You know when you wake up suddenly from a dream and your neighbors are climbing in through the window and the walls are bleeding? That’s kind of how it felt when we blew a tire and a dozen folks appeared out of the bush to check us out on the seven-hour drive from Juba to Rumbek in Southern Sudan. Except more innocuous.
Among the found boys were these two charming lads. The one on the left kept requesting his photo be taken, and would then lower his head shyly. Maybe he was admiring my Keens or transfixed by my poorly manicured toes; I cannot say.
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The month-long odyssey thoroughly penetrating the state of Warrab was intense and beautiful and it will take some time to cull through the 2,000 photos. I’ve never been in towns more suspicious and accusatory about photography, but luckily the villages were filled with people classically proud to have their image snapped and snatched. Such adults, upon seeing my apparatus, always stand stoic and erect, almost as if they’re expecting a cigarette and a blindfold.
I went in without any expectations (or research), tagging along with a local malaria program manager and driver on an assessment trip for an upcoming mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets throughout the soon-to-be 193rd country. We met with the municipal heads and youth leaders to discuss the process.
Our days were heavy in driving and downtime but punctuated emphatically with beautiful and surreal aspects: meeting the family and seeing the grave of an NBA legend, decrepit British garrison-town buildings in abandoned administrative centers, 132-degree heat, scorpions and spiders, and all that good stuff that reminds you with a Dinka-sized shoulder shrug that you’re in Africa.
We spent three to eight hours a day in the car, and many long hours chilling out in villages. My iPod died early in the first week and so I was left with my Kindle (my brother’s sanity-saving Christmas gift) and a journal for entertainment. There were definitely flashbacks for good and worse of Peace Corps.
Over the course of the month I filled 240 pages in my journal and read & reflected upon the following 14 books, which colored each of my interactions in curious, comedic, tragic and occasionally racist tones.
- Life, by Keith Richards
- Dark Summit: the True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season, by Nick Heil
- Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
- Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham
- Ultramarathon Man, by Dean Karnazes
- Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- A Man’s Life: Dispatches from Dangerous Places, by Mark Jenkins
- How to See Yourself as You Really Are, by the Dalai Lama
- 10. Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp
- Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
- The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H. G. Wells
- Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau
- Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
It’s now late March as I write this from a beachside balcony on the Sinai Peninsula. I am very much not in Southern Sudan anymore, and it’s oddly startling how quickly one can not be in Sudan. Many photos and entries to come.