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Richard in Sudan: politics and oxen

ox_01A couple of messages from Richard O’Dwyer in Lobote, Southern Sudan, show the range of his concerns, including the  political: “People here are more tense than usual with the upcoming referendum on 9th January 2011, to decide the future of Sudan.  Please God, it will be allowed to take place freely and fairly so that people can decide their future in accordance with their wishes.” But for people on the edge of survival, it is often the domestic happenings that absorb their energy and emotions. Richard, who is pastoral coordinator for the Lobone Jesuit Refugee Service,  has worked hard on livestock, especially oxen and bees. His report is a mix of  the sad and the upbeat. I arrived at Christopher’s farm on the morning of the on 23rd September in the village of Omere, which is about 17 kilometres north of Lobone. With me was our veterinarian, Simon from Lokung in Uganda, and Lam Leone Ferem, the Project Director of JRS Lobone. We were met by Christopher’s wife, Agnes and she directed us to the oxen. Two minutes later we stood silently with some of Christopher’s neighbours beside the dead body of one of our oxen from our ploughing project.

Simon asked for a sharp panga (large farmer’s knife) to begin his post-mortem examination. The ox had died the day before. Christopher, who is also the head catechist of all 6 villages in Lobone Payam (Sub-county), joined us after another ten minutes, having been summoned from the far side of his farm. He greeted us with downcast eyes but with a firm handshake. All of us stood face to face with the stark reality facing anyone trying to use oxen and care for them in this remote corner of South Sudan: many fatal endemic animal diseases, and no local veterinary services to call
upon. In addition, I noticed the presence of two armies of insects: ants had already begun to invade the areas round the dead beast’s nose and mouth, and a huge, dark swarm of flies blanketed its body.

We had come in response to a letter from Christopher regretfully informing me of the death of our ox.  As Simon inspected the stomach and large intestine of the dead beast, he told us that death was more than likely due to anaplasmosis, one of many deadly tick-borne diseases afflicting livestock in East Africa. He took a sample of spinal fluid for analysis by the veterinary
laboratory in Uganda. The results from the lab came the following week, and confirmed that death was due to a combination of anaplasmosis and two further tick-borne diseases, salmonellosis and cowdriosis. After he concluded the post-mortem, Simon sternly warned everyone present that on no account should the meat be taken for human consumption as it would be riddled with toxins from the tick-borne diseases. He ordered that the animal be covered with every available piece of wood in the field and be cremated immediately to kill all the dangerous bacteria in its body. We all began to carry and drag wood to form a funeral pyre over the dead ox. We bought 2 litres of petrol from the local boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) rider and doused the pyre with it. As I stood there, a number of thoughts crossed my mind. I had been home in Ireland for most of August and had agreed a schedule of visits to be carried out in my absence by Simon, our Ugandan vet. I discovered on my return from Ireland that he had not made a single visit. I also found out that he had been bitten by a snake in early August and had only returned to work a few days ago. Different emotions also made their presence felt. I was surprised at the disappointment and sadness I felt in myself and that I could see in the people around me. I realised we had all grown close to these gentle working beasts. I experienced the helplessness we all feel when death occurs. However, I found myself in the process of making a decision to attempt to learn from the incident. Tick-borne diseases are deadly but can be prevented  with vigilance and proper preventative treatments. I knew the death of the oxen was a serious challenge for our ploughing project,
but serious challenges seem inevitable when one attempts to do something worthwhile and life-changing. This was a moment for all of us to dig deeper inside ourselves and to find the courage we needed to beat back the scourge of poverty and almost non-existent resources in a forgotten corner of our unequal world.

We managed to start off a small beekeeping project last month with two local ladies and 4 beehives.  I had found a Kenyan beekeeper living in Gulu, Uganda, who came to Lobone and ran a workshop on beekeeping for us.  I found out about him thanks to my friends in St Joseph’s Garage, Gulu. The garage is run by the Archdiocese of Gulu and is used by many NGOs working in and around Gulu.  The reason the archdiocese’s garage is so popular is that its mechanics are trustworthy and won’t filch genuine parts from your vehicle to sell them on and replace them with worn out or inferior counterfeit parts (which are available everywhere in East Africa!).