Archive for the month “December, 2012”

A Happy New Year to Everyone

You will be relieved to know that the Police in Rumbek have decreed that there should be no gunfire tonight to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. Knowing how well Government instructions are normally respected here, we confidently expect the skies to erupt, on the stroke of midnight, and for there to be sustained and continuous gunfire into the early hours. It will, no doubt, be the ‘same procedure as last year.’

We have a modest bottle of whiskey hidden away in the bottom of our cupboard, with which we will raise a glass to the momentous outgoing year, (VSO selection, retirement and arrival in Rumbek et al), and toast the arrival of the New Year, with whatever that is going to bring.

We hope that, by the time your New Year starts, three hours after ours, the expected Battle of the Somme will be over and we will be safely tucked up in our mosquito nets and fast asleep.

So, let me wish A Happy and Peaceful New Year to our readers in the UK and elsewhere in the English-speaking world (We occasionally get ‘hits’ from the US and Australia), and einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr, to our smaller, but very faithful, following in Germany.

Cheers and Prost


Bullet Boy.

 Bullet Boy is about three years old.  He lives in a compound of straw roofed ‘tukuls’, right next to the Ministry of Education building, where Linda works.

Every time we cycle past his compound, he comes shooting out to meet us and to shake our hands. He is very serious about it and determined not to miss us.  He reminds me of a three-year-old version of the Fat Controller from the Thomas the Tank Engine stories.  When he runs out to greet us, he leads with his stomach and nothing is going to deflect him from his purpose.

We daren’t ride past him for fear that he’ll run into the bikes.  So we stop, while he slaps our outstretched hands in greeting as if we were old friends.  “HowayooI’mfine.”  By this time he usually has his gang of scruffy, snotty-nosed, dust-covered, three year-old friends around him, all of whom have to have their hands shaken.  We make a mental note to get the antiseptic hand gel out, as soon as we get to the office!

Last week, having greeted Linda, Bullet Boy came round to me to slap my hand, in manly fashion.  But then, instead of releasing me and letting me cycle on, he held on to my hand and proceeded to stroke my forearms… both of them.  Bit weird, I thought.  And then I realised.  He had never seen a man with hairy arms before.  African men do not have hair on their forearms!

So, if I have achieved nothing else over the past four months, there is one little boy who now knows that in the big wide world beyond the ‘tukul’,  there is a whole race of strange, but friendly, white men who have hairy arms! My time has not been wasted.

National Polio Vaccination Campaign.

National Polio Vaccination Campaign.

No-one in their right mind would choose to run a house-to-house vaccination campaign in this part of the world where no-one lives in houses in neat streets with proper addresses and where ‘tukuls’ and compounds are scattered all over the countryside, but they did it anyway and thousands of children will not get polio as a result. It’s always better to light a candle than to complain about the dark.

T-Shirt of the Week #4

T-Shirt of the Week #4

I don’t know what it was, but….

I don't know what it was, but....

it was trying to get in through our window.

How now…?

How now...?

Ever wondered where the myth came from?

Ever wondered where the myth came from?

Where do babies come from? The stork brings them. Everyone knows that. This picture was taken at the back of our compound. What else could be in that pouch, if not a baby ready to be delivered to someone?

I want to be a Policeman with a Camera in my Hat.

Several people have asked what Christmas was like in Rumbek. Well, I have to say, it was one of the most stress-free Christmases I can remember. Very enjoyable, very relaxing and not a Christmas card in sight. A time to sit in the shade, read a book, write the occasional blog entry, surprise people at home with a phone call from the middle of Africa. Perfect.

Actually, we tried half a dozen times to phone some friends who were walking in the Brecon Beacons. And when we finally got through, as they came down off a wet and windy mountainside, we discovered that the problem of connectivity was not in Africa, it was the lack of mobile phone coverage in Darkest Wales.

