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The Workshed

March 31, 2011

workshed290.jpgThe breeze I was looking for last night is here this morning, cool and steady, stirring up the reeds along the riverbank and creating a noisy chop on the river. There is nothing to hint at the 40 degrees to come. There is no one about as I park on the bank and watch the rafts of foliage, mainly hyacinth, float past.  Some sort of wren with a copper blue breast picks around in the dirt at my feet. I should have brought the camera with me as I see waders drifting along, birds I have never seen before.

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My Name is Wal

March 30, 2011

Our resort on the banks of the Nile is a small compound about 25 by 25 metres. It is hedged by a stick fence, mostly falling down though on the outside there is a jumble of thorn bushes as an extra layer of deterrence.  Integrated defence some might call it. Peter, already introduced, keeps the compound and watches the gate, though he watches all sorts wander in and out without attempting any sort of policing role that I can see. But it is a community guest compound after all so that is to be expected. There are a handful of tukels  – mud huts – and a couple of semi permanent safari style tents. Home is one of these.

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Thiangrial

March 29, 2011

(As I tap this out in the back blocks of Sudan from my hand written notes I see it is 4.45pm on Sunday and the Writers Group will be wrapping up their monthly session – writing, worlds apart in so many different ways). Ribbons of black streaks stain the grasslands below, the result of burning off. Stock trails leave faint marks through it, like the light touch of chalk on a blackboard. Heading to 6,000’ and the pilot turns and suggests we buckle up the full harness, its going to get rough. The full harness is already on and nipped up tight alright. At 5,000’ the cabin turns into an oven again. But there it is, creeping out of the distant haze on our left is the Nile, snaggling and stretching across a flat plain. It is an impressive sight. Sandy scribbles a note in my notebook as an island slides past: We are passing the Island of Fashoda where Churchill came down to retrieve the French officer. He and his troops had planted the French flag claiming it for France. But Churchill took the officer back up to Khartoum and then on to France. The Brits and France did a deal. France gave up its claims in Sudan and the Brits gave three Canadian islands to France.  We circle the strip  – the obvious check of the runway for animals or people that might be in the way, and a check of the wind but also to signal our arrival.  The nose points into a mud strip and we make a neat landing despite the buffeting wind, roll to the end, stop. The silence is deafening. I step out into a view of sparse bush in every direction. The aircraft instruments tell us it is 41 degrees. I feel right at home.

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206 to Thiangrial

March 29, 2011

If pilots pray before they take off with passengers then I guess they usually keep it to themselves. Not this guy. He gives a safety briefing which is thorough and practical and before he climbs in prays. What does that mean about the prospects of the flight? Well, given it is AIMAIR it means we are doubly in very good hands. He climbs into the tiny cockpit of the Cessna 206, calls “clear”, fires the engine and off we roll.  We launch south into a stiff breeze, but quickly turn north as we climb out over UN camps and Food Relief facilities.  I am travelling with Sandy, a nurse from Canada who has been working across this part of Africa for the last twenty or so years. She runs a clinic up here at Doro. I am impressed at her commitment to the people and work and enjoy a long chat with her through to Loki. But in this small craft we are forced to sit in line and the noise prevents any conversation anyway.

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Permission to Travel in the World’s Newest Country

March 28, 2011

For the first time in my life I have a certificate that says I am allowed to travel.  Everything up to now must have been illegal or fraudulent.  I have travelled under all sorts of labels in my time, some genuine, some creatively spurious but this is the first time I have worn the label “missionary”. I am not too sure what to make of that I have to confess. But if that is what is necessary for me to get into South Sudan then so be it.  I am as tall as any of the Dinkas I have met so far but perhaps if you are that tall there is no official recognition of such – I see they have shaved 14cm off me. For the duration of this trip I will be 170cm tall.  But the really neat thing about this certificate is the fact it is issued by the Government of Southern Sudan, the world’s newest country.  Now that is a real privilege and not to be understated.

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Awake at Sparrows

March 22, 2011

I woke to the sound of roosters and flew in an instant to villages along the Kokoda Track. And then laughed to myself as I recalled trying to explain to a Japanese friend what the phrase “to wake at sparrows” meant. Some things just do not translate. All the Australians in the group were rolling about in laughter,  while he stood in perplexed silence and tried to gauge the source of the mirth. Despite claims to the contrary it clearly eluded him as years later he sent an email from Tokyo saying he had woken up with the swallows.  Which only created more mirth.  I piled out from under the mosquito net, showered, got fed then settled into some reading. There is a handy little library resource on this apartment and I am finding helpful stuff relating to subjects relevant to what I am exploring in this part of the world. 

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Dead set, this is Nairobi

March 22, 2011

Welllllcohm, wellllllcohm. Hospitality is a hallmark here. They shake hands over and over and seem glad to see you, a long lost friend even though just met, rolling their tongues over the “l” as if tasting it. They are interested in knowing who you are, smiling and nodding and committing to a long drawn out “yeeeeeesssss” when they clearly have no idea what you have just said.  Which actually is not that often.  

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Taxi Story – the Kenyan

March 21, 2011

cab.jpgWaiting outside Nairobi airport. An earlier made friend called Peter walks up in the company of another chap I have never seen., who holds out his cell phone and says by way of introduction:

Here you go, talk to this man.

Who? (And who are you?)

The person on the end of the phone knows where you are supposed to go.

(That is no comfort – his idea and my idea could be hemispheres apart. I take the phone.)

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Welcome to Kenya

March 20, 2011

The first hint at what sort of airport you are going to find comes as the undercarriage touches the tarmac and the nose wheel anticipates doing something similar in a few seconds time. We rush past a couple of dumped Soviet cargo aircraft (An-24s, or were they 26s? I blinked.), a Lockheed L110 and three Boeing 737-100s. The last time I saw a 737-100 was one I flew in from Hyderabad to Calcutta much to my dismay. It was a chicken and goat flight if you get my drift – all sorts of hand luggage.

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Dubai Airport

March 19, 2011

I have seen some in my time but I think this one is a favourite. Airports that is. Not because it glitters (Changi does a better job of that) but because it is such a melting pot.  It gives true meaning to the word “exotic”. Two lads are trilling with excitement in the coffee shop where I am enjoying a latte. They are from India and are planning a canoe trip in Kazakhstan.  

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