Thursday, March 19, 2009


A day short of the end of my week of being in charge of the office (the head and her deputy were both out of town), I thought I had made it through home free. No major catastrophes. The office was still standing and free of fires, break-ins and generator break-downs. Only one minor traffic accident from a duty driver (happens more often than you think). Only one day left until I no longer have to deal with locking and unlocking the doors and asking people why they are just sitting on the porch at 3pm on a Tuesday. When on my way out the door I noticed a small group gathering around a staff member, "S", and the open driver's side door of his car. As I walked over, people were shaking their heads and pointing to something inside the car.

"Look at what someone has done," S sighed.

On the passenger seat sat a frog. A dead frog. A dead, dried-up frog with its legs cut off. Uh oh, this is not good.

"Someone is trying to send you a bad omen! They are trying to harm you!" "You should not enter your car and drive home, the car is now cursed!" These and more comments were flying around.

Who does that? Puts a dead frog in someone's car? S explained, "I leave my car doors open because it is inside our compound and we have security guards. This was not there this morning when I arrived at work. Could someone from the outside have entered the compound and done this? What if it was one of our colleagues?"

For some background, S is a large man - at least 6'4"- and yet drives a mini Suzuki with the phrase "Never Give Up" in a decal on top of the windscreen. He has a bonecrushing handshake. My boss can't shake his hand - she introduced the fist pump to the office just for him. Despite people's initial impressions, he is the kindest most gentle man I have ever met. He is passionate about talking to people about their situations, and explaining in ways that make sense to them everything about HIV and reproductive health. He has a very calming manor - could have been a fantastic therapist - and is a Program Manager for one of the HIV Department programs. I can't imagine a reason why anyone would do that to him.

Eventually all was said that could be said at the moment, and we convinced S that it was safe for him to drive home. Since I also happen to be S's direct supervisor, he pulled me aside to talk to me. S was almost in tears. He wanted some action to be taken, and I suggested we have a staff meeting so he could talk about what happened.

The next morning everyone piled into the board room. Basically, what it came down to was that even though Southern Sudan is a predominantly Christian society, people are still strongly superstitious, and believe in signs and omens of this kind. The frog was clearly someone sending S a signal to 'watch out' or to place some sort of bad ju-ju over him. The rest of the staff were as shocked as S was, and time was spent for people to voice their opinions, feelings and suggestions, and in the end everyone's conclusion was that since S believes in God, nothing can happen to him. It is only the person who placed the frog who will bring evil on themselves.

Such an interesting conclusion. I have been in Southern Sudan for 18 months now, and I still do not know enough about the culture to have anticipated how people would react. But I am encouraged by what happened in that room. Such support.

We said we will re-brief the security guards about their duties and visitors policies, and some of the more extreme suggestions of physically searching everyone that comes in and out of the compound were rejected.

And S, true to his nature, wanted the action point from the meeting to be a monthly "community chat" for all the staff just to be in the same room with each other, to talk about issues like this, and to strengthen respect and the community bond.

Even so, this event has shaken S to the core. He has asked to be transferred to Yei, another town where my organization has a smaller office. He is willing to give up his current job in the field of his expertise, to take a less specialized job in administration, just so he can keep working with the organization, but he doesn't feel comfortable in Juba anymore, all from finding a dead frog in his car.

Now think about what would prompt you to request a relocation/transfer from your employer. Definitely stretches my mind, at least.

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