Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Muddy blues

      I recently drove from Juba to Maridi in Western Equitoria.  The distance is 185-miles.  It took us nine-hours to get there and about the same to return, maybe 9.5 coming back.  I drove one of our Toyota Landcruiser hardtop cars.  These are great cars for the bush roads, really sturdy and decent riding.  I've covered most of the same idistance in a Honda CRV wagon and a Toyota Hi-Ace van both of which were awful rides, the van - or matatu in the local language - being particularly bad.
     At a spot about 20-km east of Lui (pronounced "Louie") there were two muddy spots in the road which had swallowed vehicles.  In the first an entire tractor-trailer was abandoned buried in the mud while everyone else drove up to 100-meters or more off in the grass on the sides to get around the area.  In the second two trucks were buried about 8-feet down in the mud blocking the road.  Here because of trees and wet-conditions it wasn't really possible to drive around, though going we did manage to scoot around in the grass on one side.  On the way back the sides were so chewed-up we had to wait for the truck that was blocking the road to be pulled-out by this big steel cable before we could get by.  We only lost about a half-hour going and maybe an hour heading back.  Others in our party lost up to 3 hours waiting to get by this same area, so we counted ourselves lucky.  One thing in Africa, people just don't stop moving no matter the obstruction.  I'm always amazed at construction sites how people routinely just go around barricades and over impossible looking pathways, they just don't stop for anything.

This is the general view looking east. Ahead is where two trucks were blocking the road.  We scooted around on the left side.  Many people had been waiting for hours to get by.
 
 
A view of the two trucks blocking the way.
 
 
Another view of the blockage.  The guy was one of many young men that appeared from who knows where to move the vehicles out of the way.  While returning Sunday morning we reached this spot just after 7am there were already a couple of crates of Nile Special beer lying about and many empty bottles which I did not think bode well for our making progress but we did get by fairly quickly.
 
 
This truck was about 8-feet down in the mud.  I cannot believe they actually thought they were going to drive through this mess.
 
 
The other truck that was blocking the road.
 
Some people tried driving around on the south side but it quickly became a muddy mess.
 
Looking west at the que of trucks and cars waiting to get through


Looking east.  Our car is back there there somewhere.
 
 

 
The car I was driving.  What a great car for driving in the African bush.
 
 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Abyei, oh Abyei

     This week I accompanied the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Dr. Daniel Deng Bul, on an assessment visit to the Abyei area.  Abyei ("Ah-bee-ay") is a disputed area along the border between South Sudan and Sudan.  As part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 the people of Abyei were supposed to be given the chance to vote whether they wanted to remain a part of the north or become part of the south.  But disagreements over who should be allowed to vote - only year round residents or also nomadic tribespeople who pass through during the year - and general intransigence on the part of Sudan have prevented a vote from taking place.
     We had travelled to Abyei in January of 2011 because we were interested in seeing how the town of Abyei was returning to life after it was destroyed by soldiers of Sudan in 2008 & 2009.  Also, we wanted to see the plight of the thousands of people who had returned to South Sudan from the north and had resettled in the Abyei area.
     What we found in 2011 was a town that was rebuilding but which faced great difficulties in terms of security and resources.  The returnees in particular were struggling, people who were largely dumped in make-shift camps located miles from the town in places without clean water or food.  The returnees were trying to build shelters and re-establish their lives in a place to which they were tied by history and family but in many cases not by any experience.
     In May of 2011 northern soldiers again invaded Abyei.  The UN soldiers who promised to protect the civillians, part of their mandate, fled at the first shots leaving the civillians to the invaders according to refugees we interviewed.  According to UN figures, over 100,000 people fled Abyei.  Most of the people, Ngok Dinka tribespeople mostly, fled southwards towards the town of Agok.  Agok has been overrun with refugees who have struggled to build shelter and find a means to support themselves.  When we visited in 2011, the ECS primary school was hosting 1200-children with about 12-teachers.  Now, with the influx of refugees from Abyei, the school has around 4200+ students with 32-teachers.  Most children sit on the ground all day under trees to learn, while their families live four or five familes to a small makeshift shelter.
     After they captured Abyei the northern soldiers and their allies the Arab-Misseriya tribespeople who bring their cattle into the Abyei area to graze during the dry season went on a frenzy of looting and destruction of the town.
     What we saw of Abyei town on this visit reminded me of the photos of Hiroshima after the atomic blasts at the end of the second World War.  There were streets and a few straggling survivors, but everything else was destroyed.  Every shop, every tukel and school and office, even the churches - except for the mosque - was destroyed.  The buildings built of local materials were all burned, the permanent buildings had their doors and windows and roofing materials removed.  We visited the local power generating station and found the two large generators burned and destroyed.  Citizens who had fled southwards to the town of Agok told of how the northerners put rocks and debris down the bore wells so they could no longer be used, and especially cruel act.
      I found the experience particularly unsettling because I remember vividly the town we visited in 2011, and I could hardly believe the scope of the destruction I saw on this visit.  I have never visited a war zone before and was unprepared for the level of destruction I experienced.  Even the house we stayed at in 2011 was destroyed without a trace.
      I will be writing more of our visit to Abyei, but I wanted to share some photos from 2011 and now so people can see the destruction that has occurred.  I also ask for people to pray for the people of Abyei and for a peaceful resolution to the crisis there.



