Fighting, Dancing and Fires

Life is interesting in the field and you never quite know what is just around the corner.

Fighting broke out 10 days ago in Malakau, a small Nile River village 180km to the east of us here. It only lasted about 48 hours but may have left a couple of hundred dead. A southern SPLA (Sudan Peoples Liberation Army) unit thought they would have a crack at knocking off a northern SAF (Sudan Armed Forces) general that was not leaving the area as promised in the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement). It all got a bit out of hand with tanks and mortar rounds apparently… hate it when that happens.

All quiet here in Bentiu but I now have the evacuation box safely in my tukul beside my bed and the spare landcrusier key around my neck.

At the weekend was the leaving party for Dorothy, the only other New Zealander in the area that I have met so far. She has been with ACF (Action Against Famine) and is returning home for Christmas. We all got together for a feed and then some wild music and dancing which alternated between African, French and English music until the generator ran out of gas and the power failed. The truly diehard of us kept the party going by supplementing the volume of the laptop speakers with our singing until the poor computer battery also gave up for the night.

The moral is that diesel gets added to the shopping list along side popcorn and beer for Saturday parties.

Yesterday I had just sat down to lunch, last night’s cold leftovers and a cold bottle of water fresh from the fridge, when the watchman came to find me with some animated sign actions (he speaks Nuer, I speak NZ). I jumped up, aware that late the night before I had interpreted a message as “the gate is broken again” (and spent ten minutes looking for socks to keep off the mosquito’s) instead of the actual situation, which was “there’s an unconscious half dead women and large attendant crowd gathering outside the gate”.

Today the problem was our neighbors neighbors tukuls were on fire about 200m away, with large clouds of smoke rising into hot blue sky and the horrible sound of crackling flames. I scaled the sandbag boundary wall in a single leap, and stood on top, trying and failing to raise anyone else in the area on the radio, while the wind direction and thinking about what would happen if the tukuls closest to our boundary ignited. After a very long ten minutes or so it became clear that the wind was carrying embers safely into the swamp and the flames would not spread further. Back to lunch, now warm and with ants. About ten tukuls were destroyed in all. People with nothing… now with even less.

The job of raising the main quadra loop radio aerial here at the compound and getting the clinic radio working properly have suddenly leapt to the top of the to do list.


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