Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Birthday treat

Last week, I thought Linda could do with a night out, so, on the basis that nothing is too good for my wife, I took her to the Crocodile Bar next door to our compound, where they were showing football, Manchester United vs Stoke. The Crocodile Bar, which is really just a big corrugated iron barn with rough wooden benches ranged in front of a couple of TV screens, was, as usual, packed. We sat in the back row with sweat running down our backs and leaned against piles of empty beer crates. It cost one Sudanese pound to get in (about 20p), so with a beer in the interval, it’s was cheap Saturday night out. And we were back in our compound just before darkness fell, so we didn’t break the curfew.

Sitting there in my bright red Man U shirt, which I only bought because I needed something with long sleeves that I could wash the sweat out of easily, everyone assumed I was a dyed-in-the-wool Man U supporter. Oh the irony of it! If they only knew that I hardly know one end of a football from the other, but long sleeves are a protection against mosquitoes once the evening comes.

We sat just behind Ramires No 7 and Fabregas No 4. Then Torres came to sit next to us. The young man who sold me the beers was called Lampard. The shirts were all faded and probably were from several seasons ago, but it’s amazing what you can pick up second-hand in Rumbek market. One little lad obviously didn’t have any money to buy one of the cheap Chinese counterfeit shirts, so he had taken a biro and scrawled “OSKAR” on the back of his T-shirt.

This week-end it was Linda’s birthday, so I decided it was time to push the boat out and hang the expense. I invited her to the Crocodile Bar again, but this time for Man U vs Chelsea, which costs double, that’s 40p, each! To add to the thrill, the match didn’t start until 7.00pm, which means we would be coming home after the curfew. How daring is that?

Imagine our horror when we found that the Crocodile Bar had had to cancel the screening of the Big Match because the credit on their subscription had run out!
Undeterred, and quick as a flash, I devised an alternative plan. About 10 minutes walk away into the depths of the surrounding night there was a Youth Centre that had also been advertising the same match. So off we set, torch in hand, through the pitch blackness.

By the time we reached the Youth Centre, we had already missed the first Man U goal. We just heard the roar from the assembled youth.

When we finally arrived we were greeted by the spectacle of about 400 young men, sitting on plastic chairs arranged in front of a single TV screen in the compound outside the Centre. The only place we could sit was right at the back, so some delightful ‘youths’ went off and came back with two stacks of 6 or 7 plastic chairs for us to sit on. It was like sitting in the balcony. We had a brilliant view, even if the screen was about half a mile away.

The trouble was that every time Manchester scored a goal about 300 Dinkas would leap into the air and start celebrating wildly. Even from our towers of chairs there was no way we could see the action re-play because of the solid wall of seven foot tall, over-excited, ‘whooping’ Dinkas in front of us. When Chelsea scored, another, smaller, section of the audience went crazy.

I have never been interested in football. I still don’t understand why a bunch of young Dinka men could care less what happens between two teams from opposite ends of England, but they do, passionately.

In Rumbek market, you can buy posters with profiles of all the main players of all of the Premiership teams, for 3 South Sudanese pounds (60p) each, so there is no excuse for not being well informed about who Abramavic and Ferguson are, or for not knowing the difference between Rooney and little Oskar. (The nice thing was that, during the match, John Terry‘s face came on the screen and everybody boo-ed.)

I must say I enjoyed the game, even if the off-side rule is still a mystery to me. Although Manchester won, the other side, whoever they were, played very well and gave the Manchester goalie a lot of work to do. I couldn’t see what his name was. I think it was Aon.

The funniest thing was walking home behind a group of “youth” after the game. I would never have thought that I would have welcomed the company of large numbers of football fans, but when you are walking home, a hour after curfew, in the pitch darkness, it’s very reassuring to have some friendly company.

Eavesdropping on the post-match commentary was an education in itelf. My Dinka is not good enough to understand what they were saying except for the odd word. So what I heard was “Blah, blah, blah yellow card blah blah. Blah blah Stamford Bridge blah blah referee, blah blah blah three match ban. Blah blah”. I suppose the Dinka language, being based on the language of the cattle camp, would struggle a bit to come up with the words for a “three match ban.”

And what was the best thing? Well, being a Youth Centre, there was no beer. So in the interval we just had a can of lemonade, which means that it was an even cheaper night out. Who says I don’t know how to show a girl a good time?




…or what?

As we walked into town one Saturday morning…

As we walked into town one Saturday morning...

Many Dinkas’ faces, when they are in repose, look pretty fierce and hostile. When you greet them and shake hands, their faces break into the broadest of grins. Phew.

That was the week, that was.

This has been a good week. My placement at the County Education Office has been a bit slow to get started. A change of County Director, followed by a school holiday and various other little hitches have meant that I haven’t been particularly busy during my first few weeks here. Last week was different. My feet hardly touched the ground. It was a bit like being back at Brooke Weston!

Monday and Tuesday was spent setting the English exams that all children in the State will sit at the end of Primary 8. This is the end of their Primary education, the equivalent of Year 8/9 in the UK and the results of the exams will decide whether they have the opportunity to go on to Secondary. (By the end of Primary 8, most girls have already dropped out of the education system, either because their families have decided that they are needed at home, or because they have been married off.)

The problem is that most of the teachers who set the exams have, themselves, only a limited proficiency in English, so the Director in Charge of Exams asked me to put two exam papers together from a series of questions provided by a team of primary teachers. That was fun. Some of the questions set were either incomprehensible or, in some cases, downright wrong.

For grammar nerds out there, consider this question.
Q. Put the following sentence in to the Future Perfect tense:
“He …. (finish).… his homework by 9 o’clock.
Answer: He would have finished his homework by 9 o’clock.
So if a student writes “He will have finished his homework by 9 o’clock,” he or she would lose the mark.

