All creatures great and small

My father is a humble man. He demonstrated this on skype yesterday when he said ‘Sarah, along with all the tremendous and varied gifts you inherited from me, sensitive skin was one of the few negatives.’ In my first week here in South Sudan I was bitten by either a spider or a nairobi fly. If you kill a nairobi fly by slapping it against your skin it immediately releases some sort of toxin which burns the skin around it. We’re not sure if that was the cause, or whether I took a bad reaction to a spider bite, but regardless I’ve had a burn the shape of Australia on my shoulder and chest. This has been very slowly fading from bright red to flaky pink with no other significant medical issues other than heat rashes here and there… until Friday when a pesky mosquito managed to bite me under my eye.  Mosquito bites on my arms have swollen and spread to large, fried egg sizes, but this has made my left eye swell like I’ve taken a beating.  This necessitated my second trip to the clinic which VSO has a contract with.  My favourite boda driver ferried me along back streets with my white helmet hiding my monstrous face serving a dual purpose of safety and saving small children from screaming in fear at the khwaga’s swollen face.  The clinic is fairly basic and the doctor took one look at me and said ‘how long are you here for, because this country doesn’t seem to agree with you’ (to which I thought – I wonder when you last attended Advanced Communication skills training course?) and I bit my tongue, smiled and said ‘A year, at least.’  She and the duty pharmacists stuffed a few sachets of pills into a paper bag without much explanation, handed me an antihistamaine cream and sent me on my way.  I hid in my room last night after one of my housemates procured meat from the one supermarket which looks like there are decent hygiene procedures and made burgers for dinner (Imagine! Burgers! Simple pleasures).  This morning I have woken to see my eye still inflamed, but reducing. Humility is called for. I no longer even have my (mediocre) looks to rely on.  Today we will host some friends for curry and yesterday involved serious logistics to go to various markets and shops dotted round the city to procure the items we need to make basic curry.  In the words of the philosopher Aretha Franklin, I will survive, but I will keep killing these pesky villanous mosquitos when I see them. 

I write this half frivolously of course, but for my new country-people, mosquito bites are not a cosmetic problem, but a killer.  Malaria is an illness that most get a couple of times a year.  People drop like flies, and many die.

Approximately 95% of South Sudan is endemic of malaria, with high transmission in the country throughout the year. Malaria accounts for 20-40% of all health facility visits, 30% of all hospital admissions, and is a leading cause of death.  It is also the leading cause of illness and death in children under five years in Southern Sudan.
Hardly any have the money to buy the anti-malarial drugs I bought on private prescription at home. They don’t have mosquito nets to sleep under.  My housemate who works in the teaching hospital is constantly using her own money to buy nets for patients, or to cut one into four to drape over patients whilst they lie nearly comatose. There is a Malaria Consortium working here and I am trying to find out about their work as I begin to visit more of the primary care centres to see what can be done about this.  Mosquitos may be part of creation, but I’m trying to understand why we can’t work out some way to make these particular creatures extinct..

2 thoughts on “All creatures great and small

  1. Hi Sarah, I am in awe at your descriptive vocabulary, but more seriously the actual story of where you find yourself. In fact in some ways, I am a little envious. It reminds me of the many places I have been myself in South Africa and especially rural Zambia. Africa is in my bones and I hold it dear to my heart. What a baptism into the newest country in the world you are having. What a time to be there. What a time to be making what to you might seem the smallest contribution possible, but you are being part of the change that South Sudan needs, the change that Ghandi speaks of – be the change you want to see (in the world). As the sweat runs down your back and the fan oven ‘air conditioning’ throws more heat at you, take a deep breath and be proud for being part of that change. Not proud for the sake of loftyness of self idealism, but pride for taking the step that you have taken, and already after such a short time you realise that each and every day will be the next greatest challenge of your life. How can the communities of South Sudan face these challenges each day. How can you face the same challenges as you stand in solidarity with them? Don’t forget, just standing there in solidarity is a massive first step. Being there shows that your care and the people of South Sudan are not a forgotten people. You can be proud of what you and your colleagues in VSO are doing – the smallest drop perhaps, but as Mother Teresa says, ‘you might feel as if its just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less without your drop’

    There are a few contacts that I could hook you up with if you ever get a day or 2 off. A good friend of mine from Kilkenny is going to a new Loreto school in Rumbek in Sept. You two would be good together, for companionship and support if you still need that by Sept. There is also a Jesuit school and works in Wau. I could hook you up with people there too if you wanted, or in case you happen to pass that way some day. Whatever is best to support you there..

    Anyway, that’s it for now. May chime in more again soon as I watch your happenings from the distance. Fair play to ya girl. You make us all here stand up and really appreciate the gifts we have here, and the absence of mosquitos that leave more than a swollen arm in your body without anti malarial drugs, as you describe so well. What realities. Mind yourself and take one day at a time. It may be a long road with little turns to distract you. Keeping you in prayer.

  2. Sarah…you are an inspiration. Thank you for allowing me to follow these reflections. You are changing the world in more than one place at a time…quite an achievement! You are in our thoughts daily as we eat and drink and enjoy the wonderful gifts of life. Take care.

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