Tuesday, 17 April 2012

brief update from Kuajok

Heading to Lietnhom tomorrow to do some work at seed fairs and hopefully learn a bit about agricultural trade in Warrap.

There is considerable uncertainly in Kuajok at the moment, amidst calls for mobilisation and youth protests against the UN statement asking South Sudan to withdraw from Heglig. I can feel the battle lines hardening almost daily.

Kuajok is on the road to Abyei and the nightly movements of SPLA troops and supplies are getting louder, as the soldiers play music and blast the megaphone through the town at 3am (soldiers move at night, I have discovered).

Things are mostly business as usual, but the price of fuel has shot up (more than doubled) over 24 hours and once it starts going up...it tends to have its own momentum. Currently at 35ssp per just over a litre. Price of commodities will follow. Price of dollars on the black market already increasing too.

Probably out of internet and phone reception for the next week or so...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Kuajok on Heglig

I was going to write a post about hippos. But then the SPLA took Heglig and we seem to be teetering on the verge of war with the Republic of Sudan. I don’t think that war is inevitably round the corner, I am cautiously optimistic that a resolution to Heglig will be found. But I was finding it hard to concentrate on hippos.

What are people in Kuajok saying about the spirally political situation? These are the positions that I am hearing a lot

This is a about asserting national sovereignty and Khartoum recognizing that South Sudan is an independent nation and Heglig is a part of South Sudan. Although the Abyei Boundaries Commission at the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Heglig was in the North – the recommendations of the Commission were never implemented.

Related to this point, any war that might happen is both old and new. Its old because Khartoum is an old enemy, and the current escalations are really a continuation of tensions that have been unresolved since the CPA. However, it is also new because what is at stake is defense of the nation. The current rhetoric about Heglig is deeply imbedded in growing national identities in South Sudan

People are very angry with the UN and the “International Community” for calling on the President to withdraw troops from Heglig. They see it as a double standard. Why was the Sudan Army (SAF) not asked to pull out of Abyei?

There is a lot of talk about ‘mobilisation’. Warrap is one of the 5 border states who have been asked by President Kiir to 'mobilise'. Its not clear what the exact terms of this mobilisation are (but take an educated guess). While people say they are 'ready', people are also incredibly scared and do not want to go back to war. Even some of the young men I am friends with, who  find it quite hard to admit they are scared of things in general, have admitted they are incredibly worried about what is going happen.

Tonight there will be a rally at the SPLM office to inform people about what is happening and what the SPLM position is.

Monday, 9 April 2012


This blog entry marks my general appreciation for rap (sourgum). It’s a staple food here and grown on every homestead.  It’s delicious. Its used to make kuin (i.e. ugali/posho). But its much stickier and more flavoursome that the kind made with white refined maize flour that is imported from Uganda. Very rare to find rap in bigger towns, where imported maize is heavily relied on (because its widely available and doesn’t require lengthy preparation.) Rap is village food.

I took a few photos last weekend of rap being prepared.

After the harvest in September/October time the rap is stored on a elevated platform, called kat (kat rap to be precise). See left. When flour is to be prepared it is taken down and moved to the smooth mud platform in the centre of the homestead (baai cielic)

Once you have a big pile of it, thrash the hell out of it (köm) with a stick so that the grain comes off the stalk.

All the stalks are removed and the grains and the husks (ayiel rap) collected and then winnowed (wiiu rap).

Then you are ready to pound it (ɣol) to make flour. [note: this is disastrous and totally incorrect technique!]

Enjoy with a variety of soupy sauces.

Just returned from an Easter weekend in Wunrok (Twic County) which I'll be writing about soon.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Ajiep and the ruins of humanitarianism

Across the river from Kuajok there is a place called Ajiep. During the war people from the Kuajok area and beyond fled here in search of safety. But the allegedly mismanaged relief operations and massive logistical problems made the scale of suffering and death toll at Ajiep startling. In my mind Ajiep is synonymous with how bad things can get and how badly wrong humanitarian assistance can go.

At the end of the 1990s, this part of Bahr el Ghazal was in the grip of a terrible famine, political fall outs within the SPLA High Command provoked rebellions, raids and pillage by one of its founder members, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol across (and beyond) greater Gogrial.  Ajiep became a kind of relief magnate, a supposed safe haven, drawing people from as far away as Rumbek and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Except that it wasn’t safe and it was far from a haven. The area was still being raided by Kerubino Kuanyin’s forces and the few agencies working there (notably MSF-Belgium) were inadequately supplied or prepared to deal with the influx people. This meant enormous problems in food aid distribution. Put simply, there was not enough food and too many starving people. Some of the worst emergency mortality rates ever recorded come from Ajiep

A lot of people that I have met and spoken to in Kuajok went to Ajiep during the late 1990s period of Kerubino attacks and famine. They told me that I would not find anything still there, that everyone left Ajiep and it had returned to normal, just another village.  I arrived there are that seemed to be true. Today Ajiep is still a village, rather a nice village as it happens. A lots of green grass between the scattered homesteads despite it being the middle of dry season.

