Friday, 12 April 2013

Town & Country

I went visiting Yei town for the first time on Wednesday - my first real foray outside our missions compound! Very exciting as the only bit of South Sudan that I had then seen (even though I had been in the country for well over two weeks already) was our little patch of land; as nice as it is, it's good to get out once in a while.

The first place I visited was the Yei Civil Hospital, the major local public healthcare facility. On the left you can see a 'tukul', a traditional structure with a thatched roof (usually constructed with mud walls instead of the painted brick ones you see). These huts are currently used as isolation 'wards' so I thought it amusing that a whole herd of goats was lying around taking advantage of the shade. The hospital was not a single building but rather a whole series of small buildings spread out willy nilly. An interesting layout. As the operating theatre and surgical ward are being renovated at the moment, the current "operating suite" is a one-room building smaller than most chapels with only a door on each end, the width of which was less than my arm span and which could only be reached after surmounting a couple of steps. This also meant that there was no way to transport the patient using the traditional trolley bed (or gurney, as my American colleagues term it). When questioned, the nursing staff said that the patient would be carried in and out on a stretcher - over very hilly and rocky terrain across a distance of maybe a few hundred metres to the surgical ward. And no ventilator in sight. The pharmacy is also closed so apparently relatives of inpatients are sent out to the commercial pharmacies in town to purchase the meds they need to bring back for the nurses to administer. At least they seem to have a ready stock of HIV antiretroviral medications donated by the UN.

After lunch, I went to the local market to purchase some clothing items. As referenced in one of my previous posts, it isn't 'kosher' for females to wear pants in this culture so I had to find some appropriate skirts instead. The market reminded me of some of those back home (in Malaysia). It was very crowded, there was a variety of produce on display (vegetables in the photo on the right and fish in the photo below), lots of 'exotic' smells - some good and some not so good, and people shouting for you to come over to survey their goods (e.g. here, it's 'customer, customer' whereas back in KL, it's 'boss, boss'!). And just like in many parts of Asia, the fine art of haggling is practised ranging from the tried-and-tested incredulous "no, really, you've got to be joking" to the hopeful "just a little bit less, yes". Without my faithful 'tour guide' (one of the older girls from the orphanage who's also working part time at our missions hospital), I probably would have been swindled many times over due to my sticking out as a 'khawaja' (foreigner). Lest I be seen as being prejudiced, I would readily admit the same of Malaysian and mainland Chinese hawker stalls.

Speaking of which, I've started language lessons in Juba Arabic and am making good progress (I think). It's fascinating to observe the similarities between this strain of Arabic and the Malay language. For instance, I recently learned the days of the week:

Sunday - Yom ahad (arabic) - Hari ahad (malay)
Monday - Yom ihnin - Hari isnin
Tuesday - Yom telata - Hari selasa
Wednesday - Yom aruba - Hari rabu
Thursday - Yom khemis - Hari khamis
Friday - Yom juma - Hari jumaat
Saturday - Yom sebit - Hari sabtu

Amazing, right? Obviously, Arabic is the older language. But even the word for day - 'yom' - is the exact one used in the Hebrew language, which is yet older. It makes the words of the Apostle Paul to the Greek Areopagus two thousand years ago even more significant:
Acts 17:24-28 "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'"
We may look different from the outside, but are we not one blood and one flesh inside? As some others put it, we all bleed the same colour when we are cut. So why do we act as if it wasn't so?

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