Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bush Trails

I have been running pretty regularly here for the past six months or so. I used to run a lot but hurt my achilles-tendons training for a half-marathin back in August 2009. I tried running again here a year later, but after a few weeks had to give it up, my tendons were not ready yet for running. I wrote about running in Juba in an earlier blog entry.
I used to walk all over Juba which I thought was good exercise but was probably, unbeknownst to me, continuing to aggravate the tendons injury. After the other American missionary left last April I "inherited" her car and started driving everywhere all the time. I do have a Sudanese driver's license, the obtaining of which would make for a humorous blog entry in and of itself. I remember when I was home last June so badly wanting to get pulled over by a policeman so I could show them my Sudanese license so I could see their reaction. But anyway, driving our little Toyota Hi-Lux pick-up truck everywhere made me incredibly lazy, but was in fact allowing my tendons to heal finally.
Around October of last year my tendons felt good enough to try running again. It used to be that I would wake-up every morning and as soon as my feet hit the floor my tendons would be so sore for the first 15-minutes of the day. But after all the driving by last October I could get out of bed pain free. I started lightly jogging around the compound and within a few weeks was back up to a few miles every other day. I have for years tried to limit my running to every other day, trying to give my body a chance to recover and to avoind injuries from overuse. I want to be able to run for life, not just a few months. It is tough with my nature, I keep wanting to push myself to run further and further, I really like distance running. I like runs of around 5-7 miles every time I go out but it takes time to work-up to that distance and I tend to try and get there too quickly.
I have been running really well now since last fall - well, it's always summer here, isn't it?! - even through the hot, dry season which started at the beginning of November. I prefer to run in the evenings after work. I refuse to wake-up early to go running. It's so strange, after 15-years of working night-shifts and early mornings I now rarely look forward to waking up but find myself sleeping in later and later every day! If it wasn't for the damned chickens waking me up every morning I'd probably sleep until 10am.
Running in Juba is not for the thin skinned. Very few Sudanese exercise, they consider it undignified. Also, many of them - mostly the women - work so hard I think they would be insulted if you suggested that they exercise and expend more energy. But running through the streets you get howled at, folks yelling all sorts of things, some insults, some just the equivalent of "look at the white man!!" Most people also just laugh at you. I think it was Paul Theroux in "Dark Star Safari," who said an Africans' initial response to something they didn't understand was to laugh and I know this well every time I run. People howl with laughter when they see me running. I also have a fair number of random people just start running with me. It used to frighten me at first, I'd just be running along and then some random Sudanese would just start running with me. I didn't know if they wanted to be friendly or kill me. I tried to picture how this scenario would play out back home if some random African American just started running with me. But the people have always turned-out to be ok, they just wanted to enjoy a funny moment with this crazy white man running. Children especially will run with you squealing with laughter and it's impossible not to delight in their joy.
During my recent month-long excursion out through Western Equitoria where I was conducting finance training, I took along my trainers (sorry: that's running shoes for those of you who don't live with Brits) and kit and managed to get in at least one run in all 8 of the dioceses I visited. I had a lot of fun running out in the country, especially when I got on bush trails running out in the tall grass away from civilization. But if I thought the people of Juba were unfamiliar with seeing me running, it was nothing compared with people out in the dioceses I visited. Entire towns of people would come out to see the crazy white man, everyone howling with laughter. In Maridi people were taking pictures with their cell-phone cameras, wanting evidence in case their friends could not believe their fantastic tale of a crazy white man running through town.
I am often tense when running through Juba. This is partly because I have to always be on guard against the careening cars which make all travel in Juba horribly dangerous. But also because although most people's insults towards me are fairly mild, and I normally ignore them although I have occasionally given single fingered salutes to the worst offenders (hey! I spent over a dozen years living in New York, some things you don't outgrow! fuggedaboutit) I'm always worried some drunken idiot will decide to escalate things by hurling a bottle or trying to grab me and my mind often plays out various scenarios of my getting into fights. I found in the country I could relax more. People living in the country here see fewer white people and my presence was more unexpected. People were more likely to howl with laughter when they saw me running, but they made fewer rude comments and in fact were more likely to yell "hellos" or give me waves than happens in Juba. In fact, I found it often hard to concentrate on my running because every person you pass - and walking is so common here that the roadways are always full of pedestrians no matter where you are - wanted to greet me.
