Fireflies: Update #11

Published June 1, 2011

There haven’t been too many times this trip when my first thought was, “I wish Milo was here to see this”. Milo is my 18 month old son back home in New Hampshire. That’s not to say I don’t miss Milo! I do! However, this is a challenging place to live and travel and most of the time I am happy to imagine him safe at home. The last two nights just before going to sleep, though, I would have loved to have him with me, in the middle of nowhere, in a mud hut, in the dark night of Jalle Payam.

Because fireflies live here. And because you fall asleep watching nature’s very own lightshow. Nightly showtimes, no ticket necessary. Longest running show on Earth. No one tells you about the fireflies, you have to discover them for yourself. I’ve been plenty of places with fireflies, but nothing like this. Hundreds of little lights spinning, swirling and dancing along the ceiling like miniature shooting stars. I marveled at one particularly bright bug resting on my mosquito net. It’s light so bright, I could see the outline of my leg, otherwise hidden in the darkness, when it flashed. “Milo, this is a firefly.”

Jalle is a hard place to be. I am a long distance backpacker and have hiked for hundreds of miles at a stretch. This is harder. I lived in a log cabin for a year without running water or electricity. This is harder. I have spent many weeks volunteering in Haiti. This is harder. To say the people here live off the land would be a misstatement. They coexist with the land. For a Westerner, this is eye opening. You sit, eat, sleep, walk, marry, have children, and die with the land. Bor, 40 miles away, is a different universe.

Poverty is a loaded word, especially dangerous when talking about a very rich and proud culture. However, economically, this area must be one of the poorest regions in the world. A plastic lawn chair has value – they are not tossed away when they break, they are fixed, patched, or propped to continue their service. They are carried a mile to church. Plastic lawn chairs are one of the few creature comforts I witnessed in Jalle.

There are some good things happening, too. We visited a health clinic in a building built by Grace Chapel Church. What at first glance appeared nothing more than three mostly barren rooms turned out to be a well organized, staffed and stocked clinic. Two articulate, dedicated staff open the clinic 6 days a week. There is ample medicines, antibiotics, re-hydration supplies, and nutritional supplements. They have medical records and histories for all patients visiting the clinic. They perform basic prenatal services and well-baby visits. One of the most prominent medical devices is a spring scale hanging from the ceiling to check weight gain in children and babies. There were no patients when we visited – I actually take that as a positive sign the the community’s health needs are being looked after.

The clinic, however, is the only building that could reasonably pass as modern and complete. The four Grace Chapel school buildings and church stand half finished with dirt floors that flood when it rains and walls that stop 4 feet short of the ground. It is hard, very hard, to build here, and the drive north of Bor shows that few have tried and even fewer have been successful.

From the field,
Blake Clark, Executive Director

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