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Cats & Kids

Nov 13, 2011

There’s something about being out of one’s country, out of place, out of one’s comfort zone and into a place that challenges everything that one carries around as normal. You begin to walk with a limp.

Every day I am confronted with one more piece of this South Sudanese reality that leaves me shredded, wordless.  I have a new video camera, acquired with the intention of recording by some other means since my words are inadequate to the task.  But the images, now loaded for viewing on my computer are blurry, opaque.  Foreigners with cameras are suspect and a South Sudanese walking companion is required, a pontifex, facilitating a gentle entry over the threshold of lives so unlike the one I live.

Then place that alongside other images.  Papandreou gone; Berlusconi ditto.  Thailand’s floods, Turkey’s earthquakes.  Syria’s uprising, Italy’s meltdown. Mindanao’s assassinations.  Colombia’s assassination of FARC’s Cano.  Iran next on the list, PNAC’s 20 year-old plan coming to fruition. Occupyers’ occupations growing. Students rioting – because a paedophile football coach is sacked; ah huh.  And Obama has the nerve to criticise Khartoum for bombing another country.

And I’m reading Chris Hedges at bedtime.

I crawl out from underneath the mosquito netting, weary from a short night.  Sometime after midnight, in a part of the world where the whole notion of ‘pets’ is ludicrous to imagine, a cat fight broke out, punctuated by small bodies flung or falling below my window.  The thumps on the paper thin walls were impressive, the feline screams more than sufficient to keep sleep at bay.

Child lies on street in South SudanI bend over to dodge my clothesline’s still-damp laundry to find something clean to wear.  The Nile water that emerges from the taps is the colour of urine.  Last evening, I tossed my dishes to soak in a plastic container, its label, President’s Choice mesclun mix, dulled by frequent use.  This morning, they are covered in a thin reddish-brown silt.  Ah, the children, the children, who drink from, play and wash in these waters that bear cholera, leptospirosis and schistosomiasis, wringing their little bodies dry of life.

As I make my way out into the street, I encounter one of last night’s feline warriors, the skinny black-and-white denizen of the patio whose diet seems to consist mostly of cockroaches.  She looks rather worse for wear, bloody spots on her neck and legs, bluish skin showing where there used to be fur.

Animals are kicked around here, beaten, scavengers in the streets and garbage dumps.  The lives of children seem hardly much better, thousands living on the streets of Juba, tens of thousands dying each year from dysentery and diarrhoea, hundreds, if not thousands, killed or kidnapped, caught in the cattle wars, turned into soldiers or scooped up by raiders, branded with the facial scars of the raiding tribe and sold to those husbands suffering the twin misfortunes of a barren first wife and insufficient cow-wealth to purchase a second.

Al Jazeera opines that the Sudans are on a renewed path to war, with today’s announcement, challenged by the SPLM government here, that several rebel movements in Darfur have joined forces with the SPLM North to overthrow Omar al-Bashir.

This country’s road to nation-building is riddled with potholes, large enough to swallow a people.