During the rains it was a different story. We had black cotton soil in the area which meant that with the first rains great chasms formed spontaneously in the ground making walking at dusk or dawn treacherous. It also meant that fox holes were not a suitable safety measure in the event of a bomb raid! So we set about building a bomb shelter from WHO food bags filled with earth. It looked magnificent, until a few weeks after the temperatures began to climb when I realised that the sun was melting the sacks!!!
The black cotton soil had other implications for our safety. Each morning and evening we had to radio back into Loki to give a security update, part of this was an update on the weather and the condition of the airstrip. (Back in Loki, there would be daily briefings for all coordinators giving an overview of what was happening in the field.) As a general rule the twin otters were the only air craft trusted to land in our area unless it was the midst of the dry season when the strip was solid. Sometimes in the rainy season planes would only land in an emergency, which could mean no contact with the outside world (apart from radio contact) for a week or two. It was always a highlight when they came, sometimes it would be team they brought but most often it was supplies, mail parcels, a newspaper, and a brief but friendly chat with news from the rest of the area. The planes were flown by MAF and the UN. There was a sizable fleet of planes involved in the work in Sudan. The Herculeses aircraft used for food drops, twin otters and caravans for routine and emergency team movements, Buffalo used for transport of heavy goods – we had our Toyota 4×4 delivered in one of these.
Communicating with people back home was a slow process, emails and letters were collected in Nairobi, flown in a mail parcel to Loki and then on to the field, just this process could take up to 14 days in the rainy season… and then back again! I remember my birthday though, despite the delays, the timing was perfect and all my mail arrived the day before, it was a very special thing to sit and open up cards and letters from loved ones, feeling so far away and yet deeply connected. So I celebrated my thirtieth birthday not with a big party in Oxford as I had been planning earlier in the year, but in a mud hut in the south of Sudan!
To be continued in a few days….