We Need More Bridges!

Today is Global Women’s Day.  It’s a public holiday here and everybody seems to be making a big deal of it.  The women here certainly deserve a dedicated day.   The Super Mamas around here take care of everything, with babies on their backs while they work.

After breakfast we leave for Kajo Keji, South Sudan.   We have a flat tire on the way, which slows us down a bit.  Luckily we are near a small town where we can get the tire repaired.  It’s good to have as many working spares as possible when going to the field in Sudan. The border into Kajo Keji has a new system for entering.  They seem to be getting a little more official with things and now have a big form I need to fill.  At first, I’m not excited about the extra steps but I’m thrilled when I realize I now have the option of purchasing a 6-month visa.  It’s wonderful to do this kind of thing at the border.  To get my Uganda multiple-entry visa I have to go to Internal Affairs.  This will make things much easier since we are constantly going in and out of the various Sudan/Uganda borders.

The UN compound is booked this time with all UN people.  They have a team here to remove land mines and the peacekeepers, who came to monitor the referendum, are still here for another month or so.  But there is a new guesthouse in town (their first) and we are their first guests.  The price is right, at $15 night, but the place is very hot.   Although it’s new and clean, the design is a bit strange and all of the doors and windows face inside.  So there is absolutely no chance whatsoever for a breeze.  And since it’s new, they have also not bought extra things, like fans.

We go for dinner at the only place in town.  The lady who owns it is named Prossy and she knows us very well by now.   The man with generator next door is still blaring his music, just as loud as usual.  His speakers are bad and the music sounds terrible but the locals don’t seem to mind.   During our dinner men go in and out of that place like it’s a crack house.  He sells beer and obviously these guys are coming in for a little nighttime nip.  I’m dying to give him a dollar to turn it down but contain my urge.  I’m in their world and this is what they like.

Dinner was a bit sketchy.  When Prossy knows we are coming she cooks for us.  But since we arrived unexpectedly, her choices are limited.  It’s clear she had to water down our beans so there would be enough to go around.  I’m concerned that Wilson and George are not going to get full.   We eat our watered down beans, sitting next to the huts, with chickens roaming around.

Wilson detects that the new mosquito nets at the guesthouse have not been treated properly and will irritate our skin if we sleep under them.  Apparently, they need to be placed in the sun for a day.  So we can’t use the mosquito nets but I’ve also seen two very large spiders on the wall.  So I have a dilemma.  I really want a mosquito net between me and those spiders but I also don’t want to breathe some carcinogen all night.  I swallow my pride (and some of my street cred) and ask the guys to come kill the spiders.  As I try to go to sleep, I can hear the man from USAID in the next room snoring, as loud as if he were in bed with me.

The next morning we wake up and the room is so stickly and humid.  My hair is a even wet.   There is no power or water, which seems to be a theme these days. I’m really missing the UN right now and wonder how long it takes to remove land mines.

We stop by and pick up some chapatti & egg sandwiches from a local stand and take them with us to the field for our lunch.

We pass a well on the way out of town that is lined with dozens of jerry cans.   Because the population is dense in this area, the women have to come out early and put their jerry cans in line waiting for their turn to get water, while they go off and do their work in the meantime.

One big bit of business today is to get the MOU signed for Adire Primary School.  We’ve been trying to get to this school for 9 months now.  It’s very remote and it is impossible to access the area until the dry season.   The road is bad in general but there is also one area that crosses the river but there is no bridge.  For half of the year, it is impossible to reach this area in a vehicle.  The locals have constructed a makeshift bridge to walk across but that’s the only way to get there.   I’ve been waiting on the dry season so we can go there.  The head teacher wrote to me months ago.  The parents have been appealing to the local officials for years to get some water for the school and community.   Right now they are all drinking from that river.  We have to get this one drilled before the rains!!

Although they were not expecting us, the head teacher has the community leaders assembled in no time.  There are no women present, but I decide to deal with that later.  They are required to have women in key positions on the water committee.  They even have a local pump mechanic present.  This is a good sign.  As you know, sustainability is one of our main concerns in the field and it’s a good sign if there is a pump mechanic in the community.   I suggest that they make him the caretaker for the well.   That part is ultimately their decision but it is my strong recommendation.

This community needs this water so badly and I’m happy to see that they seem to be very serious.  I notice that some of the pupils have brought their own small jugs of water from home.   Other little kids have nothing. It’s impossible to ignore the disgusting toilets, too.  The stench is unbelievable.  The toilets at these rural schools are usually pretty bad but it’s hard to believe that anybody goes anywhere near that thing, much less inside. After signing the MOU, the head teacher asks me if I will try to bring him a notebook when I come back next time.  Imagine that, a head teacher for a large school who doesn’t even have a notebook.

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Author: Stacey Travis

Founder and Executive Director of Drop in the Bucket a water charity building water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.

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