Reaching forth from darkness, a shout raised hairs on my head, and rolled our lonely lorry to a halt. A sudden stop, on a ragged dirt track that retraced the naked feet of countless vanished slaves, as it travelled south through the heart of Africa.
“Habish habish”, I cried out from my perch on the load, (“go go”), our driver flattened the foot and we cleared out into the night.
Enlightenment came at noon the next day. An ambush had occurred right there earlier in the evening, with several killed and ten hostages taken. Additionally some friendly Ugandans were running loose, and had shot thirty people just up ahead. Bandits behind us, Idi Amins murderous old crew right in front.
Oh well, such is travel in the south of Sudan!
It may sound a bit hot and hard, but folk have never truly lived till they’ve travelled this ageless land. Here are wide golden bronze plains stretching away to no hill on any horizon; wildebeest, ostriches, antelope, clean grass huts; and tall proud warriors, spear in hand, with a simple cloth garment casually draped over one shoulder.
It is 1980, and having journeyed overland thus far from Cairo, Laureen, Maggie and I are, following the White Nile to Juba … the legendary “Gondoroko”, made infamous as a horrifying slaving outpost in Africa’s darkest age. An era whose scars still run deep, erupting in violent resentment at the present Arab monopoly on business and trade. However the Arabs own the lorries … big steel bodied, dual wheel Austins loaded high with bags of maize … and for a small fee, you can perch precariously on top of these bags, then lurch off down a track through heat and thorn trees.
A wild and powerful central Africa that still lives today as it did centuries ago, untouched and unchanging. It is hard to believe this is the same Earth on which TV and New York exist … so one clear thought comes through, if a nuclear war destroyed the rest of Earth, these tribal folk would be the ones who live on.
Further down the track evening is overhauling our Austin, as we pull into the life of a man in Duk Farwell village. He has been gored clean through by a buffalo, and is now laying on a makeshift stretcher. We lift him as gently as possible up onto our hard bags of maize, then make a torturous 12hr, 130km journey through the night.
As our truck rattles on under a full moon, we pass nomadic cattle camps, blood seeps on the maize, and a faint beat of drums dwells ever in the distance … while this man, who must be in tremendous agony, offers not one cry of pain … nor does his brother, sitting stiff backed on hard bags as he cradles the wounded man in his arms … “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother”.
Finally at dawn we roll out of the vast African night, carry our patient into the Juba hospital … then set out to explore this Jewel of Southern Sudan.
Here are to be found such luxuries as fish patties, hot coffee, and a sojourn in the “Hotel Africa”. At this old timber building, with doves in the ceiling, one sits playing chess in the courtyard; eating mangoes; and watching the passing parade of humanity. George and Max arrive, two English blokes walking all the long way from Cairo to Cape Town, to promote peace – a Swiss girl staggers in after being swept off her truck by a tree branch – and then, to top it off, another English bloke turns up, whose shaking hands can’t hold a cup of coffee!
He is clearly in a stage of shock, and it turns out that three days ago he was safely ensconced on his veranda in Kampala, (content now Idi Amin was gone), when a group of Tanzanian soldiers strolled by, looked up, smiled, and shot two Telecom workers clean out of their power pole, just for a laugh!
But that happened way off south, so we front out to experience tribal dancing – an woo boy, this is truly something else. There are a thousand very tall Dinkas gathered to dance by moonlight … and we’ve never seen anything like this in our lives … wood drums throbbing full bore, as young men do standing leaps over a metre in the air … then, while up there, kick their girlfriends as hard as they can, just by way of showing
how much they love them!
Next day it’s fairly hot, so I leave the girls browsing a market, wander down to the Nile, and jump into its cool inviting water just below the bridge. The water feels great, but after swimming around a bit, I notice a crowd of locals gathering on the riverbank. At first this is intriguing, then the answer flashes bright … these people have never seen anyone do genuine Aussie freestyle. So I have a great time showing off, up and down, over and back, slow and fast, to an ever increasing crowd.
It’s all really good for the ego, so I frequently glance over to see how many more admirers have arrived … then show off even more.
Yet, when I finally swim ashore, expecting to be swamped by an enthusiastic crowd, they just drift away into the trees. Mmm, this seems a puzzle?
but oh dear … the vanity of men
The true reason for them all watching so avidly comes out that evening, when our hotel owner is grumbling about his new cook.
“What happened to your old cook?”
“Ohh, that silly man, he does his washing last week just below the bridge … and of course the Nile Crocodiles they eat him !”