Archive for the month “June, 2013”

T-Shirt of the Week: Educating Girls.

T-Shirt of the Week:  Educating Girls.

Not as easy as it sounds, when you can marry off your daughter at the age of 13 and get thirty cows for her. With a cow worth anything between $400 and $1000, that’s a tempting offer for any father with a big family to look after.


Nomination for Fine Face of the Year Award.

Nomination for Fine Face of the Year Award.

Just a Sunset …

Just a Sunset ...

… taken last February in Zanzibar, (well, where else?)

Meet Dr John Garang de Mabior.

Meet Dr John Garang de Mabior.

Now then, sit up straight! Today we are learning about the History of South Sudan. There will be a test at the end of the lesson.

The Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956. The British government, in its infinite wisdom and its haste to rid itself of its imperial commitment, thought it would be a good idea to put the black African, largely Christian, southern part of The Sudan under the control of the Arab, Muslim, northern, political elite in Khartoum. It wasn’t!

There followed two civil wars, the first one from 1956 to 1972 and the second one from 1983 to 2005. Some people have described this whole period as a 50-year civil war with an eleven year-long truce in the middle. The first war is thought to have cost about 500,000 lives and the second one nearly two million. The suffering, from disease, displacement, famine and war was immense. Even today, the remains of bombed out buildings are still in evidence all over Rumbek.

50 years of civil war, hiding in the bush with light weapons and fighting an enemy that has tanks and Antinov bombers and has occupied all of your towns, does not give you much of a chance to develop a nation.

So who was John Garang and why was his picture on the wall of a classroom that I visited last week?

Garang, who had part of his education in Rumbek, joined the rebels fighting in the first civil war. However, at the start of the rebellion, he was considered too young and too bright to fight, so he was told to go abroad and complete his education. He studied agricultural economics in Tanzania and in the United States and eventually took a PhD from Iowa State University. During his students days he was very involved in radical African and Sudanese politics and in 1962 he returned to fight against the forces of Khartoum. He showed considerable skill as a guerrilla fighter.

In 1972, the first civil war ended and Garang, along with many of his comrades, was absorbed into the Sudanese army, where he quickly rose through the ranks to reach the rank of Colonel.

Then in 1983, there was a mutiny amongst about 500 Southern Sudanese soldiers who were objecting to the army’s plans to ship them to the northern part of Sudan. Garang’s Arab senior officers, decided that he would be just the man to send south on a mission to quell the rebellion. Big mistake!

He didn’t come back for 22 years.

He put himself at the head of the rebels, formed the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and for the next two decades, led a bloody and bitter civil war that only ended when the northern Government in Khartoum was forced to realise that it could not militarily defeat the SPLA and yet could no longer afford a ruinously expensive war of attrition. They sued for peace.

In 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, (CPA), was signed between John Garang and the Sudanese President, Omar El Bashir, and at the beginning of July of that year, Garang was appointed Vice-President of the Republic of the Sudan, the highest post ever held by a Christian and a southerner in the Khartoum government.

Under the terms of the CPA, Southern Sudan, as it was still called, was to be run, almost completely autonomously, but still as a part of The Sudan, for an interim period of six years. At the end of that time, there was to be a referendum to decide if the people of the South wanted to stay as part of The Sudan or become a completely independent, if very impoverished, country. The rest is history.

The new independent nation of South Sudan was born on July 9th 2011.

Next week it will be two years old.

John Garang served as Vice-President of the Sudan for less than three weeks. On July 30th 2005, he was killed when a helicopter, in which he was travelling, crashed into a mountainside.

Next week he will be remembered as the Father of the New Nation.

President Salva Kiir: First President of South Sudan

President Salva Kiir:  First President of South Sudan.

Salva Kiir took over the leadership of South Sudan on the death of John Garang in 2005. He also took part in the liberation of Rumbek from the Arabs towards the end of the war.

In 2011, he became the new nation’s first President.

The second anniversary of Independence is on July 9th.

That should be fun in Rumbek.

Footnote: Salva Kiir always wears a hat in public. His favourite is a Stetson given to him by George Bush. How’s that for a pub quiz question?

Upon the Seat of a Motorbike Built for Two.

