Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Problem of Fifteen

     I was talking with my friend Rikki, before she moved to Kigali, just talking about things in general.  Juba, being a city of transients, always has a lively dating scene, couples constantly getting together and breaking-up.  It's almost a sport - a blood sport, really - keeping up with the ever changing landscape of shifting relationships.  Juba is a city overrun with twenty-somethings come here to "save the world" or at least a small part of it.  It's only natural in an environment like that - lots of young people, freedom from home constraints, lots of alcohol and a jaded, cynical culture that there will be a lot of people falling in and out of love, or if not love, at least lust in all its forms.
     Anyway, Rikki was updating me on her latest romances.  I won't go into any details, but Rikki - who's about 30- had certainly experienced much that was available in Juba before she left town.  I, on the other hand, same as at home, have experienced none.  Partly it's the demographics - they work against me.  Juba is a city crawling with twenty year olds who are all lovely but with whom I could not have a chance, nor should I.  The few thirty year olds are normally a bit more focused on their work, or are involved with people already, or half crazy.  Then there are the sixty year olds, retirees looking for the next big thing in their life or who missed out saving the world back when they were young and are catching-up while they still can.  Normal people in their thirties through fifties are home raising families and living normal lives.  The few people here in those age-brackets have usually been overseas for years and are are, frankly, a bit whack from the stress of living away for so long.  They are usually tye-dyed wearing bone thin people with little sense of humor. 
      Back in 2001 after my wife left me I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself single.  Having not dated much when I was younger I thought, "now will be my chance!"  I imagined I would become a world-class playboy surfing the ladies.  Geez, what a nut-brain.  I thought a forty-year old man with his own home and business, money in the bank, reasonably stable personality, would be an automatic draw and I would have plenty of dating opportunities.  The reality was that I attracted no interest whatsoever, though I cannot say that I tried very hard either.  I was about as knowledgeable about dating as a forty year old as I was as a teenager or twenty year old and that was unknowledgable completely.
      One thing I noticed, however, was that my mind instinctively found itself attracted to younger women.  Much as I really wanted a woman who was the same age as me, just scanning a crowd my eyes lingered on women that were a number of years younger.  It took a while to understand this.  I believe that life is much better when people in the same reasonable age bracket are together.  We change so much as we age, our attitudes and opinions and thoughts about things change with time and I think it is better to be with someone who is more or less experiencing things as you are rather than be dealing with someone who has already experienced them or who will be in the future.  Much as we appreciate the advice of people who older, or want to give advice to someone younger, no one really wants to the that guy who is always telling his younger partner, "oh yeah, this is what you are experiencing and this is what's happening..."  That would get old really quick.  And you don't want to hear it from someone older either.
     Anyway, I started to develop this theory that I call "The Problem of 15."  What is boils down to is that we are instinctively attracted to people who are 15-years younger than we are, while we are ourselves attractive to people who are 15-years older than we are.  I think this has to do with the idea that if you asked people to describe themselves we would probably all describe ourselves looking and feeling 15 years younger than we really are - that is, our image of ourselves is off by about 15-years.  This explains why we are attracted to people 15-years younger, or at least people in their 40's noticeably start to be attracted to younger people (twenty-year olds tend to date twenty years olds and I think the same is true for thirty-year olds, up to their late thirties.)
      In my case, as I said, much as in my mind I wanted someone the same age as me my instincts were to be attracted to younger women.  But I also found myself with two older female friends, both in their mid fifties, about 15-years older than me at the time, who intimated that our friendship could be more if I desired.  I resisted these offers for the same reason I never pursued anyone significantly younger, because I didn't think in the long-run it would be a good idea.  Apparently though, I was not the only person experiencing this because single women my own age had no interest in me whatsoever, they seemed always to be wanting younger guys or were being squired about by men 15-years older.  This just further convinced me that "the Problem of 15" was real.
      Back to the beginning: I was talking with Rikki about the Problem of 15 (and Rikki has been dating someone about 5 years younger, which at 30 is a bigger deal than at 50)  and she said if I write about it. it will probably be made into a romantic-comedy movie, probably staring John Cusack, to which we both got a good laugh.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013


