Saturday, March 10, 2012

S is for snake
11 February, Rumbek, South Sudan
Okay.  I’m freaked.  It’s a hot Saturday and I’m sitting in my office checking email and posting my latest blog when I see a dining hall receptionist, James, run by my window, hitting something on the ground with a very long thin stick, and I wonder what he’s beating so furiously.  Soon I see a few others from the staff of the compound outside our offices, so I get up to see what’s going on.  They are all gathered around but at a safe distance from a three-foot long, maybe one-inch wide writhing snake that my friend from the dining hall has severely injured.  I return for my camera and snap a few pictures.  (I had just downloaded photos or the camera would’ve been in my tent.)  Wayne, manager of the compound, declares it a small Egyptian cobra.  Then kneeling down, he proceeds to say you can tell if a snake is poisonous by the shape of its head -- if it’s shaped like a coffin, it’s poisonous because you’re dead.  I think he’s joking and clap his shoulder, which startles him mightily.  Up he jumps and we all laugh.  The snake is disposed of by someone who of course has to swing it a bit to frighten everyone.  And as we’re all departing, I ask where it had been found.  Response ... laying outside my door.  If the door hadn’t been closed, I'm told, it might’ve entered.  Pulling my leg?  Who cares ... even if the a/c weren't on, the door will remain closed at all times!
My first, and I hope last, snake.  And by the way, the head shape isn’t a joke.  If the snake’s head is shaped like a coffin, it’s poisonous.
My hero, James, and the snake outside my office (at right)
Between this incident, one of our driver’s finding a snake coiled on his bed and my colleague Juliet’s snake and scorpion stories, I have been vigilant in my anti-snake campaign.  I check under the bed, look in strategic hiding spots in the bathroom, make sure nothing is hiding under my bed sheets, carefully tuck in and use my mosquito net every night.  I even stand behind my office door as I open it.  Get the picture -- I don’t like snakes!  I’m the first-grade kid who was led eyes-closed through the snake house at the zoo during my first field trip.
On a lighter note, my boss Karen sent this, perfect for Luddites like myself.
19 February, Rumbek
So far, no new snakes but ever vigilant.  On Juliet’s recommendation, I use Doom or Raid mosquito spray in the corners of the room when I leave in the morning as well as before dinner.  They won’t like the smell.  Or so she says.  Continues to be hotter than hell, night and day.  So I’m not willing to leave the air conditioning off during the day.  
This is my first non-working Sunday in quite some time.  Internet was down this morning for maintenance, but I came in this afternoon to download new episodes and emails.  And to enjoy a comfortable seat while I read or watch “Good Morning, Vietnam” on a spare laptop.  
This has not been a good week for electronics.  After re-charging my Kindle, it developed a permanent symbols’ block that covered a third of every page.  A Skype Out call to the Kindle Help Line and a patient fellow walked me through a ‘hard re-boot’ that solved the problem.  Then Mac starting delivering a “start up disk is nearly full” message.  I went through all my saved folders -- documents, spreadsheets, music, photos and television -- transferring some to DVDs and thumb drives and others to trash.  Also used the disk utility (like a defrag on a PC).  So far, so good.  The glitch came when I tried to empty the trash ... 18 hours later it was still emptying.  Finally this morning I gave in and executed a ‘force quit.’ Thankfully Mac re-booted successfully (after my experience in Poland, I am paranoid about that).  I emptied trash with one click, so I have room for more episodes, which are what’s taking up so much space.  When I get home, I’m going to get a new MacAir, lighter to lug around and more versatile than an iPad since I do a lot of composition.  
25 February
This short month is almost over and this may be my shortest blog ever.  I’ve been way too busy to write what with updating plans and reducing budgets, continuing the drama at the labor ministry, and looking out for snakes.  And I haven’t been a very good Minnesotan either.  I haven’t given you a weather report in weeks, months even.
I thought about that this morning when I arose to the first overcast, off white not gray, sky that I’ve seen here since early November.  You get used to eternal sunshiny mornings and forget the joy of slightly less glare and heat.  Several people have commented that the rains are going to start early, and not wait until April.  I sure hope not.  The gawdawful dust notwithstanding, we have a flood mitigation project that needs to be done at the farm before the rains start.
A couple of Fridays ago my colleague Juliet checked the temp on line because it was so unbelievably hot.  It was 43C ... about 104F.  The following Friday it was a bit cooler, in the high 30s (90s).  Yesterday it almost smelled like rain, and I saw a few clouds (all white wispy cotton) when I stepped out from my tent.  But by the time I got to my office, I was already sweating.  
BTW, you can google ‘Weather Rumbek South Sudan’ and see the temps here.  I checked AccuWeather, my favorite weather site.  It’s 39C (98F) at the moment ... and gasp, the forecast says a thunderstorm or rain is coming in the next few days.  I am so glad I found those Army surplus Wellies in Amsterdam.  Looks like I may need them sooner as well as later.
29 February
The longest day in the shortest month is over.  And I am less wiped out than I expected to be.  Today we had to tell 14 employees that we won’t renew their contracts on 31 March.  We’ve been preparing them for months, but you know how it is when reality strikes.  We had agreed with HQ to provide one month of base pay for every year worked (the law only requires us to do that for those with three or more years of service).  And we plan to do job search and CV training as well as circulate their names and skills to other agencies in the state.  For our last staff meeting of the month we’ll have a luncheon and hand out their certificates of service.  And all of that helped ... along with, I’m sure, the Ministry of Labor official who insisted on being present.  That last worked better than we had thought.  And he was impressed with how many staff thanked us for the training they’d gotten and skills they’d acquired.  It was nice to hear.


  1. Suzi: My door would be closed as well. Thanks for your journal.

  2. I agree with you on snakes. I stay as far away as possible. When the kids and I went to the zoo, they knew that I stayed outside while they went into the Reptile House.