This morning I saw another runner running on the only tarmac road in town. We greeted each other as runners always do. To reach the tarmac road I had to run on the main dusty road crossing it frequently to the far side whenever a matatu came by to avoid the dust. There is not much beauty in Bentiu, harsh dry conditions with few permanent structures, even those are of a utilitarian nature. The alternative: the rainy season, may not be any better: muddy and slippery roads prolonging traveling time and breeding of mosquitoes.
We went in search of heavy-duty gloves for Scavio and Jik for her maternity ward but in the market in Rubkona, Rose and Scovia half-heartedly looked for them and they soon led us to the “ 5th Avenue of the market”: shops for women’s clothes and shoes where they shopped the African way, trying on clothes without the benefits of a fitting room or even a mirror. Bonnie took a picture and showed Rose how she looked in the camera.
Donkeys were herded to the river where water was pumped to the tanks on the carts. The sad scrawny donkeys must walk this path hauling water several times a day.
We drove to another market which looked like a grain market, no gloves there. Back to Bentiu and finally gloves, brooms and scrubbers and hose but still no Jik. We packed chairs and tables, a cooler with our luggage onto the back of the land cruiser and filled up the gas tank ready to tackle our journey to Leer, our next destination south of Bentiu. It took us four hours of bumpy bone-breaking ride passing an empty transit refugee camp and the oil fields in the distance and many, many villages and cows. The landscape changed from grassland dotted with termite hills, green acacia trees and around villages many palm trees.
Compared to the UNIDO (Upper Nile Initiative and Development Organization) compound, the Baow Camp was like the “Ritz”. Here we have electricity through a loud obnoxious generator, no plugs for any form of charging, no fridge to keep the water cold or semi-cold for the fridges here in Unity State only seemed to put in a half-hearted effort to keep things cold, no cooler to refill our water bottle for purification, one shower and one latrine for a compound of over twenty people, some of whom had to sleep in tents, no meeting hall to gather, dirt floor not cement ones…
Peter, one of the UNIDO people in charge, quickly made it clear to Johnson that the staff at Mirmir PHCC where we would do a clinic expected to be paid for interpreting for us, even though we would be there to help them run the clinic. We were thirsty, tired and hungry after about five hours of rough driving but no one showed us where we would settle or asked us whether we needed to freshen up. In the gathering gloom it was difficult to discuss anything of importance when one could not see the expressions of the speakers. Tonight the sky however was absolutely over the top. The moon had not risen and the millions of stars and the splash of Milky Way bowled me over. It was good the generator had not been turned on. Throughout the early part of the night the noisy ibises seemed to be especially active; one ibis took the lead, “Ah, ah, ah…” and the rest joined in a merry chorus, cawing raucously away.
In the middle of the night, I got up. The compound was flooded by the light of waning moon; only a few stars twinkled in the sky. I felt like ET and phoned home.