Archbishop Daniel Deng (L) and Bishop Abraham Nhial (R) meeting the Abyei County Commissioner in Jan 2011
 


The same office in October, 2012




Abyei town Dept of Social Services, Oct 2012 showing destruction

Abyei town, Jan 2011 showing residents rebuilding homes, note presence of power lines. 

Abyei Town, Jan 2011 showing rebuilding

Abyei Town, Oct 2012, homes abandoned or destroyed

 Abyei town, Oct 2012: Abandoned homes, even the electric wires removed from the poles.

ECS primary school, Abyei, Jan 2011. Note doors and windows in place

ECS Primary School, Abyei, Oct 2012. Doors, windows and roofing removed.


 Archbishop Deng (C) praising the rehabilitation of the ECS Primary School, Abyei, Jan 2011

The same location, October 2012
 

LR Duffee at ECS Primary School, Abyei, Jan 2011
 
LR Duffee at same ECS Primary school classroom, October 2012
 

Abyei Roman Catholic Church, Oct 2012: roof missing, fixtures removed

 
Abyei Roman Catholic church, Oct 2012, destruction of altar


 
 Archbishop Deng (R) decrying the destruction of the crucifix which adorned the top of Abyei Roman Catholic Church, Oct 2012

 ECS Church, Abyei, January 2011

ECS Church, Abyei, January 2011

Site of the ECS Church Abyei, Oct 2012. A small tukel has been built on the site.

