Today was our last field day in the wetlands of the Sudd, and tonight is our last night, assuming the helicopter arrives as scheduled. You may think I will not miss waking up at night covered in soldier ants, the evening choice between sitting outside with malarial mosquitoes or cocooning in a sauna-like tent, bucket showers of swamp water while being devoured by various other biting insects, putrid pit latrines, instant coffee, 40+ degree heat and 100% humidity, unemployed young men with AK47s, “footing it” (African for trekking) through flooded wetlands, etc.
Actually, I do enjoy a few of the above, at least occasionally, including bucket showers and the swamp walks. The guns simply become part of the scenery and are evidence of why we are here.
What I will miss and remember is traveling 1300 km by helicopter, 450 kilometers by boat, and 250 km on foot through pristine wetlands and seeing almost no evidence of a human hand... being in a riverine environment where the only moving boats, besides our ICRC speedboats, are dugout canoes and reed rafts...the dawn ritual of letting the livestock out of the giant tukul barns, and guiding them through smoky pyres of burning dung to drive away the insects…and not a single match was used to light those fires....extraordinarily friendly and helpful villagers....toddlers crying because they have never seen a white person...flleeing, and then curious youngsters who crowded around every drone flight...learning about a place that I never even knew existed....the incredibly strong, gracious, and handsome women of Haat that did, well, just about everything that required muscle and patience. …and of course the tremendous camaraderie that was created among our Nuer, British, Nigerian, and Canadian team.
That camaraderie almost fractured when GBenga, our logistics officer, was passed the word from the Thuraya satellite phone that our return flight would be postponed as the helicopter would have to overnight in Akobo. He exploded into a fit of completely unintelligible, heavy accented Yoruba Nigerian English, and a wailing for Juba as if it was the Jerusalem of East Africa. Out of mercy, the prank was exposed.