The Elusive Bouk
Johnson wanted to show us the Nile in Leer so we left with Peter who came down to Leer with us a little earlier this morning traveling south. The terrain became greener and marshier. Papyrus grew along the marshes. We arrived at a small port but to Johnson’s disappointment there were no fresh fish.
We drove back to Leer picking up Thomas, all four of us crammed in the back of the cruiser then off to Mirmir. There we picked up our mobile clinic equipment, medicines and whatnots and a fifth passenger, Andrew, who was to show us to get to Buok, a Boma in Mirmir, where we were to set up a clinic. After an hour we found ourselves at the back of a string of heavy trucks from Juba lumbering very slowly over the slick potholes. There was no way to overtake them. We slowed to a crawl. Eventually Juma drove into the flat plain and overtook three of them. Andrew must have directed him down a secondary road which suddenly appeared and this road was even bumpier than the main road. For a long, long time there was not a single soul, an animal or a tukul in sight. We drove for what seemed like ages and the road just disappeared one hundred meters from a cluster of tukuls.
An inquiry was made and we were informed that Buok was not far off but the cruiser had to traverse over grassland as though we were in a safari at a game drive to reach it. It took us over two hours to get from Mirmir to Padier. It did not make sense for Juma to go back to Mirmir to fetch the other staff. Unfortunately the Chief of Buok did not inform the populace of three hundred of our coming, not knowing exactly what we would be offering; some miscommunication here. We walked in the hot sun to see the Chief and met him under an acacia tree. Johnson took inventories of the kinds of illnesses the people had here for future reference. A middle-aged man struggled with two long sticks to walk to us, naked from the waist down. The Chief said he became ill three years ago and had not recovered since. He complained of weakness, heaviness and numbness of his legs from the hips down, I suspected Schitosomiasis or Bilharzia with transverse myelitis but there was no way to prove it. In the wet season, there are pools of water here and snails are plentiful. In fact snail shells bleached by the sun are seen in parched water holes. Although this was after the fact we gave him Praziquantel anyway but warned him that it was not a cure. With Thomas interpreting for us, we advocate a regimen of exercise and muscle strengthening.
In the end we saw some pregnant women for their prenatal care and the villagers who gathered around us who wanted to be seen including the Chief. We had no idea how to get back to the main road so the Chief hopped on the back seat wedging himself between Thomas and me; now we had a total of six passengers along with our furniture, buckets, cooler, medicines… Anyone else wants to hop aboard this matatu? Bonnie reigned supreme in the spacious front seat next to Juma, unperturbed by the overcrowding. There was no GPS, the Chief just told Juma to go hither and yon and we saw no paths and no recognizable landmarks; Juma simply mowed down short bushes carelessly. Several times the engine stalled and Juma got out and did something to it and it started again. It did cross my mind that if indeed the engine failed we might have to spend a night out in the open plain. After about half an hour we finally reached a dirt road and off the Chief went trekking the grassland back to his abode. This was the shortcut indeed, it took us an hour, half the time to get back to Mirmir. By this time Johnson had second thoughts about going back to this elusive Buok.
It was past three-thirty in the afternoon, Juma had to change oil for the car and transfer fuel tank all done under the heat of the day. There was a pot full of liver in the village eatery, nothing else to choose from so we sat drinking cold drinks instead, dreading the three to four hours more of rough ride. I held my breath using the local latrine but it was not as bad as I envisioned it to be, However if given a choice I would have preferred the bush. On our way back to Bentiu well past seven in the evening we caught up with the three trucks that we passed on our way to Buok. They were still crawling at snail’s pace. At eight pm we finally arrived, all my bones felt like they were shattered and my body ached. Dinner was posha or mashed maize, pasta with goat meat and beans but in such meager proportion, it was not enough to feed all of us.
We pushed our beds outside and slept under the stars. I got rid of my mosquito net to catch the breeze. In the early morning the cat came and demanded to be fed. I climbed up to the roof to get a view of the sleeping town under the waning moon but she did not follow. The donkeys brayed very mournfully probably not looking forward to another day of arduous labor.