I am walking with my bag and camping gear through the heat of the sun towards the landing strip. Actually I should have caught my flight yesterday but the trip was cancelled one evening in advance. It was decided that the Juba airport needed maintenance and will therefore be closed. These unexpected things can only happen in South Sudan. I am very fortunate that a recovery flight was arranged. Although I need to have an overnight stay in another place I will hopefully be back in Juba before my holiday flight leaves on Friday.
I see a lot of women walking with huge bags of sorghum on their head. They just received items from a food distribution. Yesterday the items were literary dropped by an airplane of the World Food Programme. Today World Vision is distributing the items. It will take a few days. 20,000 people from the surroundings will receive sorghum and cooking oil. Some of them have walked for hours up to days. I have so much respect for these women who do everything to take care of their families. Walking barefoot for hours with more than 50 kilo of food, without having water. I am already exhausted by a 20 minute walk.
Sweaty of the sun I throw my bags under the tree. Such shadow places are always a rescue. I drink some water and sit down. In every place you arrive you will soon be surrounded by a lot of children. Kawai, kawai. My new name. They are touching my skin to feel if I am real. They are feeling my hair and really don’t know what to think of my dreads. They are laughing and talking to me in Nuer. I am tired and don’t want all this attention. The adult people will also surround you, but often a bit more from a distance. Sometimes this is even more annoying because they will just be staring. To everything you do. How you scratch your nose and how you are drinking your bottle of water, if you are not feeling too ashamed to do that in front of them. If I am in a good mood I will interact and talk and play a bit. But sometimes I just don’t have the energy to be kind and nice and do this whole play all over again, every time I arrive somewhere. I will still try to give a little smile and then I will stare a bit in the distance. Putting on sun glasses also helps. If you are lucky a man will come around and will chase the children with a stick. Then I feel even worse. Am I just a really horrible person?
After I rested for a while I watched around to the surroundings and the people around me. A boy was playing with a toy. From wooden sticks and mud clay he made a beautiful plane. He is holding it in the wind and the plastic propellers are turning around. Another boy is clearing some soil to make an airstrip. My heart fills with joy. Such little moments give me so much hope. These children are not going to school and only have one pair of clothes. If they are lucky they ate some sorghum in the morning. They are growing up in poverty and war. Guns and planes are their only source of inspiration, so that’s what they are making. But they are so creative with the things they find on the ground and are having fun together. The boy calls his plane rekros, I know he means the Red Cross.
While we are playing with the plane we hear the helicopter arriving. You always hear it first before you can see it. I am saying goodbye to my colleague and the boys. The pilot is loading my luggage. He asks me where I am coming from. He is from Russia, same as his co-pilot. He asked when I arrived in this village and I told him that I arrived two weeks ago. He looks amazed and asks how I survived for so long in such a desolate place. What did I even eat? I said that we brought rice and beans, and that sometimes you can buy fish in the small market. There are even two types of fish, the fish from the river and the fish from the mud. Mud fish. They are living in the swamps and if the swamps dry up they are able to survive in the mud. The fish is black and I find it not tasting like fish, but like mud. I also talked about the crocodiles we saw in the river when we went to even further places with the boat, and about the sheep we slaughtered on New Year’s Eve. Then it is time to enter the helicopter.
At the next stop the only other passenger is stepping out with everything he needs for the coming weeks. The guy is from WFP, the next food drop will be here. The helicopter landed in an area surrounded by swamps. As soon as the door opened horseflies welcomed us. I am now the only one left in the helicopter, it is taking off again. I am locked up with hundreds of horseflies buzzing around. The big ones, which are really painful when they sting.
The next hour I am obsessed by trying to kill the flies with a t-shirt that the pilot used to chase them out, but that didn’t really work. The flies are very persistent. Even if you slab them and they fall on the ground they will fly up again in a few seconds. I already have one sting and my arm is swollen. I feel an allergic reaction coming up. The flies terrify me, but I am persistent as well. It makes it a bit easier that the flies are looking for the light and therefore resting in the circled windows. Half an hour later I feel relieved. Dead fly bodies are surrounding me now, I don’t bother about the few that are still alive. As long as they don’t bother me.
Around lunch time the co-pilot is coming out of his cockpit. He puts a thermos flask next to me on the bench and pushes a plastic bag with food in my hands. Soon he returns to give me some napkins as well. He lifts up my ear protectors and says; “please serve yourself”.
Three samosas, a boiled egg and ginger tea. It never tasted so nice. I feel thankful for everything. Except for the flies, they are just horrible.
Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.