Letter from Old Fangak December 2009

written by Zach Fairbanks, working to improve the water supply in Old Fangak, South Sudan

Hello all,

So here is my first real inspiration at sending an up date on the trip to South Sudan to offer some more fresh clean water to a small village on a branch of the upper Nile called the White Nile. We are in the middle of a massive swampy section of the nile called the Sud (Soode). The Nuer (new-air) people who make this place home are traditionally pastoralists. During the dry season (now) they move their herds to the river where we are now. Christmas is a busy season in the village, there is singing, drumming and parading twenty four seven. When I say twenty four seven, I literally mean twenty four hours a day for the past week. There are often short breaks in the celebration of an hour or two. Between the Christmas cheer, the packs of occasional fighting dogs, calling cattle, bird calls, middle of the night medical emergencies from the clinic, and various westerners arising to the call of the more or less violent call of the wild, some sleep can be found taking place. Though I think we are all adjusting well, considering. A five minute walk in any direction will find you in more or less wilderness spotted with tukals (usually round, thatched huts with mud/cob walls.) The vegetation is mostly acacia trees with a few Neem trees close to town and a few Tamarind trees in town as well. Other than that, off the river it is mostly acacias with a number of different shrub species. Add liberal spikes to everything growing and you're pretty close. Around the river there are marshes of tall grasses and greenery. The bird life around the river is off the hook. During the dry season the water is here and so the is a lot of life. I saw a few different species of Bee-eaters a few days ago that were spectacular. Bright metallic green, scarlet, and yellow reflecting the setting sun, pretty awesome.

We are living in an old rectangular Tukal built by an NGO that was here at some point. We inhabit the floor level with the occasional rat, lizard/gecko, snake and cat. Though the rats mostly run the tops of the rafters while a couple hundred bats hang from the bottoms of the rafters. There are regularly ten or more bats visible in the air at one time. I have learned that they are much better at missing me than the other way around.

The cultural differences are apparent and with a significant language barrier much of the details are hard to grasp. I often wonder what the effect of me being here is. I am pretty much a crazy “Koo-eye-ja” doing strange things with new and fascinating relics of the industrial/technological age. It is a funny thing to realize that many people here may be seeing a chain saw for the first time. Admittedly, trying to describe this scene is much like drinking from a fire hose.

The sun is always shining and the daily temps range from 66 deg F @ dawn to 106 deg F during the mid day. There is always a haze in the air from grassland fires as well as cooking fires and charcoal making operations out in the bush.

Today we have been cleaning out a previously drilled well down 140 feet. Tomorrow we plan to finish that and put up a tent for the influx of a team of 7 medical people arriving with a surgeon from George Fox U. You know what “they” say, “Shift Happens”.

My day typically starts around sunrise with a climb to the top of a 1930's English brick building that among other things used to house the office of the vice president of South Sudan. It is the closest relatively clean flat spot to do some stretching and greet the sun. I do get some stares, though not the usual crowd so that is nice. Then it is back to the ground for breakfast and morning banter about the day. Often we are fixing things that we want to use so things move slowly. It is sort of like doing things in Bush Alaska only the nearest spare part is most likely thousands instead of hundreds of miles away. We tricked out the old two wheeled donkey cart by welding on some new axles, putting on some proper wheels and giving it a new paint job. We even gave it a license plate. I will send some photos later for my memory card reader is in Alaska. I will figure something out soon.

Our attempts to align the second satellite for an internet connect failed and so internet is used in short spurts at odd hours. No worries, it is a miracle to have it at all, so I will count that as a blessing. Though there is still the curse of technology, I love to have the excuse that I am out of reach. As Paul Thoroux put it in a book called Dark Star Safari, “Africa is a sort of revenge on cell phones, pagers and computers. It is one of the last places that one can totally drop off the face of the earth” Though here I am sending this all around the globe via a satellite dish parked out side a mud hut in a small African village where people are dancing them selves into trances with a thin veneer of Christianity over traditional tribal holiday celebration.

Well drilling is a crazy state of affairs. At the moment we are going fishing down a 6 inch diameter hole for 75 ft of well drilling rod. Some of the local guys helping us have gotten the direct experience to inform them as to why one must make absolute certain that the pipe is secured. So we are now learning how to meditate on the task at hand with no thought of progress to completion. We were hours away "so we thought"; now we are days away "so we think" and as the sticker on my water bottle continues to remind me......."Reality.... It's Not What You Think"

We laugh a lot and that lightens the atmosphere.

I think that is enough for now, I hope your holy-days have left you feeling grateful and inspired.

Many blessings to you all.


Website by Jeff van den Bosch