My favorite runs were in Mundri and Rockon. In both places I was able to run on remote bush trails. These are narrow trails that meander through the tall grass. At this time of year, late in the dry season, the grasses are about 6-feet tall. The trails are all single file. I think it was Dineson in "Out of Africa" that commented on the African tradition of walking single file and it's true, I've seen it everywhere here. The trails are single file as they wind through the bush. When you are on them the trails seem not to be straight for more than a meter but seen from the air they often look arrow straight; it's an odd phenomenon. The trails meander about including going through family compounds. You'll just be running along and suddenly you are in the middle of a family's compound, a few tukels on one side of the trail, a few on the other. The families would be sitting there in the afternoons, chatting when I would just run through. They would always howl with laughter at the sight of me but offer friendly waves and whatever the local greeting was. There's nothing you can do but be equally friendly back. In Mundri this one young boy, well, not too young - about 10 or 12 - yelled in fright and dropped his armload of cut sugar-cane when he saw me emerging from the bush, a lone white man running from no-where. His family howled with laughter at the boy for being frightened, and howled at me for running through. In a lot of places I was sure I was the most entertaining thing that folks had seen in ages.
It felt during my trip that I would have one good run and then one not so good run. My run in Maridi was so-so, I was howled at more than usual and I was tired. But then next run in Mundri was great. Same again with Lui and Rockon. I think the runs where I was less certain of where I wanted to run, or where the trail wasn't that great made the efforts more taxing. But I was also training people all day before going out for a run so I could have just been tired, though I don't normally allow that as a possibility.
In Yambio this Ugandan soccer player who was out for his training run - unawares, we actually started near the same location heading in opposite directions and met at the mid-point of each of our runs - decided to turn around and join me. I don't normally like to run with people but he was friendly and we were pretty evenly matched, even though I was maybe twice his age. Anyway, we had a great run back to our starting point. In Ibba the bishop wouldn't allow me to run on the bush trails out of security concerns. I thought about ignoring his advice but it's hard to ignore a bishop. I ended-up having a tiring run along the main road through town a couple of kilometers out to the local airstrip. This was the only place I ever had a problem when a local cowherder shook his whip at me and yelled at me to get away from his cows. I was seriously tempted to pick-up a rock and throw it at one of his cows to start a stampede, but you always feel so outnumbered here that you cannot be your normal smartass self but have to always give-in.
In Ezo, in the extreme southwest of South Sudan, I wanted to find the border of South Sudan with Congo and Central Africa Republic (CAR). All three countries meet-up there and I wanted to run from country to country. As I was out running I did stumble into the local UN compound where I caught-up with this Canadian guy heading out for a run. There are a lot of Candians over here doing all kinds of work. This guy was from the Royal Mounted Police and was in Ezo training the local police. We ran together for a couple of kilometers. He showed me where CAR was - I'd already run past the border - and told me where to find Congo. I'm still not certain I found Congo, but I was really close, close enough for me to believe I ran in three counties in one evening!
That's one of the great things I love about running: it allows you to see so much more and at ground level and close-up. And in a place like South Sudan it allows you the chance to meet more people and - since I'm dressed only in running kit - in a non-threatening way that allows the locals to feel at ease. I mean, I look so silly in my running shorts and t-shirt, just an expanse of white flesh like what they are not used to seeing that it is comical and makes for a non-stressful encounter which gives me the chance to interact in a more intimate way than when I am dressed in work clothes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I am Thankful for Water

I visited the ECS Diocese of Mundri recently. I went there as part of my effort to teach diocesan staff basic bookkeeping and an introduction to management. Mundri is due west of Juba, about 170-kilometers. It’s lovely country: low mountains, lots of mango and teak and other trees.