            I had a nightmare the other evening.  I was walking along a road, walking with a woman – I know her, though I cannot place her name, an older woman – we were in Spotsylvania County, back home.
            Early on as we were walking I saw what I thought was a cow which was pulling another, smaller cow, dragging it with its teeth though the smaller cow – or what I thought was a cow - was resisting, its front legs planted firmly in the ground though the larger cow was still succeeding in pulling it along.
            After a while we came to some bungalow houses where there was an old couple outside and I again saw the animals, but I realized now they were dogs.  One, a larger, older dog had a smaller, younger dog in its teeth and was dragging it forward, the puppy digging in its front legs but still it was being pulled forward.  A second, smaller dog stood next to the first puppy.
            I suddenly realized the older dog was rabid; I yelled out that the dog had rabies and the dog leg go and turned and looked at me, its eyes ugly red and its mouth frothing with greenish, gray foam.  I yelled, “We have to kill that dog!” and in the same moment the dog lunged at me.  I ducked and the dog went past and it lunged once more.  I ducked its attack again and grabbed the dog by the neck and held on to it, the beast snapping and snarling at me though I managed to hold onto it and keeps its mouth away from me.  The dog was about the size of a Beagle.
            I turned to the old man and told him we had to kill the dog and asked if he had a gun.  The old man seemed not to comprehend what I meant and only muttered a response.  Again I said we had to shoot the dog.  The old man said he didn’t have a gun, and I said, “what kind of person from Spotsylvania are you without a gun?!”  He only mumbled a response.
            There were other smallish homes nearby and I asked if one of his neighbors had a gun and again he merely mumbled a “no,” and said he didn’t really know the neighbors well.  I began to suspect that the old man and his wife might have already been bitten by the dog.  Maybe repeatedly.
            I asked the man if he knew anyone with a gun and he said he did.  “Great!” I replied.  “Where are they?”  The old man said his friend lived 32-miles away.  “Thirty-two miles!  Thirty-two fucking miles!  Are you shitting me?  Are you fucking shitting me?” I screamed.
            At this point I turned to my companion and said, “Get a bucket of water,” and within seconds there was a bucket full of water before me.  Still being careful to keep the dog’s mouth pointed away from me I plunged the animal’s head under the water and as the life ebbed out of it I simultaneously awoke, highly disturbed and agitated.
            It took a long time for me to fall back asleep, if in fact I did.  The dream was so vivid and upsetting, and I didn’t know what to make of it.  But you can be well assured that while on my morning run I kept a warier eye than usual on all the filthy dogs that roam Juba, suspecting every one of them of being rabid or at the very least wanting to bite me.  I was a dog lover before I came to Juba but since I’ve been here the only thing I want to do to the dogs is shoot them.  They are all horrible, wild dirty creatures, half crazed by parasites and beset with open bloody sores, fleas and mange.  I was commiserating with a friend about the awful dogs of Juba and she said something like, “maybe they need more love and discipline.”  Channeling Naipaul I said, “What the dogs here need is a good kick.”  It’s terrible to feel that way, but imagine if you can a city full of wild dogs that no one looks after, that just live off garbage and die after only a few years – if they are lucky to live that long – and you have an idea of the dogs of Juba.
            Most of the dogs of Juba fall into three breeds.  There are the orangey tan wild dogs, nearly all of which look similar and are by far the largest class.  They breed incessantly, though owing to cannibalism – the larger dogs can’t resist a meal of puppy, and the mothers simply cannot defend all their pups – not many from any litter survive into adulthood.  Then there are some that look like they descended from American-style bird-dogs, medium sized, longish haired, lithe and quick.  On the morning after my nightmare one of this breed came lunging at me having run silently across the foreyard of the Bari-parish church and I did not see it until it was nearly on me at which point I instinctively howled at it and raised my left arm like I was going to throw a rock.  All the dogs of Juba recognize this movement, they’ve had enough rocks thrown at them that merely cocking your arm and yelling is normally enough to scare them off.  The last breed is the least numerous but the most disgusting.  These are medium sized hairless dogs, silent – I’ve never heard one bark, nor even seen one run.  They just lope along, their pinkish bare flesh a mass of mange and discolorations, cracked, dry and diseased.  Their eyes are often small and beady and they walk with their heads hanging down, they seem like the spectral dogs of death.  I shudder whenever I see one.
            Most of the roads of Juba are dirt, deep gullies washed into them, rocky outcrops mixed in with the right of way.  The few tarmac roads are edged with broad swaths of inches deep dust.  For some reason a lot of dogs love lying either in the dust on the edge of the tarmac roads or in the gullies of the dirt roads.  I suppose – especially where the dust is pushed-up into a sizeable hill – the sand feels coolish in the mornings.  Sadly for the dogs though is the fact that since  nearly all people here have no regard for dogs – viewing them as little more than flea carriers – people make little effort to avoid running over dogs which are not clever enough to know better than to lie right in the roadways.  Hardly a week goes by while I am out running that I do not encounter one dog carcass.  Usually the heat and the scavengers make quick work of the bodies, though a couple of months ago I was thankful to see that someone had had enough sense to douse with kerosene and a light a match upon a particularly large dog that was stiffening along the roadside by Juba University.  It would have taken a couple of weeks to rot away otherwise and we were all spared that gruesome spectacle.
            There are a few westerners here with dogs, proper dogs, well cared for and loved.  It is such a treat to encounter one of these dogs, to again feel clean dog-fur in my hands as I pet them and to not have to worry about being bitten or attacked.  Friends in Mundri had succeeded – partly anyway – in taming one of the wild orange dogs.  They even went so far as to have her spayed by a visiting veterinarian in Juba.  Sadly, someone disturbed a wild bees nest just outside their home and the poor dog was stung so many times that it had to be put down to end its agony. My friend also suffered numerous stings and I am not certain his family didn’t look similarly at him.
            I’m sorry to have to talk like this about dogs.  I’m sorry to have to want to see nearly all the dogs poisoned like was done in the town of Bor recently after a rabies scare swept the town.  I’m told the townspeople just left the bodies to rot, the poison making its way through the ecosystem to anything which would then feed on the carcasses.  It’s really quite horrible to think about.  It’s just the reality of living in a poor country where there is barely survival enough for people, let alone animals.


