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South Sudan: Chop My Money

31 Oct 2016

“Bol* is a ‘street boy’. He is homeless. Bol’s smile is bright and full of remarkably white teeth made more prominent against his jet-black skin accumulated over previous days. His only t-shirt is an adult-sized Chelsea soccer jersey that is so large that the short sleeves reach down to the middle of his forearms and the hem hovers somewhere near his knees. 

Bol has a physical build like most Dinka. He is tall and lean and combines this with youthful curiosity and mischief to his advantage; like when he squeezed his face in between the bottom of the gate and the ground to catch a glimpse of the strange lives of the international staff inside. At last count, 13 countries were represented in our team of 18 international staff here in Aweil, South Sudan. So when the sun sets, the opportunity to get to know about a wide variety of cultures naturally presents itself. Or more specifically, the opportunity to learn every single word to a famous African pop song, naturally presents itself. 

"At last count, 13 countries were represented in our team of 18 international staff here in Aweil, South Sudan. So when the sun sets, the opportunity to get to know about a wide variety of cultures naturally presents itself"

Thanks to the infectious joy of our Nigerian logistician, it is impossible not to learn and love a song made famous by the singers P-Squared and Akon. Admittedly I’m not gangster enough to understand their catchy hip hop chorus which repetitively chants “chop my money”. Nor do I completely understand the relationship that phrase has to the one that follows: “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care”. But the beat is catchy and warrants a number of dance moves. The choreography was largely orchestrated by the girls in the group and consists of hands making a chopping motion for 12 counts and a finger wagging from side to side. It’s a fun interaction that brings simple pleasure to us here in South Sudan. But it apparently bonds more than just the staff.

Bol also enjoys this song. Months after we had covered the gap in the fence, he still greets the international staff with the chorus and a massive smile on his face. However Bol has also caught our attention for medical reasons. He has developed a limp and has a wound on his left ankle. It looks like a small wound, but is actually an ulcer that almost exposes the underlying bone. We are all acutely aware that in a country with limited primary health care, a simple wound can become a life threatening infection and may lead to physical disability. Bol is the face of chronic suffering for greater than 800,000 people in this state. Decades of war and the social challenges that stem from it have exacerbated a poor standard of health care. There is a lack of educated medical staff, lack of access to health services over a large geographical area, exceptional poverty with crippling rates of inflation and a lack of essential medications. 

Médecins Sans Frontières provides outreach services and surveillance but the bulk of our medical care is given within the hospital. However, we are only able to admit the most vulnerable in the population: pregnant women and children with severe illness. This is a sobering reality for all members of the community including Bol who, like many others and despite the wound to his ankle, is too healthy to meet our admission criteria. This is a daily source of concern for international staff who must weigh personal engagement with local people and the broader needs of the community. And there is dealing with the reality of the care we can provide, particularly to the vulnerable, who have unwittingly shared in our moments of connection and will continue to have a challenging life long after the song “chop my money” has ceased to be popular.”

 *Name changed