While there I went with my host Michael, a long-term American missionary who’s spent most of his adult life in Africa, to see the sights and to meet a particular lady. Mama Josephine is one of the matriarchs of the community, a grand old lady who was talking about starting a Christian pre-school. We visited Mama Josephine at her “country” place deep out in the bush. A couple of mud and thatch tukels she shares with members of her extended family (nearly all families in Africa are “extended” families. People are referred to as “brothers” and “sisters” and “aunties and uncles” more loosely than what is done in the west. I myself am referred to as “uncle” within many families here.)
Michael’s area of expertise is in water engineering – location of bore-wells, setting up water tanks, that sort of thing. Really useful knowledge to have in Africa. Anyway, Mama Josephine was talking about a small private primary school which was being built about a mile away and suggested to Michael – who advises the county on where to locate bore-wells – that the new school would be a good location for a well.
We all walked over to the school, Mama Josephine included. It was a fairly easy walk of a mile or so through forest and brush. The “school” consisted of two buildings built of raw timber, mud and iron sheeting for the roofs. The floors were dirt and the children would likely just sit upon the floor.
It was fairly indifferent whether the school really needed a well, but it was obvious that Mama Josephine really wanted the well located there not only because it would benefit school children, but also because it would reduce the trek her family – and the other families living in the area - would have to make to fetch water from a couple of miles to around 1-mile.
I thought about how I have three sinks in my house back home, and two bathtubs. I also have a washer-machine hook-up and one outside spigot. I’d really like a second spigot. My home is on a well, the machinery of which occasionally causes me problems but it works like it should most of the time. How fortunate am I? Here I was confronted with a woman for whom having to haul water only one mile would be a marked improvement in her life! I never appreciated how well-off I was before I came here. Everyone should live in Sudan for a while.


Ugh!! It's so hot! It's been a hundred degrees every day for three months now! And it hardly cools at night, maybe gets down to the mid-80's. We almost never have electric power overnight, just a few hours in the evening when they run the generator at the Guest House, but that always cuts off at midnight. So you try and sleep without even a fan blowing on you. I wake up always in a pool of sweat, so nasty. Even just turning over causes you to break out in a flood of sweat. Being so dry, if you don't take a bottle of water to bed with you and drink some during the night you wake-up dehydrated, feeling hung-over. It'll be about three more weeks before it starts raining, hopefully. Everything is so brown and dry and covered with dust. Yick!
My flatmate and I are bored to death with each other's cooking also. We each know how to make a handful of recipies and we've done those to death. Also, we're both so busy we hardly have time to walk across town to the market and lug stuff home. I actually do most of the shopping since there's a fair amount of lugging involved but it's hard to get time during the week to do this. Cooking also is difficult since we have little electric power - it's hard to make anything which generates leftovers even though it would be easier from a food prep standpoint to be able to eat leftovers once in a while. Even non-refrigerated items like bread don't keep well here, just a few days and things turn moldy. Just makes life that much harder.
Sorry! Just feel like whining and griping. Sorry I don't write more on this blog. So busy all the time and also so tired. I've been so tired since after the completion of the Synod last November. I worked so hard on that and everything went so well, but it wiped me out. I haven't really recovered, just been running on two-thirds power since. I'm so tired, down to my bones tired. It's more than what can be eased by sleeping in one morning. I really need a proper rest. But I'm almost done in a few months. Think I'll try and tough it out until July and rest when I come home.

Chicken, Inc.

In September 2011 I accompanied Diocese of Virginia Director of Mission and Outreach Buck Blanchard on a visit to the ECS Diocese of Cuiebet. Buck wanted to visit Cuiebet so he could speak intelligently about the diocese with a group in the US that were considering entering into partnership with Cuieibet.
As a part of our visit the bishop offered us a gift of greeting and friendship. Cuiebet is Dinka territory and cattle form a prominent part of Dinka culture and a cow is a traditional gift of peace and friendship. The bishop asked me quietly if we couldn’t take a cow with us. I assured the bishop that I didn’t think we could take a cow, we couldn’t get it on a plane, though we appreciated the offer.
