Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Deep In the Heart of Shropshire.

Yes, I know.  Today is Sunday.  It’s the 29th September and we should be back in Rumbek, but we’re not.  We are in deepest Shropshire staying in a lovely cottage in the middle of nowhere.  No wi-fi, no mobile phone signal, no traffic, nothing.  Just fields, farms, hills and, today, beautiful sunshine. 

I have no idea when I will get the chance to send this blog entry.  I am not even sure that broadband has arrived in this part of darkest Shropshire yet.  However, since I am suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms after a self-imposed blog famine, I thought I might write an entry and see how soon I can find an internet connection to enable me to upload it.  Addiction is a terrible thing.

According to our original plan, we should have flown back to South Sudan yesterday, but my dentist had other ideas.  Last Friday I had the second of my four appointments, over the course of which the dentist plans to effectively re-build one of my teeth and put a new crown on it.  Appointment No 3 is on Tuesday next week and the final one should be on the 10th or 11th October, so enabling us to leave for Juba on the 12th. Fingers crossed.

The four weeks of our home leave has flown by. We have criss-crossed the country visiting friends and family and catching up with everyone’s gossip from the last year.  It’s been brilliant.  One of the almost inevitable consequences of being abroad is that you are ‘out of the loop’ in so many ways, so we were so pleased that we could see so many friends during our whistle-stop tour of the country.

We have also seen some excellent theatre while we were in London.   If you get the chance to see ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime’ in Shaftsbury Avenue, or ‘The Drowning Man’ at the Temple Studios in Paddington, go out of your way to do so.  They are both National Theatre productions and there were both excellent, though in very different ways.  ‘The Drowning Man’ is the only theatrical production I have ever come out of with the feeling that I wanted to buy another ticket and go and try it again.  Highly recommended.    If, on the other hand, you get the chance to see Sheila Hancock and Lee Evans in ‘Barking in Essex’, don’t.  Go and have a nice meal somewhere, or donate your ticket money to charity or something. It’ was probably the worst piece of theatre I have ever seen, professional or amateur!   Sheila Hancock, for those who don’t know her, is one of Britain’s most well -known and respected stage and screen actors.  I can only think that she had an unexpected tax bill to pay when she agreed to take part in this play.  It will not go down as a highlight of her career. 

We have had great delight in ‘max-ing out’ our pensioners’ bus passes all over the place.  We have scampered up the stairs of most of the double-deckers in London and Brighton, like a couple of kids, in order to get the front seats and the best view. We know it’s childish, but we don’t care.  We reckon that now we are old, we can start to behave in an eccentric fashion and people will just shake their heads tolerantly and ignore us. 

The highlight of the month was, of course, our daughter’s wedding, which was a joyous affair and one of the happiest, most original and entertaining days that I can remember.  I have to admit to a certain amount of disappointment that I didn’t receive a large number of cows in exchange for our daughter.  I am sure that, building on our experience with the Dinka, I could have negotiated the bride price up to, at least 500 cows, but then, I suppose, managing all that livestock in Putney High Street on a sunny Saturday afternoon in September might have been a bit of a challenge.

Today we just enjoyed having absolutely nothing to do.  The sky was blue, but with a cooling breeze, so we just wandered the hills aimlessly for a few hours until we found a country pub and a couple of pints of not-too-cold British beer.  After a busy few weeks, it was, as my mother used to say, ’just what the doctor ordered.’  Tomorrow should be another lazy day, but then the fun starts again.  On Tuesday I have to go back to Northampton for dental appointment No 3, – ‘The Reconstruction’ -, and then on Wednesday and Thursday I am booked on a two-day, off-road motor-cycle training course in Kidderminster.  Does life get any better?

Before we went out to South Sudan, I had to complete a Compulsory Basic Training Course to show that I was capable of riding a motorbike.  Day One was driving in and out of traffic cones on an empty car-park.  Day Two was driving around the Cotswolds with real traffic!

Neither of these days was a particularly appropriate preparation for Rumbek, since there are no traffic cones or car-parks in South Sudan and no tarmac at all in Rumbek.  So, off-road training it is!

