River trip

Well today we did the first mobile clinic by boat to Nyawech. We started packing the boat at 7am, lugging the four heavy metal boxes across the compound and down the muddy bank to the 14-foot aluminum tinny [boat].

Well today we did the first mobile clinic by boat to Nyawech. We started packing the boat at 7am, lugging the four heavy metal boxes across the compound and down the muddy bank to the 14-foot aluminum tinny [boat]. Considering it had rained overnight and I was hardly able to stand on my own two feet on the bank, even with the aid of my bamboo balance pole, the boys took over the loading from there! We set off in the grey, drizzling morning, the staff cold and tired and me excited at this start of a new aspect to the mobile clinic. We putted along with the 45hp engine roaring so loudly that you couldn’t hear the person next to you!

Following the course of the river we entered the great Baro, spasmodically lined with congregations of grass and mud tukuls, surrounding great herds of cattle, goats and sheep. As usual, the kids, hearing the drone of our motor, ran to the bank and ran along the cliff tops waving madly and yelling "kywai kywai" with big broad grins shinning out of their ebony black faces. We passed flocks of wild ducks and geese, herons, pelicans and sacred ibis. No signs of crocs that I could see, but I’m told there’s plenty. While the team snuggled up against the cold drizzling morning (25 degrees) I took photos and film and marveled at this different perspective, the spray from the bow mingling with the rain adding to my enjoyment.

The broad brown river, flanked by red-black dirt and shrubs opened to a 50-metre then 100-metre-wide river of fast flowing brown water. Clumps of lily like plants floating on the top were surrounded by patches of frothy, bubbly foam. Some four-to-five pound fishes jumped out of the water around us and one actually jumped right into the boat while I was filming! BONUS! After two and half hours, we rounded a bend with Nyawech in sight.

The kids spotted us a mile off and came running along the cliff face to greet us. Then came the dreaded task of lugging the gear, probably 100kg in total, up the steep embankment of the slippery red mud to the tent. Three weeks had passed since we last were here and no health extension worker greeted us so it was clear they weren’t expecting us and had probably given up on us. There were no adults to be seen, just around 45 kids from a few weeks to 12 years old, the adults all off cultivating maize. Oh and the 500-odd head of cattle staked to their pegs.

As time went on people started arriving from the villages we had passed along the way. The bigger boys who helped get all the gear were rewarded with a soccer ball for their efforts and continued support.

I’ve given one to each clinic site and it’s truly amazing how the boys will come to the clinic to book in and when pointing out the kids playing soccer, a miraculous recovery occurs and they opt for the game rather than the consultation! Now I just need to find something to entertain the girls! I think nail polish is the only thing cheap and available I can try. They are too busy looking after the babies, milking the cows and goats, cooking and cleaning and cultivating, to enjoy too much frivolity!

So after around 70 consultations, we packed up, tackled the slippery slope back down to the boat and headed home. Again I was filming, the team snoozing despite the constant drone of the engine, when bang, we crashed into a sand bar! We were actually trying to go around a fishing net when it happened!  People come running when they hear us, coming to point out the fishing nets precariously strung up between an empty water bottle and a discarded thong! So we bogged the boat! All part of the adventure and I have it on film! We arrived home late in the afternoon and after jumping out to secure the boat on docking, as I was sitting in front, I landed on my ass in the sticky black Mattar mud, unable to get enough footing to stand up. Both feet refusing to stay connected to one spot, the splits inevitable! So after filling my statistics I enjoyed an ice-cold beer, Yahtzee and fell into bed, totally exhausted!