musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rain and the Under-Appreciation of Asphalt

Where I grew up we had seasons. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.

In many parts of equatorial Africa (especially South Sudan), there are but two seasons. Hot and dry. Hot and rainy. The names of the seasons we know and love mean nothing here; just another reason for locals to look at you and chuckle.

Don't get me wrong, the rain here is not constant (as one would expect it to be in India during the monsoons for example). In fact, more days than not are hot and sunny. Add humid to that equation and that's a pretty common day in South Sudan this time of year.

Currently Pagak is at the end of its rainy season, yet the power of mother nature is still in full force. As I write this in our 'Mess Tukul', rain descends as if it was already time for Open Championship golfing to commence. It won't last all day but its effects will last long after the sun comes out again.

I never truly appreciated the luxury that is asphalt. Back home it rains (or hurricanes) and, for the most part, life goes on. Most New Yorkers and those who regularly enjoyed the fruits of a Boardwalk stroll (among others) will be recovering for a while after Sandy and my heart truly goes out to them. But in Cambridge (my fair city), rain and wind only meant that people streamed Netflix and drank bottled water on Sunday/Monday. Come Tuesday, life went on.

Thanks to today's rain in Pagak (a place where asphalt is experienced only on television), the following will happen:

  • The once-weekly flight - cancelled last week, delayed yesterday and rescheduled for today simply because of the incompetence (there, I said it) of UNHAS - will be delayed again due to the now-wet airstrip, probably until Monday;
  • For at least the next two days gumboots will be the least common denominator in every outfit, not preventing your shins from being submerged in mud but rather allowing you to not care when it inevitably happens;
  • Our solar panels will be useless - thank goodness we just got three barrels of diesel for the generator... how will I internet myself to sleep at night?
  • Most importantly, our staff will be unable to move out to field sites except by trudging for days through the mud - trainings will be delayed, medicine won't be delivered, and life that people here spend mostly outside will retreat into dark mud tukuls...

I enjoy the peacefulness of rain, not to mention the bounty it can facilitate, so generally I don't mind. Additionally, dealing with the annoyance of rain is much better than dealing with no rain at all, as witnessed during the drought in the Horn of Africa last year.

So much of development work in the field is subject to delays that are completely out of our control: rain; fuel shortages; 4-hour local government meetings to discuss desired compensation for two cows killed by the UNHAS plane after running onto the airstrip as it was taking off last month; etc. Sadly these delays are usually misunderstood by management in NGO headquarters expecting western-style levels of efficiency. Such is life in the bush. You deal with it, do your best, and move on. All part of establishing field cred I guess.

But when it's me that needs to fly out, as will be the case in a couple short weeks, I start to worry. Time to start thinking about Plan B...