Thursday, May 9, 2013


      There is so much I could say about the Juba HASH.  Soooooo much I could say about it, but I won't, other than to say it is great fun and a really wonderful way to meet people as well as getting in some good exercise as we run around the Juba area.
      For people unfamiliar with the HASH, the HASH was started by British ex-pats in Asia somewhere back in the 30's or so.  It has been described as "a drinking club with a running problem," and now spans the globe.  I was aware of their being a HASH in Juba but I resisted for nearly two years because I thought it was merely a drunken brawl.  My evidence for this possibility was the regular extremely hung-over condition of two friends, one a faithful HASHer, whom I would see at church early on Sunday mornings.  However, another very dear friend who arrived in Juba and participated in the HASH assured me that my fears were misplaced; the extreme inebriation of my friends was the result of post-HASH consumption rather than at the HASH.
      I started participating in the HASH around February of 2012 and have not looked back at all.  The hour or two I spend there each week is often the highlight of my week, such is the state of my social life in Juba.  But it really is a great way to meet people, to unwind and have some fun.
      A few weeks ago we ran just outside Juba at an area near Gormoruk Cemetary.  This is a really nice area, with some old volcanic hills which afford great views of the surrounding country.  Juba is surrounded by classical African savanna grasslands which you don't really appreciate at ground level, you have to get up a few meters and take in a grand vista to see the beauty.
      Here are some photos from that HASH:

Out on the trail.  On-on!

This was a small pool, outcrops of granite and basalt made a natural dam.  Anyone for a dip?

After the run, the challenge was to haul the "beverages" up on the rocks
Everyone post run enjoying drinks, songs and fellowship

The view from the mountain with yours truly showing his good side.  Hard to tell where the socks end and the white legs begin.  Nice hole in the shirt, d'oh!
A friend enjoying the view from the mountain