 ECS Church, Abyei, October 2012

 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Zanzibar

            In December of 2010 I organized a trip which took me from Juba to Nairobi, then by overnight train to Mombasa (See “The Night Train to Mombasa”), thence by boat to Zanzibar Island off the coast of Tanzania.  I finished the trip by taking a ferry from Zanzibar to Dar es-Salaam in Tanzania and then flying back to Juba via Nairobi.
            I like making circular trips, traveling in a single direction.  I don’t like having to either backtrack or return over territory I’ve already covered.  It boarders on the maniacal I suppose, though I am willing to make tactical retreats where necessary.  Anyway, it was nice to get away in the days before Christmas and to have the opportunity to see some of Africa beyond South Sudan.
            It was important to me to arrive on Zanzibar by boat.  How else could you approach an island except by water, really?  Arriving by air seemed pointless.  However, finding a water route to Zanzibar proved quite difficult.  Ferries which used to operate between Mombasa and other points along the Tanzanian coast had ceased operating.  I figured I could travel by bus from Mombasa to Dar and then take the ferry over, but that went against my principles since I would have to ferry again from Zanzibar back to Dar when my trip was over.  And besides, long distance buses in Africa are nearly always miserable.
            Searching on-line for a water-borne option, and I did waste some work-time planning my trip, finally turned-up a cruise-ship that was making a five day journey out of Mombasa but which would, if requested, drop passengers off at Stone Town on Zanzibar the first morning out of port.  Perfect!  I made a reservation satisfied that I had found the final link in the chain of my adventure.  And just making reservations from South Sudan was difficult.  There are few on-line credit-card purchases in Africa, and you wouldn’t feel safe giving credit card information over a cell-phone.  I had to wire funds from Juba to Nairobi for my train ticket and hotel reservations on Zanzibar, and through the use of scanned forms was able to book my cruise-ship tickets via email.  People back home don’t appreciate the ease with which they can be parted from their money.
            I found Mombasa dreary, just a large commercial city, like Omaha but hotter and grimier.  The locals were pleasant enough, no one bothered me.  The city is overwhelmingly Muslim, and even the Anglican Cathedral was heavily influenced by Islamic architecture, though the interior bore traces of the British who occupied the country for so long.  There were innumerable brass plaques lining the walls giving testimony to the piety of past congregants.  “Sir Reginald Thomas Plash was a dedicated member for forty years,” “Edward Lukken Willoughby served on the vestry for twenty years, 1910-1930,” “Lady Davinia Swindle Ernst sang in the choir for many years,” etc.  It was all very charming and I was surprised in the middle of the day to have the cathedral to myself.
            I was so glad to be leaving Mombasa that I left for the cruise ship an hour earlier than necessary.  My scooter rickshaw driver had a hard time finding the dock; I had to keep giving him directions even though he was local.  I was the first passenger to arrive and the operators were not quite ready for me so I was left to cool in the company’s offices. 
"Ocean Mist"
            The ship was called the “Ocean Mist.”  It was Cambodian flagged and had just undergone extensive renovations to the tune of millions of dollars according to one of the crew.  The captain was an old Greek, looking perfectly cast in his role.  This was going to be its maiden voyage.  If that was the case I felt sorry for the investors.  The ship was nearly empty, probably no more than forty or fifty passengers for a ship that could carry over 200.  My impression was that most of the passengers were Iranian or some other type of middle-easterners who had come for the prospect of gambling in the ship’s casino.  Swarthy, secretive men trailed by numerous silent women clad in bhurkas.  Westerners whose only impression of people from Arab countries is from movies or television do not appreciate the individuality that bhurka clad women are able to exhibit.  Far from monolithic or dull they are highly expressive in their accents and details in addition to the henna tattooing with which married women adorn themselves.
            Because this was the ship’s maiden voyage the operators had gone to a lot of trouble to arrange for local musicians decked out in African garb beating drums and other percussion instruments to line the walkway to welcome the guests.  It was somewhat gruesome, like someone’s twisted version from an old Tarzan movie of what Africans should look and sound like.  Still, it was entertaining.  Since I had arrived so early I was able to retire to the upper open deck and sip a Coke and watch everyone else arrive.  It wasn’t cheap; my one night cost me $250 with everything included, but after nearly a year in Juba I was ready for some luxury and the ship was very, very nice.
            The operators had requested that passengers dress for dinner.  As I always travel in a suit, something I learned early on gets you far better service than dressing like a typical American in ragged jeans and a dirty t-shirt, I arrived in the dining room comfortably attired.  Given the low number of passengers the ratio between staff and customers was ridiculous.  Throughout my dinner I was never surrounded by fewer than four waitpersons who seemed to hang on my every mouthful and who whisked plates away and placed new ones before me with astonishing speed.  At the end I wanted to linger over my coffee but it felt so uncomfortable being stared at by so many staff I finally left.
            When I awoke the next morning I found that we were just arriving at Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar.  I motored to shore and wound my way through the famous narrow streets and alleyways.  I was heading for the guest house located adjacent to the Anglican Cathedral.  I had studied a map of Stone Town in my “Lonely Planet” guide to Africa, but it was difficult to keep track of all the streets which were like walking through a maze.  I find it intimidating when I arrive in a strange place like Zanzibar.  Although you cannot help but be observed to be a tourist, still you do not want to appear to be a complete sap being easy prey for the touts and others who can cause trouble.  The one thing I knew was that the cathedral was located on one of the highest points in town and so I figured so long as I kept walking upwards I would find it which I eventually did.  Probably from the time I arrived on the island until the time I reached the guest house had only been about ten minutes but it felt like I had been walking for hours.  The air even in the morning was hot and humid.
            The Anglican Cathedral in Stone Town was built atop the site of the last slave market.  Arab traders had for centuries brought slaves captured all over the African interior to Zanzibar for sale.  One of the first Anglican missionaries decided to build the cathedral right on the site, the altar being built on the spot where the tree to which slaves were lashed was located.  There is a museum on the cathedral grounds describing the history of slavery on Zanzibar.
Anglican Guest House


            The guest house was a lovely two story structure located next door, nestled amongst palms and flame-trees and covered with bougainvillea.  My room was charming with cool tile floors and a four poster bed inset with decorative tiles.  Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim and two mosques were located close by the cathedral.  The muezzin sings out the first calls for prayers at 5:30am which made for early mornings.  Even in Juba I know it is a tough night’s sleep when I am awake early enough to hear the first call to prayer.  People at the cathedral with whom I spoke said that by and large Christians and Muslims got along well, though I heard a few months ago that in reaction to some perceived slight some Muslims had rampaged through Stone Town and destroyed a church.  I wonder if having to wake up so early every morning puts some Muslims in a perpetually bad mood.
   

   




      Stone Town is a walker’s delight.  The heart of the old central part of town consists of numerous narrow alleyways, wide enough only for pedestrians or scooters.  You can spend wonderful hours wandering through the alleyways admiring the architecture, much of it Arabic in character.  Doorways in particular feature extensive decorative carving and wrought-iron hardware.  I found the residents pleasant though non-committal, no one bothered me (other than touts) but no one really greeted me either.
         