Transport is a real challenge here.  The main roads are awful and can shake you and your vehicle to bits.  There are so many ruts and holes in the road surfaces that many drivers choose to drive along paths at the sides of the roads where pedestrians are supposed to walk.  Minor roads don’t exist in any form that you would recognise.

There are six main ways of getting around;

  1. On top of a truck, (if you’re brave enough.)
  2. In a local minibus, if you don’t mind being crushed into a 12-seater minibus with an unspecified  number of other people with all their goods and chattels, including livestock, farm produce, babies etc.,  jammed into every corner and piled up high on the roof.  (Not the babies, obviously.)
  3. In a Land Cruiser, if you work for an aid agency, or a Ministry, or you have sources of income way in excess of your salary!
  4. On a motorbike, either privately owned or ‘boda-boda’, the motorbike taxis.
  5. On a pushbike, Chinese, of course.
  6. On Shanks’s Pony, (known here as “footing”).

Linda and I are firmly in Sections 5 and 6 above, much to the amusement and amazement of the locals.  There are very few white people here and they certainly don’t walk or ride bicycles.

The most popular form of transport is the motorbike, and they are often a sight to behold.

(Editor’s note:  I would have liked to have a series of photos to illustrate the infinite variety of things carried by motorbikes.  However, the taking of photos is something that is not understood here and attempts to do so can end in tears.  I was at a cattle auction a while ago and wanted to take some photos, so I asked permission of the Army officer on duty.  Next thing I knew I was having a very unpleasant interview with a plain-clothes security official, who was demanding to see my papers.  Since that incident I have been much more circumspect, (a posh word for ‘scared’,)  about taking pictures.)

So, back to the motorbikes.  Today I saw two soldiers, each with an AK47 held smartly upright and parallel, on the same bike.  Nothing unusual there.  Then I saw two policemen, the driver carrying his machine gun round his neck, while the pillion passenger was holding a two-year-old child in front of him and his machine gun over his shoulder.

Three on a bike is a common sight and the maximum we have seen so far is five, three adults and two kids sandwiched between them.  Sometimes you see little three or four-year-olds sitting on the petrol tanks, held in place by the driver’s arms.  They look as if they feel very special.

And how would you get someone to hospital if they were unconscious?  Easy.  Put the unconscious person behind the driver and then sit on the back to wedge him into position.  Who needs an ambulance?

Of course, not only people get transported on motorbikes.  So far we have seen three crates of Tusker strapped on the back of a bike, two mattresses, a dining table, a double bed frame, an oil drum and a cardboard box full of goats, live goats, three of them. (Not on the same bike, obviously, but you get my point!)

How do you transport a double bed on a motorbike?  The same way as your unconscious patient.  You get a friend to sit behind you and hold the bed, while you drive like a bat out of Hell, leaving a cloud of dust behind you.

The only thing you almost never see on a motorbike is a crash helmet!  Unless, that is, Linda or I or one of the other VSO volunteers is braving a motorbike taxi to get into town.

VSO is very strict about helmets.   They have had far too much experience in other countries of VSO volunteers coming off motorbikes and either killing themselves, or at least seriously injuring themselves, because they were not wearing a helmet.  Consequently, the organisation now has a blanket international policy that all volunteers must wear full-face crash helmets if they ride motorbikes, even as passengers.  We were told, in no uncertain terms during our in-country training, that failure to observe this rule could result in our immediate repatriation.

So off we go, on the back of a boda-boda, looking like something that has just landed from outer space, and the looks on people’s faces go from surprise to confusion to total incredulity, sometimes culminating in fits of giggles.  Well, our mission is to provide entertainment for the local population, isn’t it? 

We call it ‘modelling good behaviour’. 

They call it ‘Comedy’!


STOP PRESS:  Just seen three men and twenty live chickens on the same bike!  Any advance on that?

Never a Dull Moment.

Never a Dull Moment.

There are apparently six rebel groups in South Sudan, led by rebel generals, who have fallen out with the Government and taken up arms. They are all suspected of being armed and funded by Khartoum. Fortunately none of them is operating in Lakes State where we are based.

President Kiir recently offered an amnesty to all of these groups in an effort to bring peace to the country. So far two of them have handed in their weapons in return for immunity from prosecution for any crimes they may have committed.

Watch this space.

T-Shirt of the Week.

