Dr. Geelhoed journal entry 24 Feb 2011 (part 2)

Series: 11-FEB-D-6


February 24, 2011

It may be prejudicial to have this alleged “paramilitary Christian organization” seen in the encampment of the Ugandan UDPF military in full uniform and surrounded by our armed guards and the trappings of the salutes and orders and the air field from which we hope soon to be greeting the archaic AN-2 which has allegedly taken off from Arua and is lumbering along the slow pace it has on its biplane wings to reach us, and then to be possibly airlifted to Obo courtesy of the UDPF.

We made an hour long market tour of the thriving business center of Yambio. We took a stroll down the dusty streets during the day like any other mad dog or Englishman at noon. I had loaded up the images and ready to see what was here and was to be further awaited and somewhat disappointed. The market is full of things for sale, even in small quantities, such as onions or a few greens, it is certainly more an “upmarket” from the barren grazed to the ground hard baked earth of Jonglei. The surrounding forest had made it cooler and the overcast of the clouds has made the temperature tolerable. We saw an open air meat market with the hunks of meat drying quickly in the air which has a humidity of less than 10%. It is a tour of the kind that shows all the things for sale or on the market here which has even got kiosks and then cement rental shopping spaces for the goods on display. Many were the kinds of luxuries that arrive from other places such as Scotch or jewels, or the batteries or bicycles, even new ones, with plastic wrap around them as import from Chan—a lot like Wal Mart!

There are heaps of dried and smoked fish that look like small catfish speared by the foragers here. It is also a place where a number of boys are standing in the hot sun and grinding millet in a small gasoline powered grinder mill. The flour that comes out is immediately swarmed over by bees. The millet flour has a basket that is taken to market and immediately the bees follow them there. We also see chunks of cassava for the Pondu and a groud-up cassava for flour and the kinds of “goterogens” that can be ingested here at cheaper rates than in other parts of the Central Afirca.

The market seemed to be thriving and was teeming with purchasers which I had photographed as they pulled out the worn and dirty Sudanese pounds. I shot a lot of photos from the hip to show the markets and their variety, but then saw a blacksmith over charcoal which was being used to smelt metal. He is the first one who started calling out “Money Money” when he had seen Brittany take his photos. She was looking for cloth which was for sale right next to treadle powered tailors who could cut and make it into the kinds of clothing that the women are wearing. There were further upmarket shops with ready made goods that seemed to be new and imported from wherever such stuff can be brought. We saw a line up of bicycles, which even had the plastic wrappings around them. Under a very large hardwood tree, surrounded by the banyans in the embrace of the strangler fig what was already heavily invested in the coalescing banyans which were well on their way to making a “ghost tree” as the two kinds of leaves that were seen at the crown were being replaced with only one of them from the ficus.

I showed Brittany the irons, which are stuffed with hot charcoal and standing on the metal platform so to keep from burning the clothing they are intended to iron. A lot of women are seen balancing large loads on their heads as little kids are also exercising the balancing act to carry water, and the bicycles and motorbikes whizzing by close to them without even disturbing the balance of their loads. I saw an indoor veggie market with a few baskets of fresh produce on the floor and a series of miscellaneous shops filled with the kinds of “general store” items from batteries to spare tires to hardware. We stopped for purchase of a cold drink, and I bought pomegranate juice.

On the door of the shop from which we bought the juice is a series of full page newspaper headiest. One is “Black Blood Takes Over” and beneath it showing Barack Obama the “Youngest President in the World.” It showed Air Force One to show all the fancy stuff at his disposal and the F-16 fighter jets to provide air cover during the inaugural, and then a list of many other mis-quotes. It showed “Marine One” with the quote “President Obama gets into his multi-billion dollar helicopter.” Almost all the data that are printed are about ten percent true and the rest is hyperbole in someone’s imagination to make for a catchy headline. I had made multiple photos of the news stories, and can check out the exaggerated stories of the excesses. The Africans had some good reason to be proud of the story of Barack Obama’s ascendancy, but he is hardly African, or especially not “African American”. He is an elitist who is representative of a CLASS of Americans to which many aspire here, but the helicopters do not come immediately to anyone who happens to be a representative of a color or a nationality or ethnicity, and they have a bit of trouble recognizing that—as many Americans do also.

We walked around the market seeing a vibrant and thriving environment which seems to be possible only with peace since this is the status of ordinary commerce before the desperation of strafing in the market places, killing lots of people engaging in nothing more sinister than trying to stay alive and advance their status even a little. I thought that this is what a good deal of the rest of Sudan aspires to as an endpoint, and is a light year or two distant from such market scenes as we might have seen in the impoverished and frightened marketers in PiBor only a scratch below the subsistence of the Bor Markets. It is also a better environment from the forests than the barren floodplains of the dry season.


Of all things, after insufferable novellas from Mexican Americans –overacting hyper drama that makes Bollywood look subtle—a golf show came on. It turns our advocate Isaac Mira is a golf champion in Uganda and could not carry his golf clubs here, but is an aficionado of the sport. We saw a little bit of soccer and an even smaller clip of cricket, but I have tried to tune out of the TV intrusion of a quite other world so as to be able to relate back to you this rather bizarre connection of a medical team idled by a small glitch with all functioning equipment and a very good aircraft at our disposal awaiting the same kinds of “Big Men” whom we saw at breakfast this morning as they are all holding conferences with essentially the title: “OK so the Referendum actually happened: Now What”.