        I arrived in Stone Town on a Saturday morning because I was keen to attend Sunday services at the cathedral.  I understood that the main service was in Kiswahili, of which I have a poor grasp, but that there was an English service as well.  Sadly, the English service was attended by only about a dozen parishioners and rather than being held in the cathedral proper was held in a small chapel next door.  Most of my fellow congregants were tourists like me, just passing through.  One thing that did annoy me though was that the service was at 8am.  The cathedral’s website said the English service was much later in the day the result of which I delayed my planned departure for the beach until Monday.  But once I arrived and learned of the early morning service I regretted that I would have to burn another day wandering around Stone Town – which honestly, you can get a good feel for in a couple of hours  – rather than head to the beach.
            On Sunday I purchased some plantains and locally made bread and bottles of water.  The beach resort I was heading to was located on an isolated stretch of beach and I was afraid supplies would either be difficult to find or terribly expensive.  I learned both the positives and negatives of human behavior that day.  In the main market in Stone Town I purchased plantains and bread but had to pay inflated “muzungu” prices.  I remember when I was buying the loaf of bread the price the seller quoted me was twice what the local lady before me had paid for the same item.  When I complained to the seller she merely shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “tough.”  I told her she should not engage in such practices, it was dishonest.
            But in the small Indian owned shop where I purchased bottles of water and some other small items, all I had were a few large Tanzanian notes and the owner said she could not make change.  This lady, who had never seen me before in her life, allowed me to take my bag of groceries with me with the promise that I would return later and pay her what I owed.  I was overwhelmed by her trust and kindness and I made a frantic effort to break my large bills so I could return and pay the shop what I owed.
            In the evenings vendor’s set-up grills all over the main square down near the harbor where you can wander the stalls until you find what looks good and then order your dinner.  Being an island there was all manner of seafood which would be made into kebabs and cooked over the flames.  I had some fish and chicken kebabs, it was great and watching the large crowds milling about the square was a pleasant way to spend the evening.
  
Buses in Zanzibar
         I opted to take the local bus to the beach.  If you want to get to know a place, take the local transport.  Lonely Planet said Bus 309 would take me to Jambiani Beach and sure enough it did.  The bus park was located near the guest house and I arrived on Monday morning after breakfast.  There were dozens of buses of all descriptions heading everywhere.  Decently enough, they line up in numerical order and although 309 hadn’t arrived yet, it was easy enough to find the place where I should wait.  I had to fend-off numerous touts offering taxis and many other items for sale.  At one point a young Masai male arrived, decked out as they always are in red plaid and equipped with his dagger and other accoutrements.  He looked so lost and terribly out of place I was compelled to ask him if he needed help but he said he was ok, just waiting for another bus.
            After about an hour bus 309 arrived.  The bus was a mid-sized truck in which the box-cab in the back had been removed and replaced with bench seats along both sides and covered with a canopy.  A handful of us climbed in, and I sat towards the front on the right side.  The schedule required about three hours which I found hard to believe for a trip of only around 30-miles.  But not long after we started we stopped in a commercial district along the main road where for over an hour dozens of sacks of flour and sugar and other commodities were loaded onto the canopy roof.  Another stop a few doors away added more freight to our roof and I realized that it was the freight and not the passengers which really paid for this trip down to the far coast of the island.  Once we got going we also stopped frequently to pick-up passengers who waved down the bus and by the time we got deep into the countryside around two dozen people were squeezed into the seats along with a pile of luggage.  The seat next to me was the last to be occupied, no one wanting to sit next to the “muzungu,” until there was no where else left to sit.  So often in Africa I have been the only white person and it is an interesting experience, one that teaches you about vulnerability and humility and kindness.
            After almost exactly three hours we arrived at my hotel.  The cost for the bus ride was 1500-shillings, or a little over a dollar.  By comparison, when I returned to Stone Town a couple of days later opting to use the hotel’s car it cost around $60.  I actually overpaid on the bus, giving the young boy who collected the money 2000-shillings, and he returned my change.
Jambiani Beach, Zanzibar
            I stayed at the Blue Oyster Hotel, a fantastic hotel located directly upon Jambiani Beach on the southeast coast of Zanzibar.  I was attracted to Jambiani from Lonely Planet’s description of it as quiet and it was that.  Pristine white sand, turquoise colored bathtub warm gentle water, swaying palm trees – it was the closest to paradise I have ever been.  The Blue Oyster was a German owned hotel run with great efficiency.  My room was sumptuous located on the ground floor of a two story cottage just off the beach.  When I arrived my bed was strewn with flowers and I felt immediately at ease.  I really appreciated the opportunity to relax and unwind.
View out my door
            The hotel offered entertainments such as visiting a nearby nature park or going out on a small boat to the coral reef offshore to go snorkeling, but I opted to stay put and relax, taking occasional walks along the beach.  At low tide the water recedes about a half mile from shore and locals, mainly women, arrive to tend seaweed which they grow in beds on the sea floor.  Stakes are driven into the ground about ten feet apart and string stretched between the stakes.  Seaweed is planted at one end and follows the string to create rectangular patches.  The water is so clear the plants would receive sunlight all day.  The women come out at low tide to collect the day’s harvest into large sacks.  Who buys it I don’t know, I couldn’t communicate with any of the women to learn much.
            Nearly all the other guests were Germans.  I met one chubby German who was there with his family.  He had lived in Dar for a couple of years working for a company.  He said he loved it and would keep signing up since it was much more pleasant than living in Germany and it allowed him to indulge his hobby of scuba diving.  The only awkward social moment was when they had this special moonlight dinner on the beach.  It was a great dinner sitting on the beach on a warm pleasant evening under a full moon rising out of the Indian Ocean.  But I was the only person eating alone and they had stuck my table right in the middle of the place.  It was hard not to be self-conscious of eating alone.
Dar es-Salaam ferry dock, Zanzibar
            The ferry-ride to Dar was uneventful.  I had intended to save $5 by buying a second-class ticket but the ticket seller insisted I buy first-class.  I was thankful I did since first class was air-conditioned which in the great heat and humidity was merciful.  Getting onto the ferry, I began to really feel more like an African.  In Africa there are no ques, you simply have to push and shove your way through the crowd, and it’s everyone for themselves.  When I first arrived I found this intimidating but I remember smiling to myself as I maneuvered my way through the crowd thinking that I was really starting to fit in.
            Like most African cities Dar was a hole, a dirty, stinking hot sweaty place.  Coming off the boat you are immediately assaulted by touts offering taxis and hotels.  I had already picked-out one or two hotels to try.  I had to be at the airport early the next morning so I only needed a room for a few hours, long enough to catch a nap and explore Dar some.  But it was a few days before Christmas and all the hotels I checked were full.  After the third hotel said they were full I instead just took a taxi to the airport, difficult in the late afternoon traffic heading out of town.  It meant about a ten hour wait at the airport but I didn’t care.   I was just glad to be heading back to Juba, back home as it were.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Juba days