T-Shirt of the Week.

On the last day of their last term, students at my last school used to sign each other’s shirts. On the last day of my career as a teacher, they signed the t-shirt that I used to use as a visual aid.

It’s got to have its day as T-Shirt of the Week.

For non-German speakers in the audience, “Es ist mir Wurst” means, literally, “It’s all sausage to me.” It is the equivalent of saying “It’s all the same to me.”
What a brilliant language!

T-Shirt of the Week. Rear View

T-Shirt of the Week.  Rear View

There Be Dragons!

Remember Jimmy Carter?  He was the 39th President of the United States and held the office from 1977 – 1981.  He was a one-term President and was succeeded by the much more charismatic Ronald Reagan. 

A gifted science graduate, with a distinguished war record in the US Navy, Carter had made his fortune after the war by rescuing his family’s failing farming business.  He became a very successful grower of Arachis hypogaea, (‘peanuts’, to you and me.) 

When he left office, popular opinion was scathing about what were seen as the failures of his administration and he became the butt of many unkind jokes from comedians and political commentators.  The fact that he had been a ‘Peanut Farmer’ was too much for  many people to resist.  The words ‘self-made millionaire’ were rarely used.  Such is the price of high office.

In 1982, a year after his defeat, Carter founded a charity known as The Carter Centre.  It had the twin aims of supporting human rights and alleviating human suffering around the world.

One of the principles of the Carter Centre was that they should not duplicate work being done by other organisations, so one of the first areas that they decided to concentrate on was the eradication of dracunculiasis.  As I am sure you know, ‘dracunculiasis’ derives from the Latin meaning “afflicted with little dragons.”  It is a really unpleasant disease, more commonly known as Guinea worm.

When the Carter Centre took up the challenge of tackling Guinea worm in 1985, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases spread across 21 countries in Africa and Asia.  At the beginning of 2013, there were reckoned to be only 542 cases left in the world.

17 countries have been declared completely free of the disease.  Only four remain, and guess who tops the leader board in the international dracunculiasis stakes?  Yep, you got it – South Sudan.  The latest figures are:

  • South Sudan            521 cases
  • Chad                            10 cases
  • Mali                                 7 cases
  • Ethiopia                         4 cases

The World Health Organisation reckons that in the next few years, Guinea worm will become the second disease in humans to be completely wiped off the face of the earth.  (The first one was smallpox.)

Note:  It is at this point that the Editor wishes to warn those of you who are of a sensitive or squeamish disposition, to stop reading, go and make a cup of tea, and skip the next-but-one picture.

OK.  Still with me?  Well, on your own head be it!.

You get Guinea worm from drinking infected, stagnant water which contains tiny water fleas. Once inside the body, stomach acid digests the water fleas but not the guinea worm larvae that are sheltered within them.  These larvae find their way into the body cavity, where after about three months of happily growing, the female mates with the male Guinea worm.  The male worm dies after mating and is ‘absorbed’.  The female continues to grow inside her human host.

After about a year, a painful blister forms on the skin and a few days later the blister bursts and the worm starts to emerge.  It usually breaks through on the lower leg or foot, but not necessarily.  It can come out anywhere, yes, literally, anywhere….  There have even been cases of a guinea worm emerging from the eye.

I did warn you!

When the blister bursts, the infected person experiences an excruciating burning sensation, hence the idea of being ‘afflicted by dragons’, and will rush to immerse the burst blister in water.  At this point, the worm releases hundreds of thousands of larvae and, if the water is a source of drinking water, the whole cycle starts up again.

The fully adult female worm can be 2-3 feet long, (i.e. 60 – 90 centimetres), and it can takes days, weeks or even months to fully emerge.  The best way to encourage it to come out more quickly is to wind the worm around a stick, or a pencil, and slowly rotate it. 

Had enough yet? No?

Well, you have to be very careful to pull the worm out very gently, otherwise it might break.  Broken worms can either putrify, or even petrify – inside the body!  (Just reflect on that for a moment!)

And of course, there is no guarantee that a person will only have one worm.  There may be several of them just reaching maturity and swimming around looking for a suitable way out!

In 2002, Jimmy Carter, who is now 89 years old, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work in alleviating human suffering. 

Damn right, I say.

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