat; 2 ladies piled on top of bags of “stuff” in the back and a 9-year-old girl on my lap. Because I have white hair, I’m automatically assigned the front seat ☺

Once we were in town, Paul dropped us all off about a half mile from the Governor’s office and I walked in. The Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture was out sick with malaria and he was the one who was going to walk me through the process of making my payment. He did send his driver who picked me up and took me to the Ag Ministry offices. There I met Solomon, a very gracious official who took about an hour to get a 3-line letter written and copied. The letter was my “authorization to make an installment” on the tractor. Once we got to the Ministry of Finance, we went into an office that had 4 desks with 1 man at each. I kid you not, each person in the office had to write something on the authorization letter and hand it to the next guy. From there, I got escorted to another office where I found one guard and next to him a cage, completely enclosed with bars, where the “cashier” sat. I was summoned into the cage and the cashier said, “Give me the money!” Overall, it took almost 4 hours to make the silly payment!

Then the ride back. Like the ride into town, we were packed to the gills. We stopped several times while Paul negotiated fares or whatever. We were constantly hounded and people who wanted a ride to Werkok yelled him at repeatedly. By the time we got started it was about 5:00pm. At 5:25 – about 1/3 of the way, we got a flat. I thought, “no problem, we’ll just change the tire and be on our way.” Not so much. Paul had a flat a couple of days before and it wasn’t yet repaired. We had no spare and we were about 13 miles away and it would be dark in about an hour and a half. Paul just stood there staring into space – I had no idea what he was thinking, until he stopped a truck coming towards us heading back to Bor, never said a word to us and got in! He left us there on the road and headed back into town!

We started walking through the mud and potholes filed with water . . . and two and a half hours later (yes, in 2 and a half hours I “walked” over 12 miles; the Sudanese walk so fast I could barely keep from running) I stumbled onto the compound, with some massive blisters on my feet and drenched in sweat. But I was home, and home safe. No problem. Welcome to Africa.

Greetings from Werkok!

Greetings from Werkok, Southern Sudan

April 1, 2009
I’m writing from the HIV/AIDS office of the Minister of Health of Southern Sudan. This is the first opportunity I’ve had for an extended period of internet access. Following is a relatively brief summary of our adventures since my last post. I’m waiting for nearly 350 emails to download . . . so I have a bit of time . . . 🙂

We arrived in Juba on Wednesday March 18th. Its really odd landing in a new place, not knowing the language and not sure anyone is going to be at the airport to meet you. we were actually met by Muki Lita, a friend of Mamer’s, who was to arrange transport for us. Muki (whom we’d never met) yhen handed us over to a taxi driver, who took us to the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) conference center. When we arrived, we found Mamer across the street at the radio station, in the middle of a press conference. We met a lady from the State Department, some other dignitaries and the Lost Boys delegation. After the press conference, we went to the “hotel,” dropped off our bags and got shuttled off to another meeting. This was a meeting of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which got capped by a closing speech by Dr. Luk Abion (sp?), Minister of Presidential Affairs. We got ushered to front-row seats, which would have been great if Sherry wasn’t so sleepy that she kept nodding off as the afternoon wore on . . . 😉

After the meeting we went back to the Oasis Camp Hotel, which was a metal Chinese container with an air conditioner hung on one wall. There was running water (cold), a flush toilet sitting on a completely broken-down pressboard floor. There was also a mosquito net over the one bed, which was shorter than my frame. For this slice of paradise, we had the privilege of paying $240 per night! The room price did include all our meals, which we ate just a few feet from the Nile. Astonishingly beautiful!

Thursday (March 19th) we drove to Bor, after waiting hours for the “Jonglei Coordinator” to find a vehicle that would take us. The drive from Juba to Bor was 3 ½ hours of bone-jarring, white-knuckle, nail-biting action. We were traveling in a convoy with the Minister of Finance for the State of Jonglei – along with his machine-gun-toting entourage. Picture the worst unpaved road you’ve ever traveled with giant potholes, rocks on a sometimes hardpan/sometimes sand substrate. Then try to imagine flying over it at 100 – 120 kph. I don’t know exactly how fast that is in mph, but from my front seat perspective, it was REALLY FAST. At one point, we hit some sand and started sliding toward a ditch on the side, but the driver barely slowed down, got the vehicle (a Toyota Land Cruiser) under control and quickly ramped back up to speed.