On Christmas Eve, the wonderful Miriam and Mary, the two Kenya women who manage the Guest House where we live, decided to put on a special Christmas dinner for us –casseroled chicken and mashed potatoes, followed by fresh fruit salad made of pineapple, paw-paw, watermelon and banana. The fruit-salad was in a delicious syrup. Our big mistake was to ask how they had made it. “Fanta”, came the reply! What would we do without the Coca-Cola Company? Miriam and Mary had even dressed the tables with linen table cloths and properly folded napkins. What a treat! They did us proud, bless ‘em.

At about 10.00 pm, when normally we would be safely tucked up under our mosquito nets, Linda and I decided to go to Christmas Mass in the church just along the road from the Guest House. We were out after dark, how wicked is that?

When we got there we found that the church had been abandoned in favour of a large compound nearby where a stage with a large, corrugated iron roof had been erected along with a sound system that would have graced the O2 Arena. Why? Because the church wouldn’t hold the 1500 or so people who wanted to turn up for Mass! There was lots of singing, chanting, readings, women at the front dancing, (I actually think that African women are physically incapable of singing without dancing at the same time.) A really festive atmosphere.

After about an hour, Linda decided that it was time she took me home. The problem started with a Bible reading from an elderly priest. He had already told the assembled congregation that Jesus was born in a cattle-camp, which started me giggling. Then, (and to get the full effect of this, you need to know that Dinkas often have problems distinguishing between p’s and f’s), he started to read the Christmas story to the assembled crowd. The part he was reading was obviously towards the bottom of a page, which necessitated turning the page. This he clearly didn’t find easy, because it took him about fifteen seconds to accomplish the feat. Fifteen seconds seems like an eternity when you are left in a state of suspense about how the story continues.

So what we were treated to was:-
“… and Lo, there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their…… fumble, fumble … eager anticipation from 1500 hushed parishioners… fumble, fumble … plocks!”

I was led away.

The following morning was even more of a spectacle. Again, there must have been a couple of thousand people turning up for a series of morning Masses, this time with hundreds of children of all sizes.

The Dinka tradition at Christmas is that, if you can afford it, you give new clothes as presents. Mass on Christmas morning is obviously the time to show off your new outfits, so the area around the church was thronged with the most spectacular array of colours and styles that you can imagine. Some of it seemed slightly inappropriate to our eyes, like the young women in a shiny golden, backless, strapless cocktail dress, going off to take Communion, or the little girls in magnificent ‘Princess’ gowns with coloured beads in their hair. And then there were the numerous young boys in ill-fitting suits, complete with shirt, collar and tie, all picked up from the second hand clothes traders in the market. One lad, about 14 years old, was striding purposefully along the road in polished shoes and a bright silver suit, glistening in the morning sun. He was obviously going to show it off to someone and couldn’t wait to get there. Cool dude!

No two of the children, or the adults, for that matter, looked alike, but the one thing that they all had in common was the fact that they all thought that they looked like a million dollars… and so they did!

So why did I want to be a policeman with a camera in my hat? Because I was desperate to take my camera out of my pocket and record the event. The trouble is that taking pictures here can be a tricky business. People don’t understand why you would want a picture of them and they are often very suspicious. If you get permission from the subject, there is usually no problem, although even that is not always the case. A few weeks ago I had quite an aggressive reaction from a couple of complete strangers to my attempt to photograph two women carrying bags of flour on their heads. The women were very happy to be photographed as long as I promised them a copy of the picture, but the two men walking past were not happy. “Why do you want a picture of these women? These are not your women!”

My spoken Dinka was just not up to explaining to two stroppy passers-by, what, on earth, a blog is!

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to treat a woman!

Never let it be said that I don't know how to treat a woman!

Linda thought we weren’t doing Christmas presents this year, but, call me an old romantic, I just couldn’t let the festive season pass without buying her some flowers. And the great thing is that these flowers will last all year long, and next Christmas, I’ll just have to run them under the tap and they’ll be as good as new! I know they cost £3.00, but, hey, who cares about money at Christmas?
Linda was totally whelmed!

Two Questions.

Two Questions.

Number one: What is the old bloke with the hat sitting on?
Number two: How old is that boy who has just driven him home from the market?

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