I am realising more and more that “the field” is actually a place you cannot reach. It is the place that is always farther, more rural and more difficult to reach than where you are at that moment. And once you have reached that place it is kind of the field has moved away from you. It is like a fractal, a pattern that is repeated at every scale. Once you zoom in, you see there is much more. It looks endless.
When we were in the Netherlands clearly the field was South Sudan. The place we know we were going to, but our only real knowledge was that it is far away. We had no idea how it would look like, where we were going to live, what the food would be, how the people are; South Sudan was the unknown. But once we were in South Sudan and we could hear the sounds, smell the smells and taste the flavors the field has moved farther. The field was the place outside our compound, where the real life is, the hard life of the South Sudanese people. The field is where all the other Medair staff is, who are not based in Juba. The field is the place where we really implement our work, it is the place where we are trying to reach to beneficiaries.
I was so happy when I had my first fieldtrip. It felt like freedom. An adventure to discover what is there when you go deeper. I had to do an assessment in a place called Don Bosco. We went out of town, passing the Nile by going over the bridge. And once we had left Juba and the tarmac road behind we paved our way through a maze of dirt roads and small houses. I glanced around during our half an hour ride. At the very end was Don Bosco, a compound of a catholic mission who offered space on their land to displaced people. Already since 2013 people fled to this area and built a camp. After the fighting’s in July 2016 the amount of people who sought refuge in the Don Bosco IDP camp increased. More than 5,000 people are there now living together in temporary shelters.
We came here to do an assessment on the water and sanitation situation in the camp. With the rainy season coming, the chances of a cholera outbreak are increasing. Clean drinking water and good hygiene practices are crucial for prevention. At the entrance of the camp quite a few women were queuing with their jerrycans to fetch water at the handpump. We took a water sample of the handpump to check the water quality. Then we walked straight towards the latrines which were also placed on the front side of the camp. The smell of faeces and urine became worse when nearing the latrines. I actually only realized when my colleague was warning me I should watch my feet, that there were faeces laying everywhere. It was the worst open defecation I had ever seen. It was clearly that the few latrines who were there were not used by the majority of people. I wouldn’t like it myself either to go to a filthy and smelly toilet.
To get a better picture of the needs of this community we now entered the camp and did some household surveys and focus group discussions. I was surprised how closely they put the tents together, sometimes there was not even a meter of space in between. The shelters were made from tarpaulins given away by the UNHCR. While walking around I felt the heat burning on my face. The shadow places of the big tree in the middle where occupied by women and children laying on the ground. Soon we gathered a group of women to discuss their water and sanitation needs. It was more difficult to find the men since they were trying to find some food or work during the day.
After a long hard day we came back in the compound in Juba with our findings. Someone asked me where I had been. I said “to the field”. The person started laughing “Don Bosco isn’t the field. You can easily drive there.” I didn’t bother. For me at that moment it felt like the field. But I also knew that to reach “the field” again I had to go to an even farther place.
One week later I sat in a plane towards the real field, I thought, to a place called Melut. The nutrition team is setting up some clinics in the area, and the WASH team is supporting this by building some latrines as well. Our base, where we were sleeping, was in Melut town. But the next day I realized that this wasn’t the field. The field was a long two hours drive away towards the camp in Khor Adar. Once again, the field has moved further. It is a place you cannot reach. It is like the speed of light, it is all relative. A never-ending pattern. I love fractals. I love the field.
Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.