On Friday March 20th, we finally met with the Governor. Wait. Not just the Governor, but with the Ministers of Finance, Education, Infrastructure, Land, IT and the Commissioner of Bor County. H.E. (His Excellency) Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk was incredibly gracious to us, praising Mamer’s achievement in completing his education. As Mamer explained the AgSudan project, the Governor listened attentively, then basically said he agreed with the whole concept, and then committed to personally invest in the project – as well as take responsibility to help raise the $$ required for startup. He also committed the use of some tractors he has in his compound. Overall, we were completely taken off guard by the positive response we received!

March 23rd. Mamer and I visited the village, and got confirmation that they did indeed want to grant us the 10km X 10km piece of land to start farming.

March 24th. It was 127 degrees today. Over 100 degrees throughout the evening in our tent . . . until about 3 am when the wind and rain started. The good news is that the wind blew so hard that the tent sort of caved in and wrapped against my naked body, with the cold rain touching me – but through the silk of the ten so I didn’t get wet. It was the best part of the night!

I rode a Suzuki 650 (nice machine!) into town to meet with the Governor again, but he pushed us off to the Commissioner of Bor County. What a wild ride this has been (not talking about the moto; I never went above about 35 mph because of the crappy roads).

On Wednesday, March 25th, I visited the village where we will have our farm project. I was the only white guy and the only one who spoke English. My “translator” spoke an English I rarely understood. When I arrived at the village, all the elders and chiefs were waiting for me, excited about getting our project underway. Right after arriving, a young man showed up, who was recently returned from Phoenix. He was very antagonistic about our project and didn’t want the elders to give us the land. So I was standing in the middle of 25 men – all screaming at one another – most of them carrying AK-47s. finally they dealt with the complainer and we were ready to leave; but the one guy who spoke a bit of
English said there was a problem with the vehicles. I had agreed to pay 200 Sudanese pounds total for 2 days transport for me to and from the village; (I had also come the previous Monday with Mamer to get approval from the elders for the land). Now this guy was demanding that I was liable for an additional 200 pounds each for two more vehicles so all the village leaders and soldier escort could come with us to view the land. I told him I had only requested to see the land, and didn’t request either an escort – or a parade! I told them (the elders) they were welcome to come with us, but I wasn’t going to pay. After they yelled at me for a bit, and I stood smiling and refusing to pay for more vehicles, they realized they didn’t want to pay either . . . so we left in one vehicle. It was a Nissan Frontier pickup; I sat in the front seat with the driver (and his AK-47). 7 soldiers, one with a belt-fed machine gun, and 7 elders from the village piled into the bed of the truck, and we were off.

Leaving the village, we entered the bush. At one point, we scared a gazelle and 2 soldiers and one elder jumped out of the truck and started firing! It took about 12 shots – all from the AK’s – but they finally took down the gazelle. Not bad from about 50 yards with a short-barrel gun. The land was pure forest, lots of very prickly trees and bushes. I asked about the animal population on our land and was told it is home to lions, zebras, leopards, gazelles, many other kinds of deer, baboons, monkeys and various snakes. Can’t wait to set up a tent and hang out. Want to come join us?

Since then, Sherry and I have been hanging out at the hospital at Werkok. I’ve been working mostly with Dave Mueller, painting, dry walling, taping the walls, putting on roofs, etc. There is a giant dedication this coming Sunday, at which we expect several hundred to attend. Sherry is busy working at the hospital, assisting in surgeries, handling patients and organizing the pharmacy. She has already done wonders in helping there!

So this is the latest. We might get a VSAT set up at the Werkok compound, which would allow us email and internet access. If not, I’ll try to keep this updated every few days by coming to town and accessing via the Ministry of Health or another NGO that is friendly to us.

Thanks for your prayers. We miss you!