            Juba has been a little tough place to be as of late.  Fuel shortages, specifically diesel fuel, have made transport and power generation harder than usual.  There have been several times at the office where we’ve had to beg and borrow a jerry-can of fuel so we could run our generator for the day.  Many times our drivers have had to wait in line for a day waiting to get fuel for our vehicles.  We had one or two nights at the Guest House where there was no fuel either, cooking and reading by candlelight or solar powered desk-lamps.  Two years ago such occurrences added to the allure of being in a foreign place.  Now it’s just annoying and I grow weary of it.

            Security too has been a problem, though I have been fine.  There are a few parts of Juba, one area known as Gudele (“Goo-deli”) in particular, where nighttime robberies and shootings have been rampant.  At first people thought maybe the police were involved because some of the gangs who were carrying out the armed robberies appeared to be wearing police uniforms.  Later, when one of the bandits had been captured and questioned, it turned out that some police were renting out their uniforms for the evenings to criminals, a way of making a little something on the side.

            Though it is not terribly common I do occasionally hear gunfire outside of our compound late in the evenings.  I’ve come to listen closely to the shots, waiting to hear if there is any reaction.  When I hear shots but no screaming or sirens afterwards, then I know it is simply someone firing into the air.  Last week the latest crowd of police recruits graduated from the police academy.  That night I could hear a party and loud voices nearby and then several gunshots fired in celebration.  The shots were so close I half expected to find someone lying in the street when I came out the next morning, but as I’d heard no screaming after the shots I knew they were merely fired out of joy.

            Juba continues to be a city of rapid change.  Buildings are being thrown-up at a frenetic pace.  One good development has been the appearance of better construction methods.  While most buildings are still being made out of concrete hand poured into wooden frames over pencil-thin rebar, the columns looking far too insubstantial to hold-up their weight, I have seen at least two buildings going-up built from all-steel framing, big I-beams being bolted and welded together.  It gives one hope for the future that these buildings at least will still be around ten years from now.

           South Sudan remains a country of hope and despair.  The problems here often seem insurmountable, just too difficult to ever be solved.  But then you encounter a small miracle, a child who has been enrolled in school or a health clinic that has opened where people never had access to medicine before, and you are renewed in the hope that with time and effort, things will get better.
 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

All OK here in Juba

     I've received a couple of emails regarding conditions in Juba in the aftermath of the anti-Muslin video and the violence it has spawned throughout the Arab world.

     First, I want to assure everyone that I'm fine and there are no protests or demonstrations of any kind occurring in Juba as far as I know.  The percentage of Muslins here, though significant, is still small and I would fear more for their safety than anyone else's were a demonstration to get out of hand.  I don't know what the main subject was at yesterday's prayers at the mosques in Juba, but no one took to the streets afterwards in protest.

     I have not seen the video, have no desire to do so and don't even know many details about it other than it has certainly has caused a lot of tragedy.  The worst of all was the killing of the US Ambassador and other staff in Libya.  Anytime adherents of a faith engage in killing it means they have failed the first tenent of belief in any faith which is protecting the sanctity of life.  There is simply no excuse for such violence.  One of the most worrying to me also is that the film has somehow been tied to followers of the Coptic faith in Egypt.  Violence against Copts in Egypt has been common and I'm afraid this will spark another wave.

