I have been working as an international development worker since 2006 and have worked in several developing countries. However, my humanitarian mission in South Sudan is by far the most challenging and most difficult, yet the most fulfilling job i’ve ever had. I would not trade this experience for anything….not even my past ‘Gasm’ Travels!
Here is a peek of my humanitarian lifestyle, in the midst of hardship.
My deployment entails travelling with my team (a group of 4 male national staff) in far flung places often on unpaved rough roads,….
in muddy, flooded highways…..
notwithstanding the imminent dangers of road accidents, robberies, car hijacking and ambushes….
as well as the Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) or unexploded ammunitions and anti-tank landmines and other remnants of war that are scattered in roads, in farms and gardens, in the bush, communities even within town centers.
This was taken during one of our clearance operations in one of the communities in Central Equatoria State. This is a main busy highway connecting a village to the main town. Unknowingly to many, there were a number of unexploded air bombs and mortars half buried on the ground which if detonated can cause a massive explosion.
When we reach our destination, we first look for a place to camp either within the village center or outskirt of town.
Here are the various campsites we had so far….from Western Equatoria State to Central Equatoria State to Eastern Equatoria State….
Yes, I sleep in a small tent (which is often leaking when it is raining!)
…And this is my home…..welcome to my humble abode!
….and this is my office….
Welcome to our kitchen! We hire a cook from the village. We use charcoal in cooking. If there is no borehole nearby, the river water serves as our water source.
What we eat depends on how much budget we still have and what is available in the village market. At the beginning of deployment, often there is meat but after a few weeks, my local teammates end up eating the same kind of food….the greens, a local leafy vegetable cooked in peanut butter.
A typical meal of South Sudanese is a combination of Greens and Ugali (made of cornmeal flour). It is also the cheapest and most available food in every village. Here is how Mary, one of our hired cooks, prepare the greens.
There was one incident during our last week of deployment where we ran out of money in the field. Luckily I always have my emergency canned goods stored. However, the guys opted to hunt for food. It has just rained that night. I was inside my tent preparing for bed. I saw them with a cup kneeling under a bulb light as if doing some rituals. The next day, I asked them what they were doing outside my tent. They showed me a cup full of flying ants. These are the insects that come out after the rain. They told me that it was for dinner. They showed me how to prepare it, removing first the wings and drying the insects under the sun. Then after a few hours, they fry it in oil then greens are added. Voila! Sauté Flying Ants with Greens! (By the way, they also eat it raw!) I did try it, it was not that bad…it was just like eating…um, well, insects…:)
Well, that is not yet the most difficult ordeal I have to go through. Bathing, pooing and peeing are what I call the worst in humanitarian hardship. I have never cursed my being a woman because of these toilet issues! I struggled a lot on this aspect especially as I am the only woman in the team.
Sometimes, we are lucky to find a public latrine nearby. Otherwise, we will do a makeshift latrine and bath area (my ass prefers this as it is more a ‘bit’ hygienic compared to the public latrine!) Or if not, tall bushes along the road or behind a big Mango tree will do. 🙂
Top Photos: Public Latrine; Middle Photos: Makeshift Latrine; Lower Photos: Bathing Area
But in the midst of hardship, I had to find ways on how to divert my mind and not be affected by my difficult situation. Here are some of my survival tactics:
When living in the tent is becoming unbearable, I would close my eyes and imagine I am camping in the wilderness of Australia. When it is rainy and cold, I imagine camping in the highlands of Scotland. It makes things more bearable just thinking of those beautiful places I have been to and reminisce those ‘gasm’ feelings I had during my travels.
I learned that in hardship situations, meditation and imaginations help a lot. When I am fed up with eating canned foods or greens, I would crave for something so I can focus on having it. So I will count the days till the end of the month when I can go back to the city and treat myself with proper good food!
Lastly, being in tune with nature can have positive effects on mental and physical health creating balance in our inner ecology despite the ever changing environment. The smell of wet earth after the rain, the amazing African sunset that brightly colors the horizon and the chirping of the birds in the morning are some of the reasons why I love working in the field.
Amidst these hardships, I have learned to relax, to accept and to go with the flow. As what the saying goes, ” The more difficult it is to reach your destination, the more you will remember the journey. ”
Watch out for more on my survival tactics in my future posts…..