River storm

At last it’s Sunday again! It’s the end of another interesting and exhausting week. The project coordinator and the logistician are away and of course things heated up and went to shit in their absence.

At last it’s Sunday again! It’s the end of another interesting and exhausting week. The project coordinator and the logistician are away and of course things heated up and went to shit in their absence.

On Monday we all assembled at 7am, packed the boat and set off to town to load the car for Pul-deng. Amazingly all the team arrived on time and the driver was with us, a new fellow from Addis, very nice but new to the dreaded Mattar mud. So with the car packed we drove 10 meters before becoming bogged to the doors! After an hour and a half we got towed out by a truck and set off to Ninenyang for a security brief.

Bogged! © Kate Chapman

Another hour and a half later we arrived to a mass of people! Hundreds of people on the road, under the tree and in each building of the school waiting for us!

We spent half-an-hour constructing fences, cordoning off areas and setting up. We then got all the people into the triage area and had 20 minutes of health education. Despite delaying our start it actually made things much easier as we had a sense of order. I had triage tickets numbered 1 – 300 and handed them out in priority of clinical need. So that being said and done we set about our work in a much more orderly fashion than the week before. Between three of us we had consulted 284 patients by 4pm. We transferred two kids, one with a facial abscess and one very ill and severely malnourished. I also sent another kid to Gambella with a bug in his ear.

It was a pretty good day considering, until we got back and NO boat was waiting for us. After a while the cargo boat arrived, but with no logistics, so the poor team had to then unload all the gear plus the huge sacks of health center supplies, oxygen tanks and barrels of oil, carry them about 100 meters and lift them into the cargo boat that’s about five foot high! We were knackered and it was early to bed for me with another 6am start for Jikow in the morning.

Amazingly the team arrived relatively on time and in good spirits, all helped to load the boat, setting off in good time with one patient and caretaker returning to Nyawech. We arrived in only two-and-a-half hours - a new record!

The clinic started as usual but then a large number of new people arrived who had moved in due to the wet season. Again we were swamped and ran out of medications, malaria, tests etc. as we had only taken the usual amount for this clinic. We got 15 new antenatal patients, two new severely malnourished kids and a new leprosy patient in the mix. We set off at 3.30pm with a young HIV/TB patient that really didn’t want to come with us but needed medication.

About five minutes into the trip everyone jumped up and was putting on coats, etc. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Big rain coming,” was the reply. Well bugger me that was an understatement! The river changed within moments, the current that usually went with us on the way home had turned against us. A wild wind whipped up pushing two-foot wind chop towards us as the rain began to lash us wildly. Huge amounts of water were pelting into the boat and both the health officer and I who were in the front were drenched immediately and holding our breaths as each wave hit with the force of perhaps 20 litre buckets of water thrown at full pace, straight into the face! The wind billowing up beneath the canvas roof, threatening to flip us backward or sideways or at least bring the groaning metal poles crashing down on our heads.

Amazing! I’d not experienced anything like this here before and it was really like being in the sea in a big storm. Within minutes the boat had taken on a lot of water so we drove over to the closest bank to wait it out. Luckily, we were now in South Sudan so had a network service. Some young men were on the bank and held our rope while we bobbed and weaved and tried to bail the boat out.

I called the base to tell them we were in trouble and would at the very least be late returning. We set off again sometime later but again took on too much water and quickly headed for the bank. Three of us got out onto the slippery, muddy bank and tried to hold the boat to the bank while we waited out the worst of it. Fortunately it was too cold for the crocs and they were in the water! It took all their strength to hold us there, the current and waves pushing us out in a frenzy of peaks, troughs and foam, the waves crashing in to the aluminum hull made it like riding a bucking bronco. Gale force wind and torrential rain lashing us in a frenzy of wild, wild African weather.

As quickly as it had begun it ended, like turning off a switch. After around half-an-hour the wind stopped, the water calmed and the rain moved on. We spent some time bailing the boat out and re-arranging the disheveled supplies. We all started laughing, what next? Every time we came to Jikow or anywhere for that matter lately, something happened! We were all drenched and now cold as the wind blew over our wet clothes and hair from the speed of the boat. But we were alive and well and heading home! The poor patient that really didn’t want to come in the first place? Totally not happy with us! The utter exhaustion and realization of surviving a close call causing a stupid grin and giggle with each glance around the team.

When we got home it was dusk. I actually thought about kissing the ground but with the Mattar mud I just kissed the gate instead! The remaining expat team greeting us with relieved “whoopiees” and hugs. Our dear cook took one look at me and went and put the kettle on for some hot water! I unpacked all the gear that was totally saturated and put it out to dry, repacked dry boxes for the next day and went and showered. I was so cold that the cold shower felt warm!