Having corrected mistakes, removed the questions that were ambiguous and generally tidied things up a bit, I put the papers in for typing. I then offered to proof-read the other subjects, (all except Maths and Science – that’ll be Linda’s job).

The Religious Education paper was interesting, because I had to read the text book from which the questions were taken.
Answer the follow:
What the was the name of the hill where Christ died?
Which Apostle was a medical doctor?
With what do you associate the word “skull”? (The secretary, who has to type all these papers up, is a devout Christian from Kenya. I asked her what an earth the answer to this question could be. Before you could say ‘Wikipedia’, she had grabbed her Bible, which she had in her handbag, and showed me the passage that stated that ‘Golgotha’ was known as the Valley of the Skulls, but then I’m sure you already knew that.)
Why do we equate ‘tongue’ with ‘fire’? (Just to keep the old mind boggling! You really don’t want to know the answers!)
Name three ways in which you can show devotion to God.
Answers. A. By worshipping Him. B. By obeying Him C. By praising Him.
(Without showing her the answers, I asked the secretary this question. Her answers were “By living a decent life; by being honest; by being kind and generous to other people” Na naaah! Wrong answer. No marks.)
And the question that takes the prize of objectivity and political neutrality
Name three ways in which Christians living in Khartoum are persecuted. Hmmmm!

The Geography paper was also interesting. It informed me that Bamako is the capital of Morocco, (which it isn’t. It’s the capital of Mali), that the capital of Gabon was Live Ville, (which it isn’t. It’s Libreville), and that the Sudan was colonised by the Bretesh.

On Wednesday I attended a long meeting called to look at ways of bringing education to all those who missed out on their schooling because of the war. Over the 21 years of the civil war, many young men and boys were taken as soldiers to fight against the forces of Khartoum. They therefore remain pretty much uneducated and now long-term unemployed. There is therefore a great need to get them into, at least, primary education, so that they can get work and make a contribution to building the new nation. The ministry is even planning to get teachers to attach themselves to the cattle camps that move around all the time in search of grazing, to ensure that the children, whose job it is to tend the cattle, as given some sort of education. There’s an awful lot to do before education here will be good enough to give all young people the chance they deserve, but at least the country is trying to get things together.

On Thursday I was back in school, giving an impromptu English lesson to about fifty 16 – 23 year olds in the local Secondary school. I’ve signed up to do about six lessons a week as there is a desperate shortage of teachers. Great fun again. How do you explain the concept of “to look up to someone” and “to look down on someone?” Well, you get a seven foot Dinka, me in the middle and a very young, short Dinka and you demonstrate it! Great hilarity all round. Anybody remember the John Cleese sketch, “I look down on him because he is working class…?” For those that don’t, just google it.
And to cap it all, it was announced yesterday that today is a public holiday to recognise the Muslim festival of Eid, which explains why this blog entry is so long.

My Dinka Homework.

My Dinka Homework.

And before my former Brooke Weston students leap to their computers to ask the question…. No, I didn’t use Google translator!

A rainy day in our compound.

A rainy day in our compound.

This is what Crocs were invented for.

So, what are those rather fetching dark spots, then?

So, what are those rather fetching dark spots, then?

Sunburn through the holes in my Crocs.

Can anybody see the 3ft long, bright green snake in this bush?

Can anybody see the 3ft long, bright green snake in this bush?

No? That’s funny. Neither can I now. But I know it’s there, because it just slithered past me and disappeared into the foliage!

Don’t you wish you had been there?

Clean hands save lives!
Global Hand Washing Day celebrated worldwide

RUMBEK, SOUTH SUDAN – Monday 15th October marks Global Hand Washing Day 2012, aimed at increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of hand washing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases.

The first ever Global Hand Washing Day was celebrated in 2008, and over 120 million children around the world washed their hands with soap in more than 70 countries. Last year’s celebrations in Lakes State involved over 2200 children from eleven primary schools in Rumbek Centre. In 2012, it is anticipated that over 3000 children will participate in the celebrations in Rumbek town.

Around the world, children, teachers, parents, celebrities, and government officials plan to mobilize and motivate millions to lather up in order to reduce life-threatening diseases, such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.

More than 3.5 million children under five die from diarrhoea and pneumonia-related diseases every year. The simple act of washing hands with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal rates among children under five by almost 50 per cent, and respiratory infections by nearly 25 percent.

Hand washing with soap – especially at the critical moments of after using the toilet and before handling food – is a critical, cost effective and life-saving intervention. Research in several developing countries illustrates that lack of soap is usually not the barrier – the vast majority of households have soap at home. The main problem is that soap is rarely used for hand washing.

Under the slogan “Clean hands save lives”, the focus of Global Hand Washing Day is children. Children act as agents of change and take the good practices of hygiene learned at school back into their homes and communities. The active participation and involvement of children, together with community-based interventions aim at ensuring long-term behaviour change.

Everyone is invited to attend this year’s Global Hand Washing Day celebrations at Comboni Primary School in Rumbek. The programme will begin at 9am and will be opened by the Governor, the Director General of the Ministry of Education and representatives of the Ministries of Education, Health and Physical Infrastructure. Children will participate by demonstrating proper hand washing and performing drama. The winner of a school cleanliness competition will also be awarded a special prize on the day.

Keeping my fingers crossed

…but for the last two weeks I haven’t been able to post any photos onto the blog. I keep trying but nothing seems to go through. The system will accept text but not pictures.

I am hoping that it is just a glitch at WordPress itself and that it will sort itself out. I have to go to one of the local hotels to get access to decent wifi, so that’s usually a Sunday job.

Fingers crossed for next Sunday.

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