    I do remember twenty years ago the protests in the US when someone displayed as art a crucifix in urine and some other pretty bad images.  Many American Christians demonstrated publicly against such images, it offended them deeply.  While we can in no way condone the violence that has been committed, we can at least sympathize with their anger at any images which offend their faith as well.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back in Juba


            “I had the feeling of being with a kindred spirit, a fellow sufferer, who was completely alone, who had only his work and who, after seventy years, woke up each morning to start afresh, regarding everything he had done as more or less a failure, an inaccurate rendering of his vision, a betrayal.”  P. Theroux, Picture Palace.

 

            Back in “my home in the old Sudan.”  People don’t read Kipling anymore.  It’s a pity, he's a great storyteller.  You could wet yourself reading “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat.” But after six tumultuous weeks in American I find myself again in Juba.
            Before I left I was not even that keen to go, afraid to leave the security I knew in Juba.  At first I didn’t see much purpose to going home, a bother really.  Juba had become all I knew and I was happy here.  I had my work, though in my tiredness I had certainly become less effective and less able to concentrate.  I had created a modest social life with friends around town.  But it is impossible to get any rest in Juba.  Between the endless heat and tedium of living, the schlepping to the market and cooking the same boring meals from the short list of available ingredients, there is also the constant press of work, people calling or stopping by even on weekends so that you can never relax properly.  It created in me tiredness so deep down in my bones that I didn’t know if I could ever recover.
            I convinced myself that there was no purpose to going home, nothing for me there except fast food and chocolate.  I didn’t even look forward to seeing family and friends, aware that seeing people meant a constant whirl of travel and motion.  In 2011 I relished the fact that I was going to step off the plane directly into the AFRECS convention and from there to missionary training in Toronto and then directly into a string of presentations at churches.  This year I dreaded that I would be going anywhere other than a soft bed.  And as is typical for us visitors from overseas, in my entire time at home I think I enjoyed only two or three unscripted days so that I returned as or even more tired than when I left.  A friend missionary in Mundri that is heading home in a few days expressed the same feelings the other day, part of the job I suppose.
            The bigger problem with my going was that I had convinced myself that there was nothing for me back home, nothing that could match the excitement and purpose which my work in Sudan offered.  I had completed my two year mission: I had saved the Province’s finances from implosion, reestablished links with our external partners and hired a local to replace me.  A complete success!  I could have departed but convinced that there was nothing anywhere that could compete with this kind of life I opted to return.  I chose the ease of the familiar over the difficulty of the unknown.  It was a conceit, though hopefully not a terribly dangerous one; there is still plenty of work to do here, even if the rush of newness and excitement no longer remains.
            While home I struggled to maintain my “Sudan-ness.”  I rehearsed Arabic in my mind and felt guilty when asked to use prayers that differed from those we use in Juba.  Under my breath I would say the prayers as I had become accustomed to saying them in Sudan, not wanting to betray my brothers and sisters in Sudan.  It’s so strange; in Sudan I try and remember what it is to be American, and yet in America I wanted to remain Sudanese.
            I was pleased to find that my room remained intact.  Before I’d left the Guest House manager had been suggesting he might have to move me around to complete “renovations” to our house, or more accurately “my” house since I am the last missionary here.  Before I left the manager, who rarely hides his loathing for my existence for what he views as my “stealing” a room that he could otherwise lease out, had decided to use the other two rooms to house bishops that would be in Juba on long term assignment.  This caused me to joke that my house was the “House of Bishops.” 
            Anyway, my room was intact as was the kitchen, which really pleased me.  I was even able with great effort to save the refrigerator and gas cooker so I could continue to eat at home.  But all of the living room furniture was removed, the comfy chairs and tables.  “You don’t need them,” said the manager.  I managed to squirrel a plastic table which I could use for dining and working but the manager came and took that away after a few days.  “You don’t need this.”   No renovations had been attempted.
            They had somehow screwed-up the wiring while I was away.  It used to be that we could switch from town power to generator power by throwing a switch.  But while I was away someone had made it so we could not longer access town power, not the entire Guest House compound, just our house suffered this problem.  Normally this was not a problem since for most of the past year there was no public power at the Guest House – or at our offices either which caused me to have to constantly scrounge for money to keep a generating going.  But apparently since the anniversary of independence in July there had been a reasonable flow of town power, even to the Guest House.  How frustrating it was for several nights after I returned being forced to sit in the dark while the rest of the Guest House was lit up.  Finally after several days of complaining the manager had the problem fixed and I enjoyed one brief 36-hour period of town power, a short idyll before town power was exhausted and we were again limited to a few hours of power in the evenings.
            I had managed to give away all of my chickens before I left.  Sadly, nearly all of them have died, their new owners not taking the care of them that I did.  My next-door neighbor James moved a small flock into my chicken coop during my absence, one rooster and a couple of hens.  Mangy things.  This new rooster is so much more annoying than the Bruce.  Like the new fellow Bruce also would rip off a few crows around 5:00am each morning.  But the Bruce would then have the decency to quiet down until closer to 7am before starting up again.  But this new fellow just keeps at it all morning and more than once I’ve wanted to go out and wring his scrawny neck.
            Settling back into life in Juba, I’ve received warm welcomes from my co-workers and friends around town.  As someone who has spent over two years here I am one of the longer serving people, and old timer.  I have begun jogging again, something I had to abandon owing to an injury to my left Achilles tendon incurred during a 10-k race back at the end of May.  I was afraid I’d ruptured the thing but an x-ray obtained while I was home proved otherwise.  I just need to be more careful about stretching.  But it’s nice to be active again, even if the purpose of the activity is unclear.

