Just another day (and night) in Jalle

Published February 6, 2012

(Marianne) South Sudan is a beguiling contradiction. Hash and unyeilding, joyful and inclusive. Today, we saw the extremes of both sides. Today really began with last night with the all-night preparations for our clerical guests. As we sat in the courtyard under the full moon, villagers entered one by one, depositing sleepy-looking chickens in a pile nearby. Blake theorized that the chickens had perhaps been hypnotized and proceeded to explain how you hypnotize a chicken. One villager led a goat in and took it beyond where I could see. As Blake and I continued to discuss the fate of the growing pile of chickens, I stiffened at a bleating sound followed by something that distinctly silenced the bleating. Looks like Bishop would be enjoying goat AND chicken for lunch tomorrow. My attempts to fall asleep were interrupted by a periodic sqawk and thud. When I woke in the middle of the night, the preparations were going on and continued straight through until morning.

I’ll let Blake add his voice in laying out the day that followed:

(Blake) The first night we woke up to a chorus of roosters. This morning it was drums. And roosters. And a megaphone. I swear he was saying “abroche su cituron.” Early. In our compound. Now, our kind hosts are Episcopalian, so we’re not worried about voo-doo or anything, its just really loud. The early morning is cool with a light breeze. Later, on the building site, it was hot with blast furnace dust-laden winds. My mouth was dry within minutes. Marianne shrugs. ‘This is exactly like Lubbock.’ We are finally installing our first test pier on site. The installation tool resembles a giant tinkertoy spool with 6 long spokes sticking out perpendicular to the pier shaft. It takes 6 grown men turning like a merry-go-round to drive the pier into the ground. The first pier is a comedy of errors. Once installed to depth it listed about 30 degrees to the southeast. We would need to see some significant improvement for our second try.

Our second pier (did I mention our car went back to the compound with our water in it?) was much better. The team really took ownership and were quick studies. It went down straight and relatively quickly. Then a setback… the tool we use to determine if the pier is set correctly indicated we were only at 25 percent strength. We had used two out of a maximum of three plates at the base of the pier. We had yet to try the biggest one in our inventory.

Before we could do that we had to get back to the compound to welcome the Arch Bishop of Brazil. We arrived to find the entire village packed into our compound and – surpirse! our mud hut was headquarters. The Bishop’s name is Morice and he seemed quite nice. We didn’t have much time to talk to him because apparently we had also unwittingly “invited” about thirty area clergy and dignitaries into our 300 square foot home. Marianne bee-lined for the corner of her mosquito net where her laundry hung and shoved those items she deemed inappropriate for display under the pillow. Dirt-streaked and disoriented, we shook innumerable hands, watched the hands heartily enjoy lunch, and then shook them all again in farewell. After the hut had emptied, Marianne and I remained in our freshly polished lawn chairs, too dazed to move.

I did meet a very nice deacon from Indianna who was interested in discussing possible funding for our project. I got his card. Outside the hut were a couple hundred people waiting to see the Bishop before he drove off back to Bor for the night. One look at Marianne with the camera, though, and the crowd ditched the Bishop and went straight for fame and fortune in front of the lens. The fame and fortune comes instantly as Marianne shows them their picture on the viewscreen. With triple the usual number of people clamoring for the camera’s attention, the situation becomes too much and Marianne retires the camera to our hut. A small army followed her in to clean up after lunch, put our beds back in place and thank us for our hospitality.

I think I forgot to mention, except for the thinnest of details, we had no idea any of this was going to happen.

After a precious few minutes to ourselves we headed back to the site. This time we went full up, installing the “cornerpier” with every plate we had. Our tests still indicated that we were at 25 percent strength. Another pier confirmed this measurement. Marianne and I sat staring at the stubborn soil rechecking calculations. It’s not yet the end of the world as I’m waiting for more information from the pier manufacturer in Colorado. A rousing success would have been much better. At least we know how to get them in straight now.

(Marianne) After a totally exahausting day, I sat jotting down notes on my iphone. Naturally this attracted attention. A shy, intelligent boy named Bol came to explore the iphone’s camera capability and in no time had figured it out and was snapping pictures of his friends. He began to flip through the photos stored on my phone and paused at one of sunset. ‘That’s Juba,’ I explained. He touched the sunset over a mountain. The world through his eyes is an incredible place; you can tell he has so much potential. I watched him transfixed. It occurred to me that he’d probably never seen Sudan’s capital city, never looked out from a building more than 15 feet tall or watched a sunset over a mountain. You can tell he has so much potential. After the whirlwind of today, this moment brought me back down to earth. This boy. This school.

– Blake and Marianne

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