We piled into CRESS’s landrover, driven by the wonderful Eric – Caroline, Bishop Joseph and his wife Yango, resplendent in a beautiful white dress and headdress, and me. We drove through busy Arua and for the first half an hour we made good progress on a tarmacked road. Shops – some brick and some shacks – lined the roads as we passed through the little towns, offering the most incredible range of services. A mirror balanced on a wooden table top was a barber’s shop; small children stood on tiptoe craning to see the sweets in another shop; a bride-to-be emerged from a small wooden building modelling a veil for her friends; other shops offered everything from the latest wifi connection to paint, to boda boda taxi services, doors (lots of doors!), craft supplies and of course, food.
There were also markets wherever we went, women and babies sitting on the ground selling whatever fruit or vegetables they had. To enhance their produce, it was all arranged carefully, little walls of tomatoes or sweet potatoes balanced on cloths. Women walked along with great trays of baby bananas on their heads, or sweet potatoes. It’s the summer holidays here, so there are children everywhere!
Once the tarmac runs out the journey is much longer – we travelled 60km in 90 minutes – along dirt roads. But eventually, we arrived at Mijale – and turning off the road, it became evident that this would not be a quick trip at all! The Landrover was escorted to the church by a procession of South Sudanese, singing and dancing. We were shown to the front of the church and seated on really comfy sofas for the next couple of hours of praise and celebration – the community had come together from all over the region and the IDPs (internally displaced persons camps) in Kajo Keji. Ten bikes were presented to the leaders of the Mothers Union and ten water filters to clergy families. After photos, we were treated to another wonderful meal of fried chicken, eggs, posho (ground maize), peanut butter and spinach.
Then across the road (well, we, as esteemed guests, were driven the 100 yards!) to the clinic. When it was necessary to leave Liwolo, the CRESS team recovered all the clinic’s equipment (including the amazing solar fridge!) and after a few months Fred found premises to rent so the clinic could run again. CRESS has recruited some excellent staff – the new clinical director was formally head of medical services for the whole of Kajo Keji – and when we visited, two patients were being treated. It was wonderful to see that the dream of a clinic was not lost.
Well, it was at this point that Caroline and I realised we couldn’t put the moment off any longer – we needed to avail ourselves of the facilities. Suffice it to say, it was a new experience for me, and I had no idea so many flies could exist in such a small space! But needs must, and we left much relieved!
We left just after 6pm, for a three and a half hour journey home. As evening fell, the football pitches that graced every village – even when there were no other amenities in sight – came to life as the young men took to their teams, the sidelines crammed with spectators. And as we travelled through remote communities, families were gathering around open fires to eat their evening meal.
It was pitch black after an hour, and with very little light other than headlights, the journey became very interesting as there were still many many pedestrians making their way home from the fields or from work – there are no pavements, so they are effectively walking on the highway. In the towns, we also came across the additional challenge of pedestrians slightly the worse for wear wandering around the centre of the roads! Then one of our three vehicles got a flat tire, so we arrived behind them to see all the young men flat on their bellies sorting it out – regardless of the danger to their outstretched legs from oncoming traffic!
Eventually, we returned to the CRESS office to collect our paperwork for tomorrow’s conference. The night watchman was on duty, and it was so interesting to see that his weapon was a handmade bow and four metal tipped and ferociously barbed arrows. Luckily, we were friend, not foe!
At 9.30pm we finally returned to our lovely new guest house, to be reunited with Fi, who had a great meeting with the Mental Health Services, and to eat. Of course!
It was a very very long day!
Report written by Becky Sedgwick