As a fall-back plan the bishop instead directed his staff to grab us a white rooster. We were thus presented with a very handsome pure white rooster! We located a box into which the rooster went for the hour-long ride back to Rumbek. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that we missed out flight back that day and so had to spend the night in Rumbek until we could fly out the next morning. We got rooms in a hotel next to the airport. As I was being walked to me tent/room (the rooms were self-contained tents) the lady guiding me kept looking at the box I was holding and finally asked, “what’s in the box?” I told her it was a chicken. She was incredulous, saying no one had ever kept a chicken overnight in their room before.
We flew back to Juba the next morning on a small plane. Unfortunately, the chicken couldn’t ride in the cabin but instead had to go into the cargo hold. I was worried about him, but the chicken made it through alright.
After a failed effort to erect an outside pen, we placed the chicken in our outdoor storage shed which we could lock-up at night. Never having kept chickens before, we didn’t know what to expect. Most alarming was when the chicken would wander off in search of forage. We had no specific food at the house for him, and it’s not like there is a Southern States store around here where we could go and buy chicken feed. We threw out some bread and other stuff for him to eat. We thought the chicken was lost, not realizing that there was truth in that old adage about “chickens coming home to roost.” Regardless of where the rooster wandered every evening at 6:30pm, like clockwork, he would come home to the shed to sleep for the evening. In general, we found keeping the rooster pretty light work.
But: What to name the rooster? We had at the time a friend named Sarah staying with us. With her we were watching a series of DVD’s about the history of Scotland. Of course, one of the prominent figures in Scottish history are all the Bruce’s, or THE BRUCE’S! Sarah said the perfect name for the rooster had to be: THE BRUCE! And thus, our rooster became known as THE BRUCE! We were also pleased because Bruce was not much of a crower. He normally waited until around 7am each day before crowing, which was a blessing. You can hear roosters around Juba, some of whom start crowing at 5:30am or earlier, so we were pleased that Bruce had a sense of decency with regards to beginning to vocalize.
Now, there is nothing more sad than a lonely rooster. We made arrangements with someone traveling to Uganda to bring us two hens from Kampala. This friend said he had had good luck with Ugandan hens, several times getting hens who quickly started laying eggs. A few days later our friend returned with two hens: one big brown hen and one even bigger white one. Hens have a definite “pecking order,” and although to me at first the white hen seemed dominant, we quickly realized that it was the brown hen who was in charge.
We named the brown hen “Baba Ganoush,” and the white hen “Phoebe Snow.” I explained to my British flat-mate the history of the name “Phoebe Snow” from the old Lackawanna Railroad advertisements. “Phoebe Snow” was a character created to sell the virtues of the Lackawanna’s use of anthracite coal, supposedly a cleaner burning coal which wouldn’t leave travelers coated in soot like the ordinary coal used by other railroads.
Once the hens were acclimated to their surroundings in the shed they joined Bruce on his daily forages for food. It quickly became clear that Bruce and Baba were fond of one another, they stayed close to each other all day. Phoebe, though not without her charms, did not draw Bruce’s attention the same way. We were worried about the reaction from people if the chickens wandered about the Guest House grounds, and we’d even been told the birds sometimes bothered people at meal-times. I tried to create fencing to keep the chickens near our home but the birds were simply too smart and wily for me, always finding ways of escaping. I eventually gave-up and all three chickens would spend their days wandering in search of food. But again, like clockwork, every evening the chickens would return home happy to be safely locked away in their shed.
After about a month we were surprised and delighted to find an egg in one of the nesting boxes I had placed in the shed! I’d taken two small crate bottoms, filled them with straw and placed them below a shelf. It was Baba who was laying the eggs, and she began laying one egg every day. We collected the first half-dozen which a friend then offered to buy for a few pounds. We agreed and were pleased that the birds started paying something for all of the grains I was buying to feed them. Technically it was still a loss, but at least it was something. We did eat a couple of Baba's eggs. They were so much nicer than the eggs we buy here in the market. The yolks of the purchased eggs are gray-colored and the eggs are tasteless. But the eggs our hens lay are tasty and the yolks nice and bright yellow.