 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

This is Kinda Weird

          It is really cold here this morning in Juba.  Last week felt so hot, like dry season heat.  A friend in Mundri emailed me that it was hot there also.  But over the weekend it clouded-up and it rained some.  This morning dawned so dark and cold, and it has been raining all morning.  This is a good thing since it hasn't really rained much this rainy season, not like the last two years.  People coming in from the countryside are complaining of the lack of rain and how this is affecting the planting and growing of crops.  In a country with no excess production any loss of crops means hunger later on, so we are thankful for the rain.
          But I have noticed that I have been needing to urinate more than usual this morning, which is kinda weird.  But then I remembered a friend mentioning how when she leaves Sudan for Nairobi, where it is much cooler, she has to get used to urinating again more frequently.  Normally Juba it is always so hot that moisture simply evaporates out of your body.  During the dry season I rarely urinate more than once a day no matter how much water I drink.  I know it's kinda gross to talk about this, but it is an interesting phenomenon, something you don't know about until you live here!
          I'm supposed to go out to dinner tonite with friends.  I might actually have to take a jacket with me if it remains cold!  Part of the problem is my body is so used to living in Juba, any temperature below 80-degrees and I start feeling cold.  This morning it was probably in the upper 60's so it felt like the depths of winter.

Friday, June 8, 2012

I didn't do it

          There have been some news reports that some $4-billion in oil revenues that should have gone to the government of South Sudan have gone missing over the last few years.

          I just want to go on record as saying I was not involved in any way with the disappearance of these funds, despite any comments to the contrary.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Next Big Thing?