Sunday, May 5, 2013

New Job

     I came to Sudan almost three years ago  now.  I originally only came for a four month project.  I sometimes don't know what has happened to the time.  But four months has stretched into three years, and now I have a new job and don't know when I will return to live stateside.
     I was a missionary working for the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.  I came just to help study the Church's finances and help to create some systems.  Not really your typical missionary posting.  Actually, keeping the line between overworked employee and missionary was very difficult.  I often found myself more caught up in the work than on building relationships or some of the other soft, fuzzy things people thought I was supposed to be doing.  It was hard to remember that when you are responsible for managing the finances of a three million member organization and there are huge pressures.  Vendors looking for their money or bishops howling for their stipends never asked whether or not I was a missionary, they just wanted their money.  It was a tough job, the conditions were hard.  Except for people who saw me in action here, it would be hard I think for people at home to ever really understand.  But I also always felt that I was where God wanted me, where I was supposed to be.  I never felt discouraged or that I made a mistake being at the ECS, not for one day no matter how bad it got.
     I left the ECS in March.  It seemed to me the right thing to do.  I felt like I could have stayed there for thirty more years and have still been doing the same thing.  I felt that so long as I remained with the Church they would not really grow, nor would I.  We would both be dependent upon each other - the ECS to avoid having to do on their own the things I had so often taught them, me hiding from challenging myself to learn new things, push myself.  I was getting stale and lazy.  It was time to go.  I miss the ECS, I miss the community, the emphasis upon living a life of faith.  And though I knew I was done working for the ECS, I did not feel that I was done with Sudan.
      The thing about South Sudan is that as a new country, it's future, it's direction has not been fully decided.  This country has all the assets to be one of the wealthiest, most wonderful countries.  It's that possibility that makes living here so enticing.  South Sudan has the history of 192 other countries to learn from to avoid making similar mistakes.  The future here could either be great or terrible - it hasn't been decided.  I think that like teenagers to whom no amount of advice really penetrates - they just have to experience things for themselves in order to learn, maybe the same is true for countries and they just have to go through bad times in order to learn and grow and emerge hopefully better.  But it is that uncertainty that makes it so exciting to live here.
      So I have traded a seven days a week, seventy hours of work position for a seven days a week, seventy hours of work position!  which is great because I left behind when I came Africa a seven days a week, seventy hours of work position.  At least now I am able to get a paycheck every two weeks, and my house and office has reasonable electricity - even air conditioning and hot water!  That's not just crazy talk! 
     I don't want to go into too many details, but I am now Director of Finance & Administration for a non-governmental organization (NGO) called IMA Worldhealth.  We support the development of primary health care by supporting health clinics and hospitals by giving them training, equipment, medicines, whatever we can do to help them to develop.  My job is to make sure we have all the resources we need to do the job and to account for how those resources were used.  I spend my days and nights worrying about wire transfers and receipts and audits and exchange rates, etc. etc.  I worry about everything, which suits my nature - I like to be involved with everything, I like to be in charge.  My ex-wife always said I was bossy.  I just like to think that if I'm not in charge, nothing gets done.
      I don't know what this is doing to my sense of identification.  People bring over magazines and newspapers from the US and I hardly recognize the country I left behind.  I feel alien from there.  But I will also always be an outsider here, though I am making a commitment to Africa which is the most astounding thing I could never have imagined.  This experience has exposed me to people I would never have met otherwise.  I have friends on four continents now.  I went to England for Christmas last year to be with friends.  This Christmas I am thinking of going to India and Sri Lanka to see friends.  I'll be going home in June to see family in America.  It's a whirlwind, and it's hard sometimes to know where it's heading.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Nimule Road

   Not long after I arrived in South Sudan in May 2010 I had the opportunity to visit the ECS farm in Panyikwara in Eastern Equitoria.  I went with a fellow American missonary named Robin whose assignment was helping the ECS to develop an agriculture program.  The farm in Panyikwara had been given by the community to serve as place where people could be educated in farming techniques.
   The drive to Panyikwara was miserable.  This was my first long distance trip in Sudan and I could not believe how bad the roads were.  It took us about four to five hours to drive a little more than 100-kilometers, barely an hour's drive in the US.  And like all drives here your body feels beaten by the time you reach your destination.  Last week we drove to Lainya and back in the same day, three hours each way of spine cracking, bone crushing, kidney bruising travel.  When you reach home you feel like you have been beaten by baseball bats.
    To reach Panyikwara we drove south on the main road towards Uganda.  This is the major means by which people and goods reach Sudan from Kenya and Uganda.  Because of its importance to transport USAID invested around $250-million dollars to upgrade the road all the way from Juba to the border with Uganda, about 185-kilometers.  For any American reading this, please know that these were tax-dollars extremely well spent!  Improving this road was a wonderful investment.
    I took a lot of pictures on that trip in 2010, when everything was still so new to me.  Even goats lounging in the road seemed at the time fascinating, whereas now I barely give them a second glance.  Last week I again traveled to Eastern Equitoria.  I went to Magwi which is near Panyikwara to attend the Synod of Torit Diocese.  I was there to conduct a financial management training such as I have done all over Sudan.  This time we drove down the now improved road and what an wonderful sensation it was!!  From the time we left Juba to the time we arrived in Magwi was barely two-hours, and I was not really pushing the drive - we could have made it more quickly.  Instead, I was luxuriating in the smoothness and comfort of the drive down a road anyone in a developed country would appreciate.  What a great improvement!!

