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'Thank God for tarmac and concrete'

A heavy downpour was another reminder of how much basic infrastructure South Sudan lacks, writes Baptist chaplain Cole Maynard in his latest blog

South Sudan rain


Running in the rain: 11 April


Today it rained!
Not something deserving much comment in the UK, but out here it signifies the beginning of the winter season and the end of the dry. It had rained softly during the night and I had woken as the drops hammered on my metal tin roof, but it didn’t last long. When I poked my head out of the door at six this morning the ground was dry and so I ventured out for a run with my friend Callum. The first half of the run was uneventful in that it was steady and the air slightly cooler than perhaps the day before, but just before the half way point it began to throw it down.
These were not the gentle spring rain drops that greets the season’s change in the UK, but large dollops of H20, each drop like the kind of water bombs I threw as a child (OK, those who know me might recall a few thrown in adulthood, but I am a Baptist minister and we like to get wet, all over, but I digress).
I was wet within seconds which is not a bad thing in a hot climate. It might even be welcomed, but then I noticed something very strange. I began to experience a miracle. As a young boy I remember praying that God would make me as tall as my father – a cool 6.2 in his socks – and it seemed that finally, after many years of remaining considerably shorter, my prayer was finally being heard. I was actually getting taller, and so too was my running buddy! However, this new unexpected growth was soon reduced as the accumulated mud sticking to the soles of my shoes suddenly fell off and returned me to my 5 foot 8 inch status. And so this process of gaining height and then losing it became a feature of the next tortuous two miles. Tortuous because my feet began to feel like lead, I could not get into a running rhythm and the whole experience was simply one of head down and don’t stop. It was awful, like running through treacle but not as sweet...
What an absolute pain. If things could not get worse with this oppressive heat and relentless humidity now South Sudan throws at us a mud like one I have never experienced. It is literally like glue and sticks to your shoes and you just can’t shake it off.
So we returned to our camp to find our bemused colleagues struggling to go to the shower blocks and then finding they had walked half of South Sudan into their accommodation blocks. Mud was everywhere. So the dust of yesterday, which blew into your eyes, clothes and food, and any other surface offered it, today cloyed like a very fine clay into perfect mud casts of your boots or sandals.
There is a solution and it is very expensive: red murram is a soil with which you can layer the roads (a minimum of 15 cms is required but 25 cms is the recommended depth). This magical soil doesn’t cloy but provides a secure surface for running, and more importantly, for driving and transport. For my sporting inconvenience is just that: during the wet season many roads in South Sudan become impassable rendering towns and villages inaccessible, and in turn making life very difficult for the inhabitants. South Sudan is preciously short of even basic infrastructures that we so easily take for granted back in the UK. There are very few tarmacked roads in this country. Most of them are down south around the capital, Juba.
Out here in Malakal or Bentiu those who can afford motorised transported are limited as to when these vehicles can be used, and those working for the United Nations and other humanitarian organisations serving the people of East Africa are similarly hampered during the rainy season, making journeys both hazardous and time consuming with no guaranties of success in reaching point B to your point A.
I never thought I would say it, but thank God for tarmac, and concrete. Pray for the people of South Sudan who have so little and yet need so much that we in the West so take for granted.

Image | Arsenie Coseac | Flickr | Creative Commons


Cole Maynard has been a Baptist army chaplain for 20 years, and is currently on deployment in South Sudan as part of UNMISS, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan. He is blogging for The Baptist Times. Read his previous blogs here: 

Baptist Times, 20/06/2017
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