One question was whether or not the eggs were fertile? If left to nature, would we get chicks? I did happen to observe Bruce and Baba…getting friendly in the yard one time. So we decided to leave Baba to sit on the last few of her eggs to see what would happen.
After about two solid weeks during which Baba sat on her clutch of three eggs day and night we came home from work in late November to find a baby chick!! It just so sudden and surprising to see this little cheeping bird next to Baba! The chick was so soft and fuzzy looking, it was amazing to think we had an addition to the flock. The other two eggs never hatched and one day I removed them from the nest so Baba would stop wasting time with them. Baba was an attentive mother, being very protective of her chick and really giving loud warnings to either Bruce or Phoebe if Baba felt they were coming too close to her chick.
But what should we name the chick? My flat-mate had recently met someone with another organization named Igor and I had told her about the scene in “Young Frankenstein” where the Marty Feldman character said he preferred to be called “Igor” (Eye-gore) rather than “Igor” (Eee-gore.) So we started calling the chick “Igor,” pronounced either way!
Life for the chickens continued as usual, we turned them loose every morning and they would forage about until their return in the evening. We fed them a mixture of rice, broken eggshells, chopped beans and ground nuts, and eventually some ground dried fish, sesame seeds, and pop-corn kernels. The latter were probably the most costly item, though the cost of all of the food added-up, especially when compared with how few eggs we received in return. But still, it has been fun having the birds.
With a chick to look after Baba and Igor were inseperable. Igor rarely ventured more than a few steps away from its mother’s protection. In the meantime, Phoebe lost no time in becoming Bruce’s new favorite and the two of them became as cozy as Bruce had once been with Baba. Then, towards the end of December, Phoebe started laying eggs of her own. We think this was the first time Phoebe had ever laid eggs. I gathered this from the fact that Phoebe didn’t lay her eggs in a nesting box but upon one of the shelves in the shed where the chickens roosted. Problem was, the shelves were up high and slanted so that the eggs rolled off to the ground where they smashed. Dumb chicken. After three days of this I barricaded the shelves which caused a lot of trauma and screaming on the part of the chickens who would hurl themselves at the shelves making a lot of mess. I also took an egg purchased in the market and placed it in the nesting box for Phoebe to see. Phoebe took the hint and the next day she started laying her eggs in the nesting box and all was calm after that.
About a week later Baba started laying eggs again. Fortunately, Baba was smart enough to know to use the other nesting box without prompting. I marked each hen's first five eggs with a marking pen, planning on keeping these for chicks. All eggs above these five we took for consumption. The hens were pretty regular, each laying an egg a day up to around a dozen before knocking off. If you intended to sell eggs for market you would need dozens of hens laying to get enough to sell.
Of Phoebe's five eggs, four of the five hatched chicks! Sadly, the first hatched during the one second a day she left her eggs and when she returned to the nest and saw this chick there she didn't know it was hers and pecked it to death. Grusaome. But the other three hatched and she accepted them, though eventually two of them also died. She has one good chick left which is growing nicely.
My flatmate and I were both away alot during January and February. When we both last left Baba was still sitting on five eggs. My flatmate returned first to find no eggs at all under Baba and no chicks. We suspect either someone stole the eggs (which were old! not very nice) or stole the hatched chicks. Either way, we're pretty sure during our absence someone nicked our chicks!
This has all been an interesting experience, never having raised chickens before. It gives us something to do, and we like the eggs. We debate which chicken we should eat, or whether we should eat one at all! Most mornings when the rooster is screaming his head off at levels higher than a jet engine taking off, I vote for killing him first. Another alternative it that we give the chickens to the children at the CCC orphanage we volunteer at so they can start a flock.