As Christmas drew close I began to wonder what it would be like here in South Sudan. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal in a place where most people live to day-to-day and can’t afford to make elaborate plans for the future. I wondered if Christmas would be just like any other day
Christmas wasn’t just like any other day in Bentiu. In the days leading up to the main event various church groups started playing music and drumming through the night. Then on Christmas Eve many stayed all night in the Church praying and singing. On Christmas morning I went along to a Church service. The service had been moved outside to open ground behind the church, there was a small stage and two makeshift shelters with shade provided by mats supported by sticks, behind that there were some seats, then masses of people standing. There were three entrances to control the entry and exit of people, many ushers and organisers, and I would estimate about two thousand people of which I seemed to be the only foreigner. I only stayed for about an hour to get a small sample of proceedings. By that stage standing at the back and barely able to hear the music or see anything and with the sun getting hotter I think I had had enough.
After that it was on to our nutrition clinic to see the children remaining as inpatients for the Christmas period. Some of the children and their mothers had got new clothes and most people were happy wishing each other a merry Christmas. Thankfully all of the patients were fairly stable so there was not too much clinical work. After that I got to work on my side of the preparations for Christmas. I tried to cook 11.5kgs of rice (for which I discovered you really need a very big pot). My colleagues prepared the rest of the food at the expat house – delicious beef stew and greens. With plenty of help from the clinic staff and some of the mothers I decorated one of the tukuls in the clinic with balloons and arranged tables and benches for lunch. Then we had lunch in the clinic with the staff, the children and the mothers. Accompanied by some soft drinks, music and dancing. Everybody seemed to have a good time and hopefully could forget about their worries and concerns for one day at least.
In the evening we got the chance to enjoy some ‘Christmas goodies’ which we were able to order for our supply flight before Christmas. These were dispatched on the MSF plane from our supply base in Lokichogio in Kenya from where almost everything we need for the project is supplied, from medicines to logistical supplies to mosquito nets and blankets for the patients. So we enjoyed grapes, red wine, cheese, broccoli (strangely for me the biggest treat of all) and sliced ham. We even had turkey – a single slice of turkey (I am sure the team in Loki packing that for the flight had a good laugh). Unfortunately we were unable to source any additional turkey locally in Bentiu. So we enjoyed Christmas evening with more music, good food and good company. I even did a ceremonial carving of the slice of turkey so the six meat eaters among us could at least get a taste each.
It was a really enjoyable day though of course it is always lonely spending Christmas far away from family and friends. I hope all MSF staff all over the world and all of the people who support our work had a good Christmas.