A view of the old Nimule Road, travel was so slow goats could use it as a resting spot without worry.

Old Nimule Road.  Rain-water would collect and make travel a muddy mess.
New Nimule Road!!  As good a road as anywhere.  Speed limit 80-Kph!!

New Nimule Road.  Now you can appreciate the views of mountains, etc., because you don't have to be so incredibly focused looking for potholes and ditches to avoid.

New Nimule Road.  Money well spent.

Water Woes

     For most of the time I have been here the water we received in our house came from a well located on an adjacent property.  There really is not a central water system in Juba - and certainly not any kind of sewer system - people have big black plastic water storage tanks elevated on platforms or roofs, the water coming either from bore wells or delivered by tanker truck.  There are seemingly hundreds of tanker trucks operating in Juba, and like so many of the services offered in Juba, water delivery is the purvue of mainly Ethiopian or Eritrean drivers.  It is interesting how certain nationalities specialize in particular businesses.  All of the petrol stations in town are operated by Somalis, who also operate many of the money exchange bureaus.  Arabs operate so many of the general shops, several of the bigger hardware stores in town are run by Indians.  And it's also interesting how similar shops tend to congregate together; you will have in one block a half-dozen building supply traders or plumbing and electrical shops all huddled together.  There is a certain logic to this.  It makes comparison shopping easier, you can quickly go from shop to shop to compare wares and prices.  And also, since there is a certain comraderie amongst the traders, if one is out of stock of something they will obtain it from a competitor.  The other day I was doing my general household shopping and wanted a couple of packages of spaghetti.  My regular shopkeeper was out but he ran around the market until he found some for me.  Did it cost me an extra pound per package? yeah, but it spared me having to search around and ensured my continued patronage, so that quarter a package was worth it.
    The well which supplied our house was on the adjacent compound of an NGO.  This NGO used to rent some space from our Guest House where they housed their staff which is why they provided the water.  Our house and one other - where their staff lived - were both supplied by this particular well.  The other two houses in the Guest House compound are supplied by a different well.  The NGO moved their staff out of our compound in December 2010 and I have always been amazed - and thankful - that they continued to provide our houses with water.
     Evidently the NGO either was unaware they were still supplying us water or finally decided to end it because starting in January I noticed our household water was being supplied by tanker trucks.  The tanker trucks in Juba derive their water from one of two sources: one are USAID operated water treatment plants which draw water from the Nile River, treat it and filter it, and then sell it cheaply to tanker truck operators who then sell it to households and businesses.  The other source is when the tanker trucks just go to the banks of the murky Nile and pump water directly into their holds.  In theory these operators are supposed to throw some chemicals into the trucks to treat the water, but everyone in town suspects they do not.  This water is priced somewhat lower and appeals to those householders or businesses wishing to save a few pounds.  The Guest House operators are decidedly in the latter category since I have noticed since January how dirty and nasty our water has become.  I had also noticed how starting in January my stomach suddenly became distressed like I was suffering from some kind of internal bug.  At first this didn't make sense since I am generally careful but once I saw the poor quality of our water the source of my distress became obvious.
    We're still suffering from the crummy water.  It's just such a shame after two-and-a-half years of decent water to now suddenly being afflicted this way and having to waste money buying bottled water all the time for everything.  Below is a picture of the water that was delivered to our tank this morning.  Yum.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Manna from Nebraska

Recently some people came over to South Sudan from Nebraska.  They asked if they could bring something for me from there.  I think I made excellent choices.