Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Frostbite in Yei

I'm in Yei right now, another field site for my program, which is lovely. It is at the bit of Sudan which borders Congo and Uganda, green green green green and lovely rolling hills and random rock outcroppings which are always fun. We like Yei.

Yesterday I had to go out to Kaya, a border town we work in. Kaya is actually the most perfect town in the world to do HIV and GBV work in. It is on a major trucking route from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia, at all times wobbly dirt roads are packed with huge articulated lorries parked at random angles, stuck, trapped, being searched or rumbling through at a snails pace in low gear. The town appears to have nothing normal, it is all "lodges" and "pubs". It also appears to have no women except commercial sex workers who stay inside the lodges, talking to and doing other things with the perpetually drunk drivers and driver's assistants.

We had a lot of work to do in town, so we didn't get out until around 4.30 to head back to Yei, which was way too late. The rains have come now and from about 3.00 pm it starts to pour until maybe 5.00 am. This is not good for the roads, to say the least. So, anyway, at 4.30 we all pile in to the Land Cruiser to start heading back. Then, all of a sudden, there is a violent banging on the back door of the truck. We open it to find five drenched, angry day laborers. Apparently we hired them from Yei to come out to Kaya to do a food distribution and the truck driver abandoned them. There was nothing to it, we had to pile them in to the already crowded truck.

So, this takes us to 6.30. I've been sitting in the back of a truck full of sweaty, stinky, wet day laborers, crammed with one cheek on the seat, in agony because I've kinda been crouching, for two hours. I'm thinking this is unpleasant, but do-able. Then, THEN we see the line of lorries. On a remote dirt road, at dusk, in the rains, a line of lorries is never a good thing. It can only mean one thing, OTHER lorries are trapped up ahead in the mud. Sure enough, we pile out and see that the clay has been moistened into something like a slip'n'slide, leading to articulated lorries articulating in ways maybe they weren't meant to, truck sliding off the crown of the road and general chaos.

There's no way we're getting past.

We were about 19 miles out, which normally would've led us to just sleep in the car. But there were so many of us, there was no way. We couldn't even sit properly in the back, let alone try and get any kind of rest. So, I took my shoes off, hoiked up my trousers, balanced my bag on my head, and we started to walk. In the rain.

I'm trying to imagine what it looked like to the villages we walked past. Khawaja (whitey) in linen trousers and other nice things (I had meetings with hospital officials in Uganda that day), red mud up to mid-calf, tromping at the head of a column of Sudanese guys as we raced the dark to try and find a vehicle. In, I can't mention this enough, the rain. The cold rain.

We finally got a ride and got back. I arrived to the compound to find no hot water and no chance for any real food. So I just went to bed. Seemed the only rational solution.

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