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.

 Its end flaps are perished but that is a good thing as I will need as much air as I can get.  I am thankful for a bed and mattress and the most important piece of kit of all, the mossie net.   The second most important pieces of equipment are the water filters. Water is hand drawn from the Nile and dropped in a large plastic barrel. This helps get the sediment settled and some of the bugs are also prone to drop to the bottom as well. It is also the first stage of heating the water as the barrel, mainly in the shade, is still subject to those hot winds. We then ladle the water into two filters which slowly extract everything harmful (we hope) but leave us with a cup of hot water that tastes of mud. Mineral water with a difference I guess.

I grab cameras and set off up a dusty track under thorn trees to visit ‘the Workshed’, about two hundred meters north of our tent city (of two). Here I meet the supervisor and the men being trained in fabrication and product design and production.  They have already learned basic welding skills and have been turning out an order for rakes – they have manufactured about 1600. This country needs to start with the most basic of infrastructure.  The guys are a friendly bunch but are unsure about this interloper walking around pushing video and still camera into their faces.

At the end of the afternoon I drift back down the track. A bunch of teenage boys sit under a tree near the compound. Possibly because it is directly opposite the water collection point where all the girls turn up in the evening. In fact there is no “possible” about it. They are the main attraction. But the boys are prepared to give me the time of day and we have a long chat about where I am from and what I am doing in this part of the world. They are very disappointed I did not bring a soccer ball with me. But they all introduce themselves with “My name is…” in a soft lilting tone and an outstretched hand, remarkably hospitable and welcoming.

I am going to be hard pressed to keep this diary going. There is so much going on. So many sensations and interactions I barely have time to stop and jot in the notebook. Across the Nile the crackle of timber as a fire rages. On this bank live the Dinka, cattle lovers of the first order. If it has naught to do with things bovine they are barely interested (unless it’s those nubile wenches collecting water). On the far bank are the Shilluk who are keen fishermen and have no interest in cattle. They trade or sell their fish to the Dinka and otherwise like playing with matches – I have not been able to work out yet why they burn off their country and the Dinka on this side shrug and say “tradition”. But it makes for a spectacular evening backdrop, noise and light and heat and dust and sloshing water as the Nile sluices through it all.  White egrets pick along through the mud and weeds, warily watching us. They quickly flit away the moment any of us move.

I keep wandering along the bank leaving the teenage boys to their own jocularity and “show-off preening” to the water collection girls. As I go I bump into little groups of pairs and trios of kids who all sparkle and want their photos taken. “My name is Wal” tells me there are hippos about and I should take care along this bank.  Really? Really! Rarely seen but very definitely heard. Their distinctive grunting and grumbling later that night as I lay waiting for sleep telling me they were really quite close. Really.

Sleep came slowly despite the long day. The tent remains wide open at both ends to catch any teasing zephyr. But none are to be so lured and I lie as still as I can while the sweat runs off me. The whine of mosquitoes distracted me for a while as I made sure they were in fact outside the net. I drift off with a song rattling in my head despite the paucity of words and repetitive lines. Mary and Sara were a pair who fell in with me today. Maybe thirteen or fourteen they shyly told me their names and offered that outstretched hand, and we lightly touched palms and fingertips.  They are delightful conversationalists and are happy to pose for the camera although the moment the camera is up they get all serious. I had to pull faces to get them to smile. I am sure I looked like a complete goose but they soon were laughing so much I could not get them to stand still. Photos taken we finally keep walking as they tried to get me to learn their song. I was good for the first line, repeated twice but was sunk the moment it moved into their tribal tongue. A non musical goose at that! Still the song gets off to a good start and it stays with me as the day closes. “God is good, all the time, God is good all the time…”


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