You will never believe what happened at Jikow today! LOTS! First I had a meeting with the Woreda (like the city council only without the city) and got all my propositions approved with open arms, including a job for an old fellow who helps us out at each clinic in Jikow, just because he can. Anyway he will get paid which is credit where it’s due. Then four nurses from the Nib Nib health post turned up to come with us for training, all keen as mustard. We hope to hand over to them when we go, they run a health post with NO supplies, seriously NO supplies!
In Jikow I met the crocodile man who offered to call them for me. He told me the story of his grandfather and four other boys who each had a crocodile egg taken from a nest. Four of the eggs broke but his grandfather’s was placed in the river, hatched and still now that same crocodile over 150 years old comes when called, is sacrificed to and has many oxen in its name. On Friday he has invited me to come and see the annual ceremony, where a sheep will be sacrificed in the name of the crocodile spirit. He promises he will call with an ancient song and incantation and they will come and feed from his hand if I provide the goat/sheep sacrifice. It will not harm me and I can swim up to my chest with it without fear of attack. He says he will feed the great beast by hand and will be honored at my presence. WOW and I can film it!!!! WOW WEEEE!
I asked him if he was able to bless the MSF boat and protect it from croc attacks, but he laughed and said “no of course not!” He also said firstly to provide a goat but then explained that the goat will be shared; its head, lungs, intestines and one hind leg to the croc and the rest for the people. So with a twinkle in his eye he said “perhaps you should get a sheep instead, crocodiles like sheep better!” Ha ha ha!
Also another old fellow asked me to marry him…in exchange for three cows. I said: “Three? I’m worth 50!!!” He laughed and said if I give you a tukul and food what will you give me in return? I replied “ trouble! Nothing but trouble” to which he and his band of old men roared with laughter!!!
Therefore on Friday, we there set out for Jikow at 6:45 am, expecting a three hour boat trip, running the clinic and then meeting the Crocodile man for the sacrifice and floor show. Yet after three hours we weren’t there and the expats were supposed to be following in the other boat. We were very overloaded with all the medical gear, seven of us plus the boat driver, and things were hard going against the flow.
After four hours they informed me that we were only just half way and running low on fuel so I called back to the compound and the log told me the other boat had broken down so they wouldn’t be coming, but a car was going to Gambella so they would send them with some fuel. We were to meet them in Jikow. Now if the bloody car could get to Jikow we would have taken it instead of the boat, but after Tuesday’s four hours ordeal of slipping and sliding and getting bogged three times, the driver swore it was the last time he would drive there this year. Anyway we finally arrived at Jikow at 3pm!!!! No patients, NO crocodile man and NO CAR!
I called home again and a very concerned project coordinator told me they couldn’t get there till tomorrow and we would have to go get a hotel, not to worry MSF will pay! I was pretty blown away and said: “we are in Jikow”, the middle of nowhere, South Sudan is 50 meters away and the nearest hotel (for want of a better word) was in Nininyang two hours drive away!
He told me they couldn’t send the car until tomorrow so we were stuck for the night! The boys were unhappy and asked: “what will we eat?” I said fish and rice, “what will we drink” water from the well, “where will we sleep” in the tents, “we will be cold we have no sheet” Yes we have one each in the survival box. Mmmm they grunted: “we take shower” stripped off and jumped in the river to bath.
Anyway, I set about organizing camp, put up the tents under the huge old mango tree, arranged for a kid to get us a jerry can of water from the well, and then took my trusty hook, line and sinker (lucky I put it in the survival box this week) and headed to the bank for a spot of fishing! With some miming Marcel Marceau would be proud of, some kids got me some worms and after catching four reasonable sized catfish a couple of the boys came and asked “what is your plan now” I told them cooking dinner was the next thing on the list, and handed over the line.
We borrowed a pot as we only had one in the survival box, got some rice on the go in one pot and the fishes in the other. We had a tin of tomato paste but no tin opener so my multi-tools knife came in quite handy for gutting fish and opening the tin!
After filling the bellies of these boys, they were in better spirits and chatted away in their native tongues - Arabic and Nuer. I find this quite difficult and isolating, just because I can’t understand what they say and unless I ask a question, or they have a problem, they don’t really speak in any English. Most days are filled with this type of isolation and I’m grateful to speak or listen to the other expats when I get home. Yes it’s part and parcel of the job!
So anyway, when the Woreda heard what had happened and that we were camping in Jikow, they sent the Militia to protect us, fearing bandits would have also heard and come and steal our supplies. This scared some of the staff and by the time ti got dark at 7pm all but three of us were in bed, or at least in our tents. The Militia turned up after walking from Nib Nib with AK-47s and spears in hand. They were to stand guard, by a nearby tukul but believing the bandits would most likely go for the therapeutic food, mosquito nets and TB food which was all housed in MY tent, they would stay right beside me! I assured them they could sleep in the tukul and just come if I called them but they insisted being within three foot of my tent, so all night long the talking, sniffing and spitting were a reminder that I was safe!
Sleeping on the ground in day-old, fishy, muddy, sweaty clothes isn’t my idea of a great night out, but still it gave me time and reason to reflect and understand the people I’m working with better. Not the staff, though yes them too somewhat, but the patients. The oldies that come with general body pains that we send away with no medication, telling them its normal to have body pains after working in the fields cultivating, carrying 20kg drums of water for miles on their heads, cutting and carrying wood for miles just in order to live.
These people who don’t arrive home from their field of maize until after dark, only to bath in the river, light a fire, cook a meal, clean up, get the kids to bed and finally settle for a smoke of raw tobacco in their clay and metal pipes, kept alight by the glowing coal from a stick in the fire. Only to rise with the sun, squat in front of the ashes looking for a coal to relight the pipe before heading back out to the field for the day. Never mind it’s the weekend, it’s the same every day during cultivating season. So as I lay on the hard earth floor, covered only by a bamboo mat, fire flies flashing, frogs croaking, mosquitoes buzzing, my bones aching and my muscles complaining, but lucky for me, I was given a better insight to how these people really live. Simple and hard.