Originally written in March 2011
I have long been a great admirer of how people in other countries drive on their roads. It’s not a criticism by any means, just a curious observation of how people behave when behind the wheel. In Kosovo for example, I found it amazing how intersections can just be packed with cars going in every direction and not a horn is sounded. As someone who has come out of Sydney, one of the most aggressive driving cultures I have yet experienced, I often imagined how long this kind of gentle chaos would last back home before a disgruntled motorist got fed up and stabbed someone. And yet in Kosovo, they just waved each other through and everyone got to where they were going without a care in the world.
Sudan, so far, appears to be a mixture of the two. A little bit aggressive (though not as bad as Sydney by a long shot) and a lot of chaos. Quite often you will come to an intersection and be confronted with a gaggle of vehicles, each tooting horns and yelling at each other whilst a poor lone traffic policeman is standing in the middle, wildly blowing on a whistle and waving his arms in a manner that resembles someone being attacked by a swarm of bees. And yet despite all this everyone seems to weave their way through, yell something I’m sure is quite derogatory at each other in Arabic, and proceed merrily on their way to the next intersection where they get to repeat the process. It’s really quite fascinating.
Another quite obscure thing about the local population is their penchant for wearing woolen beanies. Now I am not one to judge any culture on fashion. There have been a great number of people in the west who have looked foolish or suffered for fashion, like anybody wearing a tie for example. But I am at a loss to explain how wearing a beanie in a country whose average temperature doesn’t dip below 25 degrees ever actually caught on. It is one of those unexplainable things, like how people started eating chilli’s. Chilli’s can be nice once you get used to them, and they can add a lot to a meal, but could you honestly say the first time you EVER ate chilli’s that you wished to repeat the experience?? It’s like going back up to the school bully and asking him to punch you in the face again, just in case you might enjoy it the second time around.
This week I have had the pleasure of meeting and greeting more of the local population as we commenced our site set up for my next job. A couple of industrious fellows were busily erecting a fence when we halted their progress. Halted because they were building into the dangerous area where, amongst other things, there are quite a lot of unstable cluster bombs. After being told what the problem was they left quite happy, only for us to turn up the next day to find they had not only completed the fence, but were starting on a new one. When I gently inquired why they were still building they explained that they thought I only meant they couldn’t build while I was there. This, I feel, is going to be an interesting experience.
M-42 Sub Munition or "Cluster Bomb"
After a hard days work
We have progressed quite well on setting up the site, we have managed to clear our access roads and admin areas and I am a lot happier about getting started. So far we have collected a few RPG’s and mortars. Soon the hard work will begin. Today as well I was accosted by a local man who claimed that he had a landmine near his house.
“You’ve come to the right place my good man” I informed him cheerfully, “Now why don’t you show me this mine.”
He seemed quite pleased with himself as he strode purposefully through the village, collecting all the admiring glances from his fellow Sudanese. Along the way he made enquiries about becoming a deminer, and asked just how dangerous the job was. Perhaps he felt that it could help him with the girls if he added a little danger to his resume. He did seem to be rather bereft of cattle, which is the major currency among the Dinka tribes for attracting a wife, so perhaps demining could be his ticket. Regardless he took me around a corner and showed me his work and I must say I was impressed.
In the middle of the road was a circular piece of metal, it had been cordoned off so nobody could possibly disturb it and his friend was standing nearby as a guard. He seemed well pleased with himself as he noticed my reaction to his handiwork. So pleased in fact he felt it would be far more impressive if he showed me exactly where it was. He did this by walking over and tapping his foot forcefully on the object and saying proudly
“Here it is.”
Now for those who don’t know landmines are nasty little devices designed to maim people through the use of explosive. They are not usually a fatal device as it is far more fun to just blow limbs off people and have their friends need to fix them up and carry them out, all the while wondering if they are going to step on one next. As a psychological weapon landmines are awesome. (Oh and don’t believe what you see in the movies. You won’t hear a click, in fact you won’t hear anything but a rather loud bang.) They are basically small devices, usually buried just under the surface of the earth and they detonate when sufficient pressure is applied to them. This can be done by someone just walking over the top of it or maybe, just maybe, STAMPING THEIR BLOODY FOOT ON IT.
After the initial shock of what he had just done wore off, and the realisation that he hadn’t in fact just immediately thrown bits of himself over a large area kicked in, I came to the happy conclusion that either he was the luckiest person in the world, or that it wasn’t a landmine. It did in fact turn out to be the latter. It was instead the base plate from a Chinese 107mm rocket imbedded in the ground. So after digging this up, I politely pointed out that perhaps demining wasn’t the right career path for him to follow.
During the week I was told a story about a dismissal that just had to be relayed. Now telling stories about stories does have its pitfalls, in that something can always be lost during the process. I will however try my best to do justice to it. A former mechanic of G4S was sent to Nairobi to buy vehicle parts. In order to achieve this goal he was given US$10 000 a not unsubstantial sum. The employee (I shall call him Roger) was an American chap and by all accounts a well liked and trusted member of the team. He did however have a fatal flaw, or possible two or three, for after a week he contacted the office and asked for more money. Without too many questions a further $5 000 was sent to him. After 2 more days further contact was made. Roger, it would appear, had a rather large cocaine habit and had managed to somehow spend fifteen grand on drugs and hookers in a little over a week and a half, a feat I’m sure that not even the members of Aerosmith and Kate Moss combined would be able to achieve. Nairobi, it seems, is a major launching point for drugs to reach Europe from Africa, and poor Roger just found the temptation too much to bear. It must have been a hell of a week.