Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sudan Ease

When I lived in Alexandria, Virginia I met a few girls through something we called "Girls Night Out." It wasn't what one might think when they hear about a girl's night out. There were no bars or male strippers involved. Wine, yes. Boys, no.

What we did instead was get together monthly at someone's house and cook a meal. Each girl would bring a component of the meal and we'd all assist in preparing it. After we were done cooking, we would sit down to eat, talk, laugh and connect. It was a great experience and it allowed me the opportunity to meet some great women in a town I was new to.

One of the girls, Natalie Topa, is now working in Juba, Sudan. She has been sending updates when she is able and I thought I'd share some of her pictures along with her email.

Hello there!

Sorry I've been out of touch for a while. All is going well and I'm still safe in Juba, Sudan except that now that the Mangos are ripening, they are falling from the tops of the tall trees that shade our camp and it's quite dangerous. In fact, my co-worker Faisal was hit in the head the day before yesterday though he's alright. The mango trees are also dropping enormous branches, and atleast 3 times a day you can hear the crack of the wood and then a massive crash. Usually they fall on one of the tents or the UN trucks and we haven't had any serious injuries though it can startle you out of your dreams at night.

Our compound is expanding so fast now. I've just realized that I'm the single, longest running resident of my camp where we now have over a hundred people. My tent is easy to pick out, as I've covered the outer walls of the covered porch with bamboo matt walls, just as the locals have it. I also have a nice big rug covering the entrance and a woven bamboo rug inside my tent. The tent is illuminated with the only antique lamp in the tent which provides much better lighting than the flourescent hallogen bulb standard of all the tents.

Because the compound is growing so fast, our generators are totally overloaded and each day we have fewer hours of energy. This is an issue for powering laptops and internet, as well as our Thuraya Satellite phones and the fridge with cold beer! The fans aren't working during the days which are getting hotter and hotter. We were so bored today, I finally spotted a bunch of ripened mangos in the top of a tree, picked up a green mango and with my best baseball arm was trying to get the juicy orange-colored fruits to drop. About six other folks joined in and all kinds of mangos were flying through the air. We now have an entire bag to enjoy at tonights party. The project manager, Hans Christian from Denmark, spent the day in the markets trying to get cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, raisins and almonds to make "Gluk" or "Kluvine", the typical Christmas hot wine. The deminers are throwing a brye (barbecue) and we'll do a little celebrating. Two mine-detection dogs came to the camp today- Keisha, a young female german shepherd and "Snowy", a tiny Jack Russel Terrier mutt. I spent a good while running around by the river with them and playing fetch. They're truly amazing pups that spend their days in the field sniffing out personnel mines (set off by foot) and tank mines (detonated by vehicles).

In the afternoon, the heat was unbearable and since the fans weren't running in our tents, the only choice was to...JUMP IN THE RIVER!!! I've been staring at that ferocious body of water for months, but the omenous blackness and the huge SNAKES I've seen muscling their way upstream were strong deterrents. Today I had no choice- the deminers from South Africa had set up a swing from one of the trees and were like a bunch of 10 year olds jumping into the river. I got in wearing my bra and shorts and almost panicked when I realized I was being carried down stream fast by the current. I resumed myself and swam hard to an eddy near the edge where I waded in the water for a good half hour. There are small crocodiles in this area, so when my belly got scratched by a huge log while trying to swim upstream- my heart was-a-pumpin' pretty hard since I couldn't tell right away what was under me.

Elsewise things are very well. I've been back in Juba for about 10 days after a quick trip to Nairobi with my team (initiated by the medivac for Faisal due to Malaria). While there, I decided to take a solo weekend Safari. I didn't realize how "solo" it was until arriving at the camp in the Maasai Mara to find that I was the only guest in the camp and had a 15-person staff to wait on me! The Maasai Mara is absolutely unbelievable. The moment my plane was approaching the landing strip, I saw herds of Zebras and Wyldebeasts running and darting in different directions away from the plane. The horizon was endless and I felt like I flew right into the Old Testament. I can safely say that the whole world is like a hurricane, and the Maasai Mara of Kenya is like the calm eye of the storm. Totally Godful.Our camp was on an escarpment looking over the entire vastness of the Maasai Mara. Since I was alone- it literally felt like I had rented the entire Serenghetti for my personal use for a weekend. The camp was an Eco-camp with solar power and no fences- totally open. I was awoken by Zebras, Giraffes and Elephants grazing near my tent each night. Because of this, I was escorted every night by Maasai Warriors bearing spears and bows and arrows- their job requirement was "have killed lion."

In the evenings, the staff, warriors and I enjoyed some whiskey by the fire and talked about everything under the big Kenyan sun. When asked what tribes we have in the US- I was a bit stunned and just answered: Democrats and Republicans!

On my second day, Kimani the driver let me drive through the Mara and that's where I learned to drive in a car with the steering wheel on the right side. Very weird. I drove us into the Serenghetti of Tanzania to see where the Wyldebeast (Gnus) cross the Mara River by the millions. Many of them either drowned or are eaten alive by the Nile crocodiles that are over 25 feet long! I saw dozens of floating carcasses and one mega-croc. I honestly had NO idea that a croc could be so long and fat- he was truly a giant.

Anyway- I'm off to enjoy some Gluk by the Nile and get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Hope everyone is well!



MamaKBear said...

Awesome pics! She's having the experience of a lifetime!

Nabeel said...

I saw this program last night, living with tigers on Discovery Channel .. he eventually goes to the jungle in front of wild lions and tries to get close to them as much as possible .. it was great .. did u catch it?

Unknown said...

Hey, I like your post. I've been there. It's a truly wonderful place to be. Our camp site was surrounded by electric fencing and armed security guards in case of lions or if any other wildlife entered the facility. Thanks all. Best of luck.
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