On Friday I had to pass through Ajiep on the way to Gogrial East and I was curious. Was there any material evidence of the aid operations? Had they left anything behind – a building? A clinic? Was anything still there? Was anything still being used?

We drove up to the market in the centre of the village and asked a few people who were hanging around. We were directed to an empty field (unfortunately I couldn’t understand what was supposed to have been there) and a small building

I have shown these photos to a few people since returning to Kuajok and they think this is an MSF office or clinic. The bomb shelter is a give away that this was built during war. It doesn’t appear to have been used at all since, the structure is still solid and intact, but it has been abandoned, forgotten on the path to somewhere else.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Disappearing Heritage of Sudan, 1820-1956

There is a really great looking exhibition opening in London next month. Photographer and filmmaker, Frederique Cifuentes spent 6 years in Sudan documenting ruins and remnants of the colonial period(s), "this photographic and video project is an exploration of the mechanics of empire through its official buildings, private residencies, cinema houses, railways, irrigation canals and bridges."

Its more than that too, because Cifuentes doesn't just look at the remaining material culture of empire, she goes further and explores the way that these buildings (and ruins) have been used and re-appropriated in the post-colonial period. What has actually happened to these structures since their originals owners left? Who took over  and why? What does this tell us about the different ways people relate with the built environment and the past? What does this tell us about ideas about heritage in Sudan?

The exhibition also uses photographic material from Durham University's Sudan Archive. This archive has tens of thousands of photos and its a comparatively unexploited resource. So this is also a great opportunity to see some of the archival material. The exhibition will go to Durham, and then Khartoum (next year).

Friday, 23 March 2012

New look blog


I have updated my title picture.

The old one was cobbled together from pictures I took on my old camera during my masters research and past trips to South Sudan.

The new picture is taken with my beloved compact digital SLR (a Christmas present from my father last year). It's a view of the deepest part of the river in Kuac South Payam (near Kuajok). The posts (ŋuek) are  where cattle have been sacrificed. This part of the river is associated with a lot of spiritual activity. It's alway deep, even in in the dry season, and can be dangerous. Every few years there is a big celebration here.

I am in Wau for a monthly retox to write up and think about the last month's work

Monday, 19 March 2012

Dry season rivers

This is the River Jur south of Kuajok. I took this photograph last week, this is the fullest part of the river I have seen since I got back to Warrap at the beginning of February. I'm not trying to be sensational, it is  normal at this time of year for the river to dry up. Although, in my conversations with people living near the river, I am consistently being told that there is less water and less fish at this time of year than there was in the past. Actually, it's usually the first thing I am told when I ask about the area. I am wondering how to incorporate these notions of climate change (or at least, environmental fluctuation) in to my research. Has there really been as much change as people say? How much are people romanticising the past as a time of plenty?

This is picture is a bit further down the same river, where there is much less water

These two men are fishing with a net, in this photo they are drawing the net in. They caught 4 small fish.

At this time of year, the vast majority of cattle are taken to the toch (dry season grazing) in Gogrial East and the border with Unity State. However, some are kept in the villages and these cattle had been driven down to the nearly dry river bed for a drink.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The unbearable dryness of being

Recently I have had the feeling that everything I own here is rapidly being destroyed due to a combination of the elements and my ignorance about how to deal with them.

It is the dry season, the land is parched and there is a lot of dust being blown about by the wind.

Casualties so far;  my jeans were eaten by a goat in the village, my brogues and my trainers have holes in the side from riding my motorbike (who knew brogues were not sensible shoes for riding a motorbike?), one skirt severely ripped from very small fall from afore mentioned motorbike, phone batteries all run down and only Chinese counterfeits available in the market, USB port on solar charger mysteriously stopped working (assumed dust damage), dust in everything.

Today, I also discovered a serious termite problem in my hut. They have been physically removed as much as possible and Doom sprayed into the holes in the wall but I’m not convinced this is a long term solution.

Going to buy a large plastic tub to put my things in to prevent further dust damage.

Today is very dusty in Kuajok

I’ve been doing some interviews near the river, which is dry too…will try and post some photos soon

Monday, 12 March 2012

Five things I knew, but didn’t fully appreciated before doing fieldwork

1.     How hard women’s work can be
Backbreaking, seriously. Try mixing an enormous pot of thick porridge for 15-20 people’s evening meal and you will get my drift…Women get up first and go to bed last and work all day. It can be quite fun and you can have a laugh while you are doing it, but its incredibly difficult.

