01 November 2007

day 1 :: a day in the life

Yesterday we drove two hours to a very tiny town, even tinier than this one, just me and the driver and the translator. On the way, I was looking out the window thinking, “Things look so pretty! There are the purple flowers growing on the surface of the water. There are the pretty white flowers on tall stalks. There are the blowing green grasses. And the light is almost friendly. The sun doesn’t seem so harsh today.”

Then I realized that I was wearing rose-colored sunglasses. And the airconditioner was on.

There was one moment I wished I could capture on film, although we passed it far too quickly. Through a break in the grasses on the side of the road, I saw two little girls in bright dresses wading into the water. All around them was green and the sky was blue and barely hazy.

The sat phone rang and I answered it, hanging my head out the window so it could get network coverage.

We stopped for sodas in a town that was scarcely more than a blip on the side of the road. Since I arrived in this country, I have turned two of my colleagues against Coke, merely by telling them about the sugar content (12 teaspoons in a 330 ml bottle, according to my former colleague whose dad used to run a soda factory, so 18 or so teaspoons of sugar in a 500 ml bottle) and the acid that eats at teeth and bones. This blip of a town, however, had this:

That’s Vanilla Coke, people. I couldn’t resist. I downed the entire 500 ml. I didn’t remember until halfway through that I’m avoiding caffeine to see if it will help my stomach problem. So I just drank the rest. Then I wasn’t hungry for lunch, at all. I wasn’t hungry until 6 p.m., when the sugar wore off, and then I was starving. Sugar is like that.

We drove around on non-roads, by which I mean through the grass where there are no roads, for a long time, collecting people for an impromptu meeting, and then distributing them back to their houses. In the middle, after the meeting, we had to push start the car, again, for the third time of the day, because the driver leaves the lights half on all the time when he turns off the car (even though I reminded him to turn them off – okay, I turned them off myself, but he must have turned them back on or, more likely, the battery is absolute toast). I helped push start the car and when we got back on the road, the translator said to me, “I like that. You are really working for gender equality. You even help push the car.”

In the afternoon, the wind blew in gusts and the sky clouded over. The purple flowers along the way were bisected by a red layer of dust on the road-facing side.

We were delayed leaving the very tiny town and the ancient driver who cannot see (classic quote: “I’ve been driving since 1956”) drove like a madman. He very nearly ran over a drunken man lying on the side of the road. We were close to air-born over the culverts that allow the swamp water to run under the road. We reached a slightly bigger road and he seemed to feel it necessary to accelerate to 90 km/hour (55 mph? 60 mph?) on a dirt road with edges crumbling into the swamp, people meandering, and large lorries approaching in the other direction, lorries that did not want to move over much for the racing Land Cruiser lest they should fall into the swamp. After the fourth or fifth near miss, I freaked out and demanded a slow-down. “60.” I said, “Please. 60. No faster than 60.” The driver grumbled under his breath and glared at me, but couldn’t say much, as we speak different languages.

The roads here, the good ones, are made of maram imported from other parts of Sudan. Maram is the red dirt of Africa. It’s slippery, very slippery, when it is wet. (The bad roads are made of the dark gray clay dirt of the swamp, which simply gives way when it is wet, miring the car past its wheels.) It had rained along the road, and the air was clear and cool behind the rain.

When we got home, it started raining here, just enough to cool things off, just enough to make sleep comfortable and the morning pleasant before the sun regained its rightful scorch.

Then I took approximately 40 pictures of tiny frogs brought out of hiding by the rain.

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