We have each of us either napped or read or typed but none can push any closer toward our goal which is frustratingly distant despite all the pieces in place for our accomplishing our goals. We have missed no flights to Obo since none have gone. But, it is getting later as far as flying time as well as the various permits waited for a clearance to go—anywhere, closer to where we should be at work.

I will tune back in with you when something happens.

Something just did happen, but I did not go over to see it happen, as I have been there before. Zach did, and probably would not try again to see the MER-8 takeoff in the dry season dust of the Nzara Airstrip. The big chopper fired up the turbo and then with the big rotors turning, it kicked up a sandstorm of a brown cloud that obliterated Zach who was sitting in the middle of the cloud taking photographs of the brown storm from the inside. It was likely that the photos would be the same if shot from the back of the pickup truck of the roadway behind us as we bounced along the road in the back of the truck yesterday on our way to Yambio. The Chopper was on its way to Congo—the place from which the patients waiting for us in Obo and Zemio had been pushed out by the same LRA this military base is set up to restrain the evil scattered terrorist—relics of Joseph Kony’s deviltry.


And something very big did just happen—an unexpected and significant finding in the weather. We went back to the Commandante’s tent and sat with Lieutenant Mwria (Isaac) and enjoyed his shade and bottled Ugandan water as we sat typing or reading or dosing awaiting the phone calls that kept on coming in but none with the clearance of the Bangui CAR President’s’ allowing the entry of the Cessna into Zemio. We finally got the military attaché on the phone that had been called by Ron Miller and he had obviously forgotten all that he had promised and had to be brought back up to speed. The AN-2 came in slowly from Arua and parked for the night since it is so slow it could not reach Obo by dark. In a cloud of dust the big Mi-8 chopper with the five crew of Ukrainian pilots left to go to Congo as a showering of dust was pelted all around the huge rotors of this big chopper. Then another sound was heard as we made the observation that we have not “missed “ any flights to Obo, since none had gone in that direction and since we are all cleared to go, we would have been on one if it had left. The sound was of thunder.

A large line of dark clouds was moving in on us. I went out of the tent to see and a brisk hot wind was driven ahead of the front until we were pelted with as much dust and debris as the big MI-8 Russian built chopper had kicked up. The adjutant dropped the tent flaps as we knew what was coming next, and then it hit—hard.

The rain pelted down so hard that standing puddles were all around us in the hard packed and desiccated ground. Huge bomb craters are on each side of the tents here where the Khartoum government had bombed the air strip and the camp heavily when it was the SPLA base. The bomb craters are as much as twenty feet deep on either side of the tent and I had looked down into them as the rain began to pelt down hard almost immediately filing the bottoms of the craters with runoff. I ducked into the tent to hear the heavy drumming on the roof of a deluge. It could scarcely be seen through to the adjacent tukuls under thatch, tents and a third cover for this rain protection. It was our view of the rainy season. Almost immediately insects emerged, among the first were mosquitoes.

We walked out into the fine drizzle that resulted an hour later after we had stood up under the slope of the tent roof, just as we always do in elk camp and push up on the underside of the sagging tent to spill the heavy collections of water in this case, and snow in the Maroon Bells. We stood out under the big MI-8 and a call came in from the Ugandan Military Attaché who had been called by Ron Miller. Jon talked with him about me as the leader of the team and about Scott as the brother-in-law of the Ron Miller who had just spoken to him. He said there would be no flying today, but offered first thing in the morning. When the other lieutenant came by we asked him if we would be going to day. He replied immediately: “Yes, back to Yambio!”

Which we did. So, I am in the Naivasha Hotel just now in the exact same room as earlier on our second night here as we had spent a second night in Werkok blowing four days in leisure we had not counted on as the patients and trainees are awaiting us at two sites in CAR. We cannot let down the Congolese survivors of Assa, especially the encouragement of the Jean Marco ambitions for his daughters and the encouragement of Amboise. We will be in Obo CAR tomorrow and will await the further progress of Jon Hildebrandt to get to Zemio and then on to pick us up with the Caravan now parked as fully functional and useless for a bit of bureaucratic obstruction. This is Africa—and now it is rainy season Africa even if only for a day.

A fellow came to see us tonight as we had dinner in the Peace Bar and Restaurant, His name is Manassas Zindi, and he is a special assistant to the Governor of West Equatoria with whom we had breakfast this morning. He has returned for a Catholic (Jesuit) college in Nairobi where he got his Masters in Peace studies. He uses Pazande and is encouraging peace among the Southern Sudan tribes and had been across the border and knows Ron Pontier well. His father was the Archbishop of the Anglican Church here in central Africa. We were then left to see the TV on the wall over our dinner table broadcasting –what else? –Ameren idol. I do not watch TV so this is my introduction to American reality TV culture in Yambio South Sudan. It should stay here and my TV can stay boxed up in the attic. This is the month that Ugandan TV is converted from analog to digital, and I have not made that switch as of yet!! Tonight with the rain continuing to drizzle outside my window, I will pull down the mosquito netting.

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