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Feather's Miscellany: The Teachers - Part 2 - Flies, Famine And New Friends

...The city was surrounded by desert, which crept through the suburbs into the very centre. Sand and silt were everywhere. When a sandstorm was unleashed, the sun was blotted out and streetlights (such as were still working) were switched on.

Life came to a standstill till the storm had passed. Nomads travelling through the city halted just where they were and sheltered behind their crouched animals. All traffic ceased and wrappings were thrown over engine bonnets...

Middle-aged English teacher Jack is forced to experience the Third World after volunteering to teach in the Sudan.

To read the first part of this story, and other articles and stories by John Waddington-Feather, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/feathers_miscellany/

Within the month he was in Africa, stepping off the plane at the city airport into blistering heat. The air was thick with silt, the light blinded him and the heat swept over him in waves. Never had he experienced such heat.

Along with fifty other teachers, all much younger than himself and full of idealism and enthusiasm, he was bussed into another world, the Third World. The culture shock was intense. The hotel they lodged him in was called El Shark, the East, in Arabic, but the conditions were nearer its English meaning. It was dirty, cheap and seedy and there Jack picked up his first bout of dysentery.

Flies were everywhere and cats jumped on the tables to eat remnants of food. Nothing was wasted. It was a time of famine. As he lay on his bed in between bolting to the Arab loo, Jack wondered why on earth he had volunteered to teach there as he watched a termite burrowing slowly inside the plasterwork up the crumbling wall. At intervals, the odd rat scurried across his room from a hole somewhere in the opposite wall and dart into the passage through the open door.

He stayed there a week till he was found lodgings in an Arab house in the suburbs, a cycle ride from the university.

Jack worked in the English Language Support Unit (ELSU) helping science undergraduates with their command of English. His new lodgings and place of work were Paradise after that week in El Shark.

He was lucky to be appointed to the university. The rest of the teachers he had flown out with were trucked to all part of the country: to townships in the desert in the west and north, or to the port many miles to the east, a day's journey at least, In time, some were sent home early ill and one died in a cholera outbreak.

The city was surrounded by desert, which crept through the suburbs into the very centre. Sand and silt were everywhere. When a sandstorm was unleashed, the sun was blotted out and streetlights (such as were still working) were switched on.

Life came to a standstill till the storm had passed. Nomads travelling through the city halted just where they were and sheltered behind their crouched animals. All traffic ceased and wrappings were thrown over engine bonnets. Shutters were hurriedly pulled down over windows, few of which were glazed in the village where Jack lodged.

The land was barren except alongside the river where farmers tilled strips of irrigated earth. The country's lifeline, the river ran its entire length, entering from the mountains in the south and running through it to the country north before winding through a delta to the sea.

Adding to the daily grind of life was the famine. There had been no rain for seven years and no crops that year in areas away from the river. Thousands trekked across the desert trying to reach the city from bordering countries and outlying regions.

The military kept them at bay fearing cholera and typhoid, forcing them into makeshift camps ringing the city five miles or more into the desert. There they huddled in their miserable shelters made from whatever they could lay their hands on, fed by international charities which brought in food, medicines and blankets.

When he had settled in, Jack employed two houseboys from the camps; the only way they could leave was with work permits. The elder was Hassan, in his forties and old by the standards of the country. The younger was Mohammed. Hassan had been a merchant from a neighbouring country to the east. He had run foul of the Communist regime there and fled. Mohammed also had fled the regime while studying at college.

On top of this, they were fugitives from famine raging across the region and had survived the long march across the desert. Thousands hadn't.

Ustaz Mahmoud continued his fearless preaching even from prison. The General promised him and his followers imprisoned with him that they would be freed if they would only recant and agree to Shari'ah Law. They refused.

So nightly on television the General appeared attacking Mahmoud, bleating about how good Shari'ah was for the country, while all the while unrest was simmering among the populace at large and opposition to him was coming to a head in the university. Jack had unwittingly walked into an impending revolution!

His colleagues were a mixed bunch - of different faiths, different nationalities and different religions. The Head of ELSU was Doctor Ellen, an Egyptian Coptic Christian. Next in line was Andreas, a Greek Orthodox Christian. Then came Abdallah, a black American convert to Islam and an ardent follower of Ustaz Mahmoud.

Jack shared a desk with Hamsah, the first-born son of a powerful Sheik's first wife. He had four others. Educated in India, Hamsah was at once westernised and traditional. He rarely used a knife and fork when he ate, usually with his fingers, and out of the university he dressed like an Arab. He and Jack became firm friends.

Then there was the secretary, Kavita, a Hindu whose father was a professor at the university. Finally there were Mustafa, the middle-aged fat gaffir, who oversaw the office and tended the little garden outside, in between sending Mabek, the young Dinka office boy, on countless messages to various parts of the university because the telephones didn't work. Mabek was jet black and came from the tribal south. Tall and lean, he was related to the Masai over the border.

So Jack's new colleagues were a mixed bunch who grew closer as the tension rose on the campus and beyond; they grew into a family. Very different from the dispirited, unhappy staff room he'd left behind in England.

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