Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ten Days in Tambura - Guinea Pie?

My colleague and I arrived in Tambura at around noon on a 10-seater WFP cesna. And oh my gosh it was as if we were stepping into a scene from a movie about Africa. We landed on a red dirt airstrip about 300m long flanked by high grass on either side, out from which small paths criss-crossed to the two parts of town (the airstrip splits the town into 2 halves). From the paths emerged people: dusty clothes, squinting in the sun. Some women carrying oversized golf umbrellas, some boys on bicycles 5 times too big for them, all come tosee the one plane that lands there every few weeks. And waiting at the end of the airstrip in a bright yellow and blue "break the silence" tshirt, leaning against his motorbike, was our Area Officer. As the engine shuddered off and the propeller slowly wound to a stop, we stepped off the plane and practically into the arms of my colleague's family and friends. It had been five months since he left Tambura with his family to work in PSI HQ in Juba. Many hands thrust forward to shake ours, as well as dozens of "you are welcome"'s. Our belongings were conveyed to the backs of motorbike and bicycle, and as I climbed onto the back of one of the motorbikes people laughed - "ah, like a soldier," because no way was I going to ride sitting with both legs across the seat like women do here. Everyone smiled to see the white woman riding on the back of a motorbike like a man. The whole time my heart swelled, I was so excited and a little anxious, because never did I imagine even 4 months ago that I would be landing in the middle of nowhere in Sudan. Am I really here? Am I really doing this?

My colleague asked me about what airport services are like in the US. From his questions I could get a sense of what he pictured in his mind - something much like the Juba airport, but with mostly white people, and maybe a bit cleaner. How could I explain the massive complexes of glass and steel and concrete that is the reality?

There is NOTHING in Tambura. There are only 2 NGOs currently working there - one completely runs the clinics, hospital, etc in the county as the dept of health has no money to pay anyone's salary. There are no doctors for a county of 120K people
and there aren't any in the neighboring county either which is another 100K people. Just 2 medical assistants and 6 certificate nurses and a bunch of community health workers. Even i was shocked. The HIV rate is 11.5% which is the highest in the country, but there hasn't been a census in south sudan since the 70's, so no one really knows what the health indicators look like. I stayed at the compound of an anti-leprosy organization that had an extra room. I mean, seriously, there is still leprosy there. They diagnosed 80 new cases last year.

Tambura is beautiful - it's still all green, as the rainy season isn't quite over yet, with mango trees and coconut palms and lots of ground cover. It is in Western Equitoria state, on the border with Central African Republic, and so there are a lot of returnees from there and you can hear people speaking french in the market. People's tukuls are both round and square - I never found out what the difference is.

Much love and peace

No comments: