27 June, 2008

Singing in the Rain

I’m not sure how old the idea of a music video is, but the other day I saw some that right away looked as if they were from the 70s. The kaleidoscopic effects, colors, and hair-dos together with the constant zooming in and out gave the impression of an LSD trip. And immediately I and another American working here thought that our Dads would enjoy watching this DVD/VCD that our cook had bought in the market here in town. DVDs/VCDs have newly come to town, just as last year shops starting showing up in Yei (which is the gateway for things coming in from Uganda) with them also. It’s not like in Nairobi, Kampala, or many various other cities throughout the world where there are shops on every corner selling pirated copies of various movies or collections of movies, but they are making their way into Sudan. As a side note, apparently Sudan has not signed any of the international copyright agreements or anything, so the copying and selling of pirated DVDs is actually legal I think.

As a result of these music videos that a couple of our staff wanted to show to us the other day over lunch (and see themselves), I’ve got this song lyric stuck in my head about “a bang, a boom, a boomerang of love.” And, I thought I’d see how long it would take for someone to recognize the singers of this song and the others that were on the DVD that I’m sure I’ll hear playing many times over the coming weeks until our staff find a new cassette or video to listen to or watch constantly. I’ve given you today’s hint, and I don't know if it will be enough, but if not, I’ll keep adding a hint each time I update until someone recognizes the artists. But, I don’t want anyone to go searching song lyrics online or anything, this is a recognition through previous knowledge, not through Google’s advanced search. NO CHEATING!!

So, for those of you who don’t know how to leave comments, please follow these directions:

Click on the green part that shows how many comments have been left on this post just below. Write what you want to say in the comment section. Then, choose your identity from the choices or choose anonymous if you don't have a google account or just wish to remain anonymous and fill in the letters or numbers you see that will be distorted a bit. Then just click to publish your comment. I’ll get a little idea of how musically cultured my readers are (or just what generation they're from) depending upon how long it takes for someone to recognize the group. Personally, I didn’t know until it got to a later song who the group was

20 June, 2008

How to Write About Africa

At Christmas, a friend of mine gave me this very short, small book called “How to Write About Africa.” It was quite an entertaining book that contained several short articles that had originated in a magazine called Kwani?. I recommend the magazine and book to anyone who has spent time in Africa. Kwani? (Swahili for Why?) is published and originated in Kenya, and includes many different writings from various African authors and short story writers. As I posted my last entry about the conditions of the roads, I got to thinking about the book and how I was pretty good at writing about the side of Africa that continues to perpetuate its stereotypes and give an impression to the whole continent that is not accurate. I try to provide interesting reading, and it is the type of thing that is part of the “adventure” that contributed to me coming over here, but it what I write is a part of my personal experiences and not a picture reflective of the whole.

The book talks about how people don't want to hear about the intellectuals of Africa or to know about the people who struggle everyday to provide for their families through hard work and ingenuity. I have not done a fair job in portraying this side of things. Most of my readers are from North America and I know we like to hear about what we are doing to help out those "less fortunate." Those working with wildlife are the next best heroes in our stories behind these humanitarian workers who do so much "because they care" as the little book said. While I and those I work with from North America are trying to do what we can to be of benefit, we are not the ones who really have a chance at bringing about true change and benefit to the people's lives ("the people" refer to black Africans while just "people" refer to you and me... also in the book). Please don't trump us up as those who are "sacrificing" and really giving so much. The experiences I'm having are far more valuable than anything I'm giving for "these people."

The book is comical to me, and I joke as I write the different things that were mentioned. It is funny how accurately it portrays the feelings of so many. It's not because those of us who are just visiting or hearing about things are terrible people (for the most part...), in some cases we just don't know how to write in a way that people will understand with other vocabulary and because the perspective and background from the person is always going to come out. If possible, reading things written by Africans from their perspective will always provide a different type of feel and a different understanding of things.

So, if you ever get a chance to read "Kwani" or anything like it, you may learn a lot more, and if you've spent time in Africa yourself as well, it will help in understanding more what people are saying.

10 June, 2008

Welcome Back!

My return to South Sudan has been quite abrupt.

In early/mid April I made the journey between the two towns that I've lived in while out here in around 7 hours. The end of last week, it took me 29 hours. 116 miles in 29 hours. Good times. And to think that a week before on U.S. roads, I watched 2 movies at the drive-in theatre (the new Indiana Jones wasn't quite as good as I had hoped, but at least it wasn't as bad as the new Rocky), ate a steak dinner, stopped to fill up on fuel and drove 116 miles in less than the 7 hours it took at the end of dry season back in April to cover that distance alone without any of the extras on South Sudan roads. Why didn't I travel to the States during rainy season instead of just at the beginning of it?

Actually, the condition of the road has gotten considerably worse already because of rain, but it was a bridge that had been broken by two separate transport trucks overloaded with goods that caused the problem. The latest truck had fallen in a day before I made the journey, and we hadn't received the information before leaving town. When the bridge had broken the earlier time, people began trailblazing through the swamp beside the road and forded the river at a rocky spot as the water level was fairly low and the rains hadn't picked up so much to make the swamp too wet. By the time I reached the location, many heavy trucks had already begun trying to get through the swamp again, but this time the rains had saturated the ground and many trucks were getting stuck, and those that weren't just created deeper and deeper ruts.

After walking through the area and doing a quick assessment of the conditions, I saw that one by one, trucks which made it to the new river crossing area were able to slowly be pulled up the hill on the opposite side of the river. Trusting in my tough 4-wheel drive LandCruiser and my superior off-road driving abilities, I determined a route that I thought would avoid the paths completely blocked by large stuck transport trucks and enable me to reach the river crossing and make it across the thigh-high river and continue my journey.

Either the truck or my driving skills let me down. I'm inclined to blame it on the tires as the truck I had did not have our heavy-duty mud tires that many of our LandCruisers do. The truck sank too much and I bottomed out and got stuck in the mud. It's a good thing the truck had a winch (which I knew would save me even if my driving didn't). So, as I go to use the winch, it releases only a little before it stops and will no longer go in or out. Apparently when it had been used last, it was wound in without being held taut, and the cable cinched on itself so tight that it was not free to be released or pulled in. Then, as we began to try to dig out and jack up the tires to put branches and logs under for raising the body and getting better traction, it began to rain heavily. After a while, it was still raining and it was too dark to even bother trying more.

So, we slept in the truck. During the night, the rain continued and the water in the swamp continued to increase as the ground got softer and softer. At dawn, there was still a small drizzle, and we got out to assess our current situation. Ahead, we found the river above waist level, and with the water flowing with more force, we determined that proceeding forward was a lost cause. The swampy area we were stuck in also had much more water in it, and the ground was softer, so we knew it would also not be as easy to head back the way we'd come. With all the stuck trucks, there were quite a few people around eager to make a few bucks assisting in cutting branches, helping dig, and assisting in trying to get trucks such as my own out of the mud. Quite a few bills and several hours later, we emerged from the swamp and got back on the road with no option of continuing forward. As we had some items urgently needed in the town we were headed to a couple hours beyond the river, a vehicle from there was headed to the bridge to meet us. When it arrived, I and the items were able to walk across the narrow section of the bridge still intact and complete the journey in another two hours while a different driver took the truck back to the town we had come from.

There is another route that we will now be taking between the towns, but it will now be over 200 miles and maybe 14 or 15 hours if not getting stuck on the road again. Of course, some local guys will again "fix" the bridge by cutting some more trees that they will tie in to the bridge for vehicles to pass on and thereby open up the shorter route again. But, with the size of loads that will be crossing the new makeshift bridge whenever it is completed, it will not take long before another large truck weighs too much and breaks through the bridge again resulting in continued problems traveling.

What a great thing to go through 2 days after returning to Sudan after 3 weeks in the States. Might as well dive in head first. No point in just dipping the toe in to test the water here. That's the only way to do it. But, it's also necessary to have a working winch. They really are life-savers.