2.     How precious water is when it doesn’t just come out of a tap
Water is key to life, it is also very heavy and difficult to transport, when you are getting it from the borehole someone has to go and do that, several times a day. If there is no water – you will go thirsty, or hungry because you can’t cook without water. If you are not properly prepared you will wake up in the middle of the night thirsty and not be able to find water, which is not fun (I have been known the fumble around in the dark searching, in desparation, for liquid and resorting to drinking a mouthful of water from a jug someone left out in the kitchen, which I probably shared with a goat. It’s a wonder I am not sick more often)

3.     How notions of privacy and personal space differ cross-culturally
This is an obvious one. I said goodbye to my English notions of personal space sometime ago. Which is not such a bad thing in some ways, there is often too much privacy and too much lonliness in England. Recently I have been somewhere I was always with people in the day, sleeping outside with people at night and even small children came and watched me bathe! So the only moments of alone time I had were with a...erm..bush. Getting used to constant supervision, as well working and writing while on display and subject to enquiry I have found difficult. I have started writing my field diary with a torch under my sheet!

4.     The value of an electric kettle
Related to point 1 and 2. When there is no electricity water needs to be boiled on the fire, which someone has to make, so you can’t have tea or coffee quickly. Importance of quick tea cannot be underestimated.

5.     The political economy of health.
The causes of sickness and ill health are not ‘natural’. All health complaints in Kuajok are diagnosed as malaria, typhoid or brucellosis. Proper testing facilities and expertise are not here (or at least not available to the majority of the population, including me). So if you get sick, you will not get proper treatment (assuming that you can afford treatment anyway).  Kuajok is relatively large town. Whenever I travel in public transport more rural areas I ask people around me what they are travelling for, number 1 reason for coming to a big town is to seek medical treatment. I also see people with the most debilitating and painful conditions who cannot get treated. It’s all rather…sickening

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Gogrial Akuol Akuith

This week I have been attending the 3rd annual meeting of the Aguok community in Gogrial town. Aguok are the largest territorial section of Dinka in the greater Gogrial area.  What that means, basically is this: the Dinka are a large ethnic group, and they divide themselves up according to geographical distribution. So, in Gogrial East and West Counties everyone is Dinka Rek, Dinka Rek is then further geographically divided – Aguok is one of those divisions (Apuk, Kuac and Awan are the others). Aguok then divides up further… into (I think) 12 subsections.  You might have seen this represented in an abstract diagram in an anthropology textbook somewhere, but its quite simple really. People also belong to a clan (dhieth), which is a non-territorially defined patrilineal descent group. The clan I have been adopted in to, ‘Pagong’ is found across all Dinka areas. Clan is an exogamous group, so you can’t marry someone in your clan, but you can marry someone in your territorial section.

Anyway, this was a large meeting organized by elected community leaders and Aguok people employed in the government (mainly based in Juba). All chiefs and subchiefs, religious leaders, youth representatives, diaspora etc were invited. It was pretty star studded, Chief Justice Chan Reec Madut attended, so did the former Warrap Governor (and now presidential advisor) H.E Tor Deng Mawein. I also met a woman who had come from the US to attend the meeting and see her family. It was the first time she had been back to Gogrial since leaving as a child. She was going to proceed to Khartoum to see her parents for the first time in 14 years.

The broad aim was to bring Aguok people together and decide what they can do to develop the community  (there is a pot of cash behind this too – the Constituency Development Fund from the central government which needs to be allocated, so its not just chit-chat). It is also an opportunity to discuss other issues too – like relationships between Aguok and their neighbors, which can be strained. Critically, it was also a pretty good party and a general celebration of being Aguok.

Four days of discussion pushed my comprehension of the Dinka language to its limit and I can’t pretend to have gotten all the details. But now at least I know enough to know when people are talking about something I want to know about, and I am armed with a voice recorder so I will be getting a lot of it translated. I find language one of the hardest parts of research, any anthropologist that claims to be able to understand everything from a fast and complicated discussion in a language as difficult as Dinka after 8 months is either lying or fooling themselves.

Alongside the discussions there was plenty of good entertainment. Including Dinka pop stars John Kudusay and Akut Kuei. I have gotten really into their music from being here – which is lucky because its played all the time. Look them up on YouTube. More ‘traditional’ music and dancing also got everyone up from their seats regularly. Here are some photos.

children dancing with image of Salva Kiir

John Kudusay


cooking on an industrial scale