Tag Archives: Christmas

New Year: The Referendum Aftermath (part 1)

Thank you, everybody who has replied to this blog. Times here recently have been full of uncertainty. Things for me, if I’m honest, have been tough. It has been so frantic with E-Prep (Emergency Preparedness), and everybody being on leave, that time has flown, and I have been completely frenetic.  I am hoping to return to the discipline of blogging in order to remind myself, as much as anything else, where I am, and what I’m doing. Now that at least the initial period of the referendum is over, the atmosphere may un-tighten.  The singing is back at night, at least, after a lull of several weeks.

But maybe I can rewind a bit, first, to Christmas. I didn’t write, in the end, what actually happened. The run-up to Christmas was insane. We were in the full throes of supply, ordering ‘buffer stocks’ of medicine and logistics, for the hospital, the patients, and us to survive any ‘instability’ which may have occurred over the period. Potentially, we were ready for being cut-off for a month.

I guess I finally stopped for Christmas when I switched off the generator, which may have been on the morning of Christmas Day, after it had been needed overnight for Oxygen. We had already had a plan that it would be nice to go to one of the churches to mark the day, and so we walked in the general direction of drumming and singing, through the scrub on the other side of the airstrip. Church is a huge outdoor affair, it seems, which goes-on all day inside a sorghum-fenced compound, with a big drum, choirs dressed in gowns, with male and female parts who soing and dance, and an ‘MC’ with a megaphone, controlling the activity and prayer. We were ushered-in and, embarrassingly, seated amongst the Elders out-front.

Central Lankien

We had gone along simply for personal reasons, and when inevitably called to address the crowd of several hundred people, each of us were very careful to give a neutral and non-political message of goodwill. I was pleased with myself that I was able to deflect the occasion by telling everybody about what my family at home would be doing, and how it would involve being together, eating, and singing. That seemed to go down well, but we were extremely relieved when we were able to duck-out of the seemingly never-ending event, and get out into the bush. It was nice to see a couple of our staff kicking about as we walked back, though, and there was much hugging and backslapping to be done. I never really see my guys out of the workplace.

After that, and a quick walk around the market, which was quiet, we came back, and had a light lunch.


Crikey, this is an inhospitable and unlikely place for people to have a settlement. The only water here has to be pumped up from boreholes nearly 500 feet deep in the earth’s crust. Holes used to get dug by hand, apparently, desperate nomadic cattle-herders frienziedly chasing the receeding river-flood, grubbing for dampness in the blinding dust. Indeed, Christmas this year in Lankien, South Sudan, will be a dusty affair. One of the great bonuses of the build-up for me here though, is the complete unawareness of its immanence. Religion here is, officially Christian, but with the absence of a market goes the absence of marketing. Fantastic!

That is not to say that anybody here is remotely ‘Bah-Humbug’, and I am informed that New Year will be ‘off-the-chain’. Continuous drumming and singing thud into the walls of the Tukuls (Mud Huts) of the clinics, wards and accommodation of the MSF compound here all through the night, and over the weekend. Weekend dances continue regardless of any other longer-term agendae, and every Sunday the imposingly tall and thin males of the Nuer tribe do a circular dance, wielding their wooden staffs on our hard dusty airstrip. The staff, a sturdy, carved, worn, and sometimes battle-scarred stick is a part of the adult male’s self-presentation. Along with the six wrinkle-like scars across the forehead. The dancers take giant steps in a circle, bouncing up and down above the heads of the crowd, every other step being a giant leap into the air, their sticks brandished. Tall thin giants, leaping giant steps, and singing, like a rugby team, in unison. Energetic? I think so.

I’m sure that Christmas will be a monster helping of this, the church singing and drumming added, which is beautiful. The Nuer sing in everything they do, and it is normal for me to wander off into the dark to switch-off the generator, and locate the whereabouts of our unarmed guards in the compound by their soft but note-perfect solo singing. Most of them are respected warriors, and are not afraid of many things, including bullets or any insecurity we might feel here. They have seen it all before.

I caught one of my carpenters singing a Sudanese carol whilst cleaning the workshop yesterday. He has promised to teach it to me. Christmas, as I’m sure everyone back home is acutely aware, falls this year on a weekend. It will be characterised by both Saturday and Sunday off here in the hospital, instead of just Sunday, but of course we shall all be on-call. A goat was brought into the compound as a Christmas present for our midwife ‘Miss Sheila’. But that will probably get slaughtered tonight for the weekend, probably by me(!), as happened last weekend when we had a little leaving party for my predecessor.

I am determined to get the Frisbee out, and continue to teach the village boys what moves I know on the airstrip, but personally Christmas will be stressful for me, as I will be covering both Technical and Supply Logistics. Any mistakes will have a direct impact on hundreds of patients and all of our ‘in-pat’ and ‘ex-pat’ staff. Time here is measured-out in the long-term in flight-rotations. If there was not a flight on Christmas Eve, it seems quite possible that Christmas would get ignored in favour of that magical flight date. Everything arrives here by small plane, onto our hardened-mud runway, which I have to check at 6am/dawn on flight days, and report back via Sat-Phone or sometimes High-Frequency Radio, to Mission HQ five hundred miles away.

Cattle, goats, stray equipment from other emergency helicopter-drops, kids, rain(unlikely). All of these things could stop us from having the Christmas parcel on the 24th flight. It will mainly consist of treats, I have heard BACON, and some whiskey and wine. If I was asked what I most wanted for Christmas, it would be an elusive item; too heavy to be included on the plane-full of medicine, impossible to obtain here, in the middle of this dustbowl. A large; very large … cold … BEER.