Leopards and Cows and Making Gravel in South Sudan (Letter 7)

August 25, 2012

Juba, South Sudan

Dear Friends,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANavigating Juba roads after two days of heavy rains is like navigating a large, ever shifting, river.  The course of the road changes, what was high ground two days ago is now a sink hole, and when you enter a large mud hole you have no idea of how far down you will sink.  I almost think I should sit on the hood of the Land Cruiser with a pole, poke it into the brown opaque water to see if there is a bottom. “Mark Twain” would be a bad thing on Juba roads in contrast to the Mississippi or Nile.

Normally I ride in a four wheel drive, high centered Toyota Land Cruiser with a snorkel, but Monday there was no Land Cruiser when I went to lunch at Yei Road Camp so I rode in Mito’s Toyota Corolla.  It’s low slung with two wheel drive.  We skidded and sluiced through the mud, often traveling sideways as we slid into a mud hole, our exhaust blowing bubbles in the mud.   We made it to Yei Road Camp, but when lunch was over it was a Land Cruiser that came to get me.

Leopard Cub (2)I was particularly interested in getting to Yei Road Camp on Monday to learn about how the leopard cubs were doing.  While waiting for the leopard passports the people at the animal rehab center suggested that we need to start training the cats to hunt now.  The first step was to throw them a leather shoe.  John volunteered an old boot.  The cats unlaced it but finally, Monday morning, three sets of fang holes pierced the boot.  It was time to go to the next step, live prey.

Kevin and Anna were designated to go to Konya Konya market to find some live prey.  They found a guinea pig, which, by the time it got back to the camp, had a name — “Boris.”   This was not a good sign. The people at the camp are animal lovers or they would not care about orphaned leopards, right.

Leopard Cub (1)On Monday at lunch Boris cowered in his box at the foot of the table next to Anna while we debated his fate.  Someone suggested that Boris might be able to escape from the pen before the cats decided to hunt for him.  If Boris were a girl and pregnant it could unleash a new invasive species on the Jebel.  Pikey suggested that the guinea pig would not be good prey because it would just freeze in a corner of the pen and go “EEEEE” and anyway, Boris didn’t have enough meat to teach the leopards that they were supposed to eat what they caught.   Pikey suggested they go back to Konya Konya market and get a chicken.  “Cats like to eat birds.”

Someone else suggested a rabbit.  Pikey liked that because if the cats didn’t eat the rabbit he could make rabbit stew.  But Anna said “look, if we have trouble feeding a guinea pig to the leopards, how will we feel about feeding the kitties a bunny rabbit?”

Anges said his old girlfriend loved bunny rabbits.  If we got a rabbit he would make a video of the “kill” to post on his Facebook page and tag her.   Someone suggested live trapping rats to feed to the cats.  That didn’t go over well.  If the rats got away they would still be in the camp.

Almost looks like a stuffed animalTeaching the cats to eat prey is important.  The leopards were fed Monday morning and the animal rehab people say the cubs should not eat for a couple of days before introducing them to hunting.  If they are hungry enough they will actually eat what they catch and not just play with it.   If we set Boris into their pen Monday they would play with him, probably scaring him to death, but not eat him. So Boris was spared his last supper on Monday and was still alive at the camp on Tuesday lunchtime.

Tuesday evening Boris sacrificed his life to teach the leopard cubs to hunt.   The cats passed the test, and so, I guess, did Boris.  The cats hadn’t eaten for two days so most of Boris simply disappeared.   Now it’s time for the cats to graduate to something bigger, a chicken perhaps?  On Thursday one of the cubs escaped temporarily. There must not have been any prey as easy as Boris around the camp, because she came back looking for supper.  I think the dogs are safe for a while.

I’ve been working with reporters on producing sound pieces for the new Morning Program that will launch on Monday (there is a Facebook page “The Dawn on Eye Radio” if you are interested.)  I want the show to mix music and produced sound pieces with service information, news, (including international and Africa news as well as local) traffic, market reports and weather.  The Catholic station has a morning call in show and the UN station plays long segments of speeches and takes calls between.   Listening to the calls can be amusing.  At the UN station the announcer asked listeners what they would do if they encountered a traffic accident.  The answer was almost unanimous.  “We would beat up the driver and then take injured people to the hospital.”   The announcer tried to get the point across that you should not beat up the driver but call the police.   Near the end of the program many callers conceded that they would call the police — after beating up the driver.

Cattle, from the market, through the cemetary (2)I played a piece for my producers by John Burnett from NPR on cows in South Sudan and how the need for amassing a large number of cows for dowries is creating tribal warfare.  John has given us permission to run the piece on the show, and the producers will follow it with Hilda Johnson from the UN urging women to demand that their families ask for a lower bride price to ease the pressure on young men who want to get married .

South Sudan has courts to enforce dowries.  Dowries can be paid in cash, over time, in lieu of cows.  The police came to the radio station recently to enforce a dowry payment.  If payment were not made the man would have been jailed, which, of course, would mean he would lose income and be less able to pay his installment in the future.  The idea, I guess, is that the man’s family would be shamed into bailing out their son or brother and would make sure he meets his future in-law support payments.

I’ve found that some of our reporters are gathering wonderful sound.  One producer, who is usually quiet, a bit of a loner, did a sonic portrait of Juba traffic.  I played it for the group in my training and his colleagues were amazed that this quiet person was so talented in working sound.  I asked him where he learned to do this and he said “Well, I grew up listening to the BBC and A followed B followed C.”

Stone Cairns 2There is a great sound story I encounter on my daily drive between the Jebel Lodge and the radio station, making gravel.  The process starts with burning tires on the rock of the Jebel, pouring water on the hot rock to crack it and whacking away with sledges.  (I have seen a woman walk up the Jebel with a sledge hammer balanced on her head and walk down with a large rock balanced the same way.)   Then there is breaking the rock into uniform size.  Some rocks remain rocks and are piled into cairns, some are broken into different sized gravel by men, women and kids sitting under sun shelters or trees chipping away with hammers, chisels or other rocks.  The gravel is sorted and poured into different piles of uniform size, each pile waiting for its truck.  Each part of the process has a distinctive sound. Each part of the process also is visual, but because of the reluctance of people here to cameras I can only snap a shot from a bouncing Land Cruiser.  I am tempted to do the story myself but it’s a local story to tell.  (In the gallery, below, there is a series of photos showing the gravel making enterprise.

Juba Sunset (2) Juba Sunrise






I have one week to go.  My container is at the highest point in the compound meaning I get great sunrises out my front window and glorious sunsets out the back.  Sunrise 6:49, Sunset 7:02, nice bookends to a day of teaching Radio.


Take Care

Rich McClear

If you zoom in on the map above you will get a good view of the Jebel Lodge.

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