Sunday footing

Sundays in south-western South Sudan are for 'churching' and then depending on your disposition, rampant drinking of home brew or sitting on silently as others around you drink themselves into a stupor.

DeeAnn and I are thankfully removed from this equation as foreigners in the community's midst, although I did taste the cassava wine and it was more palatable than the same wine in Vietnam, or the awful-sounding corn wine that colleagues have had to drink there.

Despite the usual Sunday schedule we had a productive day of discussions with the Wildlife Service and community ranger team who work together to patrol the nearby Game Reserve, with our technical and financial support. Various agenda items: new rucksacks, thick grasses, patrol routes, pay levels, the price of maize flour on the Congo border and GPS unit batteries.

It became clear there is local politics when the chief of the village where we principally work didn't want to join the group meeting. This could be because he didn't want to disturb his usual Sunday schedule, but could be because the neighbouring payam (district) chief was attending and trying to muscle in on the project. We had to respect our chief's wishes, and so we stuck to lighter discussion topics until a time when he can join.

This picture is showing the community the results of the camera traps we've put in the forest over the years. A multitude of wildlife that they enjoyed seeing. We've got around a quarter of a million images to analyse and are urgently looking for some eager citizen scientists to help, so we don't miss anything critical.

An hour or so later we walked a few hundred metres to the Sunday market where half were wasted and half were watching. A few others sold flip flops, home-grown tobacco or palm oil fruits. Before a government announcement that selling bushmeat is banned, such markets would have been very useful places to understand how people trade wild animal meat, skins and other body parts. The trade has been driven underground so we have to rethink our approach to understanding it, especially when shadowed by the Wildlife Service, who people will conceal information from.

An evening of eating delicious bagbagawas (plantain), scaring toddlers with our white skin, worrying that the wailing and orange tinged hair in the same kids is a sign of malnutrition, chugging away at some laptop tasks despite rugged conditions and dwindling batteries, a close shave with a hairy caterpillar and thorough enjoyment of the John Steinbeck book I'm reading.

It never gets boring that instead of 'going on foot', people here say 'footing'. We desperately need this verb in the UK.

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