I have to say that I am not a natural ‘biker’, and I have not learned to love my bright, shiny, red Honda 125 that is waiting for me in Rumbek.  I have come to the conclusion though, that I need to be independently mobile if I am to have any hope of getting out into the schools in my area.  I have therefore struggled with my aversion to travelling on two wheels without pedalling and agreed to have a motorbike.  All I have to do now is stay on it and un-grit my teeth!

So, enough for now.  I need to go off in search of an internet connection.  It seems very strange to be posting pictures of England onto the blog, but I suppose a change is as good as a rest.

And it’s just possible that Darkest Shropshire might be as interesting to some people who have never ventured into the wilderness that is the hinterland of Kidderminster.


Brighton Seafront.

Brighton Seafront.

This is the classic image of the seafront at Brighton, – deckchairs waiting for customers on a pebble beach.

Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside…

Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside...

The seafront at Brighton with visitors soaking up the autumn sunshine.

Over the Hills and Far Away.

Over the Hills and Far Away.

Yes. Very Helpful. Thank You.

Yes. Very Helpful.  Thank You.

Rural Idyll.

Rural Idyll.

Just a Perfect day

Just a Perfect day

Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

Apparently, after a wet and soggy spring and blazing summer England is enjoying a bumper crop of apples this year.

So, What’s It Like, Being Back?

Well, for one thing, the traffic takes a bit of getting used to.  On our first day back I was undertaking the terrifying task of crossing a busy road in Battersea.  Foolhardy, I know, but I had forgotten what being on foot in London was like.

My brain had obviously taken in the fact that there was a car coming, but had told me that I had plenty of time to reach the other side.  Unbeknown to me, my brain was still calibrated to Rumbek conditions.  It had assumed that the on-coming car would need to negotiate large ruts and pot-holes in the road and would therefore be traveling at about 15 mph maximum.  It wasn’t!

As I leapt, inelegantly, onto the far pavement, I felt the ‘whoosh’ of air as the car sped past behind me.  Phew!  Re-calibrate! Re-calibrate!

On the Plus-side, we have been able to indulge ourselves with all the things that we used to sit in Rumbek and dream about.   Cold white wine, mature cheddar with pickled onions.  Yesterday we even had apple crumble with custard.  Does life get any better?

One of the main advantages of coming home, apart from the delight of meeting up with people we haven’t seen for such a long time, has been the ability to get a general MOT check, (a TÜV test, for our German readers.)  In Rumbek, our nearest  proper doctor is 400 miles away in Juba and the nearest dentist is either in neighbouring Uganda or in Kenya, so it was a good idea to go and see our own doctors in Northampton and to get a dental check.

Linda, typically, was fine, but I mentioned to my dentist that I had a crown on one tooth that felt a bit loose.  He took a look, put two be-gloved fingers into my mouth and said “Did you mean this one?”  Between his index finger and thumb, he held the crown off my tooth!  No pulling, no tugging, no fancy dental procedure, just lifted the crown off.

The problem is that I will now need a total of four appointments for the tooth to be re-excavated, rebuilt and re-crowned, so our return to sunny Rumbek might be delayed by a few days.  That is unfortunate, but I’m certainly not going back to South Sudan with a dodgey tooth.

 Notwithstanding my slight dental dilemma, our days at home are gradually ticking by, and we will be soon be on our way back to Heathrow to start our journey southwards. 

In a perverse way, we are really looking forward to getting started on out second year.   We have spent the past twelve months establishing ourselves in the Ministry in Rumbek and building good relationships with the people working.  We have shown that we have some useful skills and that we can be quite helpful, particularly in a training and advisory capacity.  We are hopeful, therefore  that the next year will see us being quite busy in a number of interesting areas.

Will we save the world?  Will we put an end to poverty in South Sudan?  Will we even transform the education system in Lakes State?  Unlikely!  But with any luck, we might just encourage a bit of new thinking and show some key people that there is a wider world outside the borders of South Sudan and that there are, just possibly, better ways of doing some things that might bring more benefit to the next generation.  Who knows? 

Let’s just get on with it and see what happens.

Street Urchin in a Pin-stripe Suit.

Street Urchin in a Pin-stripe Suit.

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