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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Friday, 3 September 2010

September 3rd: The Road To Rumbek

On September 3rd 1980 I was on the road to Rumbek.

Finally after six weeks and more of waiting I was going to get to Rumbek.  The final rush in Wau was almost comical, as I hurried to the Lorry Souk with my 50 kilos plus of luggage (a lot of books as I recall), being laughed at by Dinka men who despised any possessions which were not cattle.

The Bahr El Ghazal by the bridge in Wau (My picture)

The El-Nilein Hotel (My Picture)

We had stayed at the El Nilein hotel in Wau and were keen to get out of it.  But of course there had been delays to get our paperwork correct.

Wau in the rainy season was green after the heat of Khartoum, and I'd enjoyed sitting in the Dinka souk drinking tea and walking around the river.

From my journal:
The Kenyan truck deal was probably one of the best ways we could have gone, but even so the hot sun and the hard ride, when I was just recovering from a cold in Wau which had laid me out, seemed too much. As far as Tonj, there had been a friendly Ugandan woman and child with us (they were Acholi), but for the latter part we were much more crowded up on top and therefore less comfortable. Bishops and yellow-fronted whydahs were the main fauna of the journey, no mammals, and the forest areas in particular, like the long waterlogged bit after Tonj, were particularly empty. The Djuer settlements and later the Dinka ones were picturesque, that "Real Africa", the people getting more naked as we got nearer Rumbek.

The journey was completely flat for the whole distance.  Forested areas lay between open marshy areas which were my first view of toich, the characteristic landscape of the area, on the southern end of the Sudd.  The earth road was heavily rutted, with deep puddles after rain; some of the wetter areas of toich had some sort of brickwork, like a causeway, to try to give the track some stability.

We spent the night in a dry open space just outside Tonj, sleeping under the stars.  The drivers cooked up a huge corned beef and vegetable stew for everyone to eat with ugali, the Kenyan maize porridge, and a huge pot of chai.  They were well organised for this and all the supplies were brought from Nairobi.

After the dust and suffocating heat of hot season Khartoum, and the interval in Wau, Rumbek at first seemed like a paradise. Long grass eight feet high covered the ground, the Dinka huts were hidden by the stalks of durra (the local sorghum grain) that grew even higher. Huge mango and wild fig trees were dotted about as if in parkland and full of bright-coloured birds.  We found our way to the teachers' house and were offered rooms.

The artist Richard Wyndham, as recorded in his 1936 book "The Gentle Savage", visited Rumbek in the thirties. He noted the huge size of the local mango trees, like the ones surrounding our house, and thought that, after the rain, the effect of the luscious and green grass, was like that of an English park. He also stayed with a British doctor who had chests of vaccines etc, and maybe Rumbek would have been a healthier place then than in 1980.  He also noted that Rumbek had been founded by Alphonse de Malzac, a notorious slave trader (in 1857): the zeriba the zeriba was described by Junker, p 393ff,, who passed through in the 1870s, as being a pig sty, every building full of slaves, ten times in number more than the free inhabitants. The locals he visited on the way to the town were Agar, as they are now.  I believe the zeriba has been excavated now, but I was unaware of its existence when I was there.

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