Archive for the month “June, 2012”

D-Day minus 52

Just spent a great weekend in Manchester at the 40, (yes, 40!!) years-after reunion of the German Department graduation Year 1972.  Great to see everyone after all this time and a good time was had.

When we told people about the VSO adventure, the recurrent question was “Why South Sudan of all places?”

Good question.  With the skill set that Linda and I were offering, we could have asked for a posting in Ghana, Ethiopia,  Tanzania or Papua New Guinea.  So why South Sudan?

Because it seems to be the most challenging.  Because there seems to be a really important job to do in this country that is just about to celebrate its first anniversary, and which is trying to put itself after 40 years of civil war.  And because 40 years ago, I was there, albeit briefly.

I had been sent by VSO to work as an English teacher at the Higher Teachers Training Institute in Omdurman.  Because Sudan was considered a hardship post, we were given the chance to fly home between the first and second years.  I took the opportunity to extend my return air ticket to Kenya, to see how the spoiled and pampered VSOs in the temperate foothills of Mount Kenya lived.

Having spent a few weeks exploring Kenya, and having no money to pay for airtickets back to Khartoum, I hitched a lift on an aid convey of six trucks taking supplies overland to the UN in Juba.

We drove up through Turkana in the very north of Kenya and after a nervous half day passing through Idi Amin’s Uganda, we set off through the bush towards Juba.  There were no roads at that time and we found ourselves making our way through the bush, crossing dry river beds, driving through swamps, occasionally under the gaze of extremely tall, very black-skinned men with deep tribal scars and dressed in nothing but a short cloak and a spear.  My first introduction to the Dinka.

So the suggestion that we go back to South Sudan forty years later, just seemed to have a certain circularity about it.  Maybe it was meant to be.  We’ll see.


June 21st D-Day Minus 55

Oh Lord!  We received flight details today.  KLM from Birmingham to Schiphol at 17.30 on 15th August.  Change in Schiphol to Nairobi.  Change in Nairobi straight on to Juba!!  14-15 hours travelling from one life to another.

All of a sudden it is starting to feel real.  Don’t panic!!

June 20th D-Day minus 57

Preparations for the Great South Sudan Adventure go on apace.  The whiteboard in our living room is covered in an ever-changing and ever-growing “To do list”

Car to sell, house to let, mortgage to sort out, RAC membership to cancel, NASUWT membership to cancel, TV licence to cancel, changes of address to organise, unbelievable quantity of VSO documentation to read, books to download onto Kindle, Swiss Army knife to buy, (complete with little attachment for getting stones out of horses’ hooves), stuff to pack away and store in attic, stuff to sort out and give to OXFAM, stuff to take to the tip, eye tests to organise, dental checks to organise, family and friends to visit on grand farewell tour, etc etc.

And all the while the house is looking absolutely spotless, just on the off-chance that another set of potential tenants will turn up to look around.

Roll on August 16th, say I.

Best line overheard recently

Question:  What do you call a male swan?

Answer:  Hell!  I don’t know.  Geoffrey?

June 6th D-Day minus 71

Got malaria tablets prescription today!  Three months worth of Doxycycline.  Unfortunately the Chemist only had 13 tablets, so that was a bit of a false start. More tomorrow.

The malaria tablets will be the start of a First Aid/Medical kit that is going to need its own baggage allowance: pain killers, plasters, antiseptic sprays, bandages, scissors, tweezers, hypodermics, insect repellent, emergency tooth filling kit, diarrhoea pills, constipation pills, rehydration sachets, MRI scanner, that sort of thing.

The nearest decent medical facility to Rumbek, where we will be posted,  is eight hours away in Juba, so a certain amount of self-sufficiency is called for.

June 5th D-Day minus 72

The motor-bike training is done.  The final VSO training course is done,  (see below).  The required fundraising is, thanks to Brooke Weston, pretty much done.  The jabs are done.  So now we are into countdown territory.  72 days to go!

Don’t ask!

Alternating waves of excitement and blind panic come over us in rapid succession.

My next door neighbour, who has known about our VSO plans for some while, leaned over the garden wall yesterday and said “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but why exactly are you doing it?”  On the spur of the moment, all I could think of saying was “Adventure, Frank, adventure.”

And maybe that’s it.  Yes, we hope we can make a bit of a difference in a country that is struggling to make its way after 40 years of civil war, but in reality, neither Linda nor I have any real idea what we will be doing once we arrive in Rumbek, South Sudan.  We know that we will be seconded to the Ministry of Education, Linda at Regional level, me at District level.  We know what the priorities of the Ministry are.  We know that I will have 46 schools to visit, but other than that we are pretty clueless at this stage.

Indeed our more pressing concern is what we will do on our first day in Rumbek when we wake up and realise that we have to go shopping in a market where we don’t know what food is available, what the prices are and where we will not be able to speak any language that the people in the market will be able to understand.

Much to think about.

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