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Richard in mud and boulders

sudanroad_01Last week Richard O’Dwyer was coping with deafness and malaria, and feeling as sick as he had ever felt in his life. This latest bulletin makes no mention of sickness, and the travelling conditions he describes are not for the feeble-bodied or faint-hearted. It is a measure of the marvels of the internet that he is describing an episode that happened only two days ago. “We were ready to leave the JRS compound in Lobone at 8am on Sunday morning, 18th October, for Lerwa, a village which is about 30kms away and the most far- flung of all the chapels in which we minister. I was travelling with Bernhard Knorn SJ, a newly-arrived scholastic from Germany. Bernhard will be working with JRS Lobone until September 2010.  Read more below.

SUDANESE DIARY, 18 OCTOBER

Richard O’Dwyer SJ

We were awaiting the arrival of our JRS driver, and when he didn’t arrive we set out for his home to pick him, guessing that he had slept it out.  Half an hour later we found that the driver was involved in a dispute that needed the adjudication of the local chief.  So Bernard and I decided to try the rocky road to Lerwa on our own, with me driving the outward leg and Bernard taking the return.

Since I last wrote about the poor condition of this road, the rainy season, lasting from June until now, has taken its toll in terms of further erosion of the road. At the same time local government has made some efforts to offset the trenching caused by rain turning the road into a stream and the streams of water cutting trenches into the road.

One part of the road has two or three boulders that have become exposed with erosion on a descent to a river and this makes both the ascent and descent of this section very tricky. When we reached this spot, I took myself out of the Hilux and reconnoitred the rocks to find the best route down to the river crossing. Then I prayed earnestly to God and my angel guardian to guide us safely down. Thank God, as we descended slowly, very slowly, we made our way very smoothly in the direction of down without any horrible smacks of the chassis on the boulders. As we drove on we also realised we were low on fuel.  However, fuel proved to be the least of our concerns!

We negotiated a number of trenched sections of road and muddy spots, engaging our 4-wheel drive as necessary, and were making slow but steady progress towards Lerwa. When we were about 2 kilometre shy of Lerwa we hit a deep mudbath and despite trying everything we conceivably could do, we could not extricate the Hilux from the mud. So after half an hour of fruitless effort, including putting every log and branch we could find under all 4 wheels we decided to walk to Lerwa. After about 20 minutes,we met Margaret, one of the Cahtolic community of Lerwa walking out the road to see if there was any sign of our approach. As soon as she spotted us, her exulatation overflowed as she began the Acholi high pitched lilting in a song of sheer joy. It certainly different from and somehow beats “Howye Father!”

After a further ten minutes we reached our “chapel” tree! Forty-five adults and children had come for mass. Once again there was a delightful joyful spirit among our gathering. I told them so and they were overjoyed. There are a much larger number of Catholics in and around Lerwa but, as the Chair of the Chaple Council explained, people are busy cultivating. As I have mentioned before, agriculture in South Sudan is all done by hand and it seems to take most people all their time to feed themselves and their families.

After mass, we were treated to a lunch of beans and posho (cooked maize resembling  mash potato) inside a roomy tukul or traditional mud walled and grassed roofed dwelling of Sabina. I am still too much of a potato connoisseur to concede that posho is any way superior to mash! Give me a decent spud any time! At lunch there was strict segregation of the sexes: Bernhard and I ate lunch with a group of four men inside while the ladies and children ate outside. At least they had shade under the trees.

After lunch, everyone who attended mass accompanied Bernhard and me on foot back to our stranded vehicle, intending to give us a communal push out of the mud!  Thanks to the hot sun baking the mud for three hours and perhaps our logs and branches bedding in, the vehicle broke free of the mud without needing, I think to the huge relief of all of us and after a quick u-turn, we were ready to head for Lobone. We were hoping it would not rain on the way back to Lobone because a wet surface can make negotiating the treacherous parts of the road bordering on lethal. Apart from bouncing on the two boulders on the way back, and two stage assault on them, we made it to Lobone, with ourselves and vehicle unscathed. Mind you we knew our tired bodies would be given a very early night!