Sunday, July 06, 2008


Tukul Fever in Malualkon

I'm at the tail end of seven days in Malualkon, and things are just that little too chilled out for my liking. Malualkon's not much more than a village, centred round a market which varies from day to day in its stalls, though not its crazies, and there's only so much you can take of going to the same places to drink warm lager (anything less than lukewarm is enthusiastically described as “cold” here) and have the same people come to shake your hand then sit and stare unblinking in silence at you until you move on.

The other side of the coin is of course the kids. I thought for ages they were shouting “Wanger!” at me, in a local variation of “Wanker!” or maybe even a demand for money, but it seems it's their version of “Kawaga” - “white person”, to which my response is generally “Minger!” so we're quits on stating the bleedin obvious.

Malualkon was badly affected by the civil war, raided for livestock by the north, then for any remaining foodstuffs by the southern forces, leaving people who were unable to leave to starve to death. You see very few older people, and many of the the ones that are here are obviously mentally ill to some degree. Seeing bonkers old guys wandering around with guns doesn't exactly reassure (mind you younger guys with guns ain't exactly comforting either). As part of the disarmament process, officials were doing the rounds this week tukul-to-tukul to collect bullets, though you can be sure that an awful lot of people still have weaponry stashed away, just in case.... after all, the destruction of Abyei was less than two months ago, so the legacy of the civil war is still well and truly alive.

Thankfully for my sanity on Saturday we made a trip out to Aweil, a lively market town with a much more Arab influenced culture. I was in search of light bulbs for the radio station (can't get em at all in Malualkon) but drew a blank after five vain tries to get a bayonet variety. My hand signals for “screwing type bad, push and twist good” with accompanying illustrative screwing-in-lightbulb type noises only drew blank looks.

But- joy of joys! There was actually some food to be had there! I bought a newspaper wrap of lovely felafels, of which I ate about a third before they mysteriously fell out the van without my noticing, and some lovely small round flat breads – my first bread in five weeks!

I'm really missing spicy, garlicky, textured food. The few veg that are available here are cooked to buggery, so resemble baby food a lot of the time. Apart from the week in Mombasa, I've not had a single lunch or dinner without white rice – and sometime that's been all the non-meat there is to eat. Here you get okra, which is about five times the size of what we usually see, but obviously it's slimy and mushy, and then there's lentils and spinachey greens, which are delicious, but more goo.

So I feel like I've had a decadent day today as I brought my bean sprouter with me and the remains of a packet of chick peas, mung beans and aduki beans, which have been sprouting outside my tukul the last couple of days, much to the bemusement of my fellow compounders, who think I'm crazy anyway for not eating meat or having four sugars in my tea.

But I like the ingenuity of the people here. So far I've seen bicycles and motorbikes carrying the most unfeasible loads – a goat, chairs and tables, and my favourite – a double mattress.

Oh - and I've gone native too. I bought two huuuge garish African print shirts from the market for a few quid, only to find they're – ironically – made in China. Ho well. At least I now look even more like a curiosity than I did before.


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