            I’m rapidly approaching the end of my two-year term of mission.  I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed.  It would be incredibly difficult to try and explain here, now, all of the things I have witnessed and experienced, how this experience has altered my life in so many, many ways.
            Many of the things I have witnessed are mundane happenings and merely different than what I’ve experienced at home but otherwise hardly remarkable other than their being exotic compared to what I’m used to.  But other things, especially in the way people view their lives and each other, are amazingly complex and will require from me further consideration and reflection before I will fully understand them.  People here can at once be so very considerate and then again so very brutal with one another, at once incredibly generous and the next surprisingly greedy, but there is a genuine difference between our sensibilities, those of us from the west and the people of Africa and yet the people here are aware of the world and want very much to be a part of it without losing their Africaness, as it were.  One of the biggest challenges I observed is the struggle within the people here of adapting to western ways while still retaining their intrinsic sense of shared community.  There are some people here who gladly wear western dress and grab everything they can with both hands, by methods both fair and foul, while others still retain the village concept of shared wealth.  In the end I’m certain the more western attitude will prevail.
            One of the difficulties I face is what to do after being here in Sudan.  While I’ve been here I’ve been privileged to observe the Referendum in January, 2011, which then led to the creation of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.  I’ve witnessed this new country as it tries to grow and develop but also while it struggles with internal conflicts such as tribal warfare and insurgencies.  It has been an amazing time to be present here and I don’t know what could top this in terms of world experiences.  But on a more personal level, I have been able to become part of a great community within the Church and also within the ex-patriot community here in Juba.  I’ve created a life here that I enjoy, in which I’ve become competent and useful, and I don’t believe my work here is done.
            I’ve tried to imagine going home but I cannot picture what in the world I would do for employment.  My work experiences have been so varied and extreme; I’ve almost never had a “normal” job, which has been both my delight and terror.  It’s difficult to imagine what I would be deemed suitable for back home while here in Africa I’m viewed very highly as a person with badly needed skills and experiences.  I miss home, I miss my friends and family, but I’ve also settled into a life here and now when I’m at my most experienced and capable it seems a shame to abandon all I’ve achieved.
            I do not want to continue working as the finance manager for the Province, of that I’m sure.  After two years I am exhausted from the continuous daily grind of trying to keep the Province going.  I believe I can look back with some pride at the fact that I was able to pull the Province back from the edge of financial abyss, certainly in terms of its international partners who had all but given-up on the ECS, and that I was able to raise the level of general financial management somewhat from what I found when I arrived.  But now it’s time to turn things over to someone with stronger administrative skills than I possess.  I’m fortunate in that I was able to hire to take my position someone much more capable than myself in terms of creating financial controls and who has a better vision for how the Province’s financial systems can be organized.  I always found myself so busy trying to put out fires and keep everything going that it was difficult to find time to see where this tottering ship was heading or create better systems of control.
            I have applied for a handful of jobs around town, and though I was being considered for one I haven’t made any progress with any of the others.  One problem I’ve had is having enough time to send off applications.  By the time I get home in the evenings, cook dinner and clean-up it’s usually already pushing 9pm which doesn’t leave a lot of time for going on-line and completing applications.  I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t even applied anywhere in a month.
            One of the areas in which I was very interested in working has been in the field of micro-finance, helping people to do what I did back home which is to save money and start their own small businesses.  Access to credit, to banking tools such as establishing savings and checking accounts is incredibly limited here.  If you consider all the ways in which people are able to access credit in terms of debit and credit cards, ATM machines and regular banks, there is probably greater access within one mile of a busy roadway like Route 3 back home than exists in all of South Sudan.  I’ve long realized that creating a network of community banks in which people can access credit is one of the greatest challenges facing this country.  Doing something about this problem has interested me for a while.  I’ve prayed about it and thought about this work for a while and hoped that an opportunity would open up.
            Thus I was surprised when about two weeks ago my friend Raj – who’s real name is something like Nyana-Raj but whom I always called Banana-Raj which he good naturedly didn’t mind – came to me to ask if I’d take over his microfinance project.  Raj, who is from Chennai in India, has been here for about two months heading up a microfinance project that has been working in our Juba Diocese for about a year.  Like most microfinance projects this one began with helping interested people to have a safe place to save their money while educating them about business and management and then when a sufficient pool of money had been established and some good ideas presented making small loans to help people get their businesses off the ground.  So far the results have been very good, the repayment rate is somewhere around 90-percent and most of the businesses are doing well.  Juba, fortunately, is a fast growing city and there is strong demand for almost all goods and services and businesses which are well run and which pay attention to providing good customer service – an alien concept here – can succeed.
            What I’d like to do is to take this small project and make it a Provincial project so it can be expanded throughout as many of our dioceses as possible.  One of the lessons I have learned from my forays out to the dioceses conducting training is how desperate some of our people are to start their own businesses if they can be well trained and if some start-up capital can be provided.  Few people here have any experience managing a business or of being trained in how to manage finances.  But I believe that within every diocese there are a few people capable of managing who could create businesses which would provide employment and income where none existed before.  To my mind, this is a far better idea than any bottomless aid program which teaches only dependency.
            So, where I am now is trying to decide if this project is the gift it appears to be, an answer to my longings, or if I would be better-off returning home and standing in the employment lines or keep sending out applications here and hoping something materializes.  I knew when I got into all this two years ago that I wanted to spend the next decade of my life involved in international development work in some way.  One of my motivations was reading Jacquiline Novogoratz’s book The Blue Sweater describing her experiences working in third-world countries, mostly in Africa, helping people to create their own small businesses.  I really think this is what I’d like to do for a couple of years and it seems like my experiences here to date have prepared me for this opportunity.
            When he was visiting here last November Bishop Suffragan of Virginia, Rt. Rev. David Jones said he didn't know what God had in store for me next but based upon my background and what I'd experienced in Juba he was thinking it would be amazing!  That's pretty heady stuff and it has made me conscious of wanting my next move to matter.  It's probably silly, but I feel the weight of the bishop's statement and it has encouraged me to be thoughtful about whatever I do next.
            Oh, and just in case anyone wonders, yes this IS a paying job, a salary plus housing and living allowances so I will cease being a poor missionary and once again enter the world of the gainfully employed.  If I decide to do this I will probably go home for a month when my term as a missionary ends in early July and then return around the beginning of August.  There is a rule that so long as you are not in the US for more than 30-days in a year any income you earn overseas is not taxed, so that will influence the amount of time I stay at home.  Just long enough to get my laundry done, fatten-up a bit and say hello to folks.
            We’ll see, but I'd really appreciate people's opinions.

Naked Guys


            One of the more interesting phenomena I’ve witnessed in Juba has been the appearance every so often of naked guys walking around town.  This is Africa and I expected, having grown-up with National Geographic magazine, that I would encounter a higher level of nudity than one experiences back home.  And this has been true, especially when you pass by places like the Nile River where people regularly go to bathe.  Public water is scarce so having places like rivers and streams in which to bathe are important.  I’ve sometimes seen dozens of people, mostly men, bathing at the riverside.   Along the Nile in Terekeka there was a “men’s section” and further downstream a “ladies and children’s” section for washing-up.
            Breast-feeding in public is also much more natural and open than is done back in the US.  But then this corresponds with the general view of breasts here which, unlike in the west where female breasts are viewed as sexual objects and used for advertising everything, here they are considered merely milk delivery devices.  In Sudan, a woman with large breasts is considered no more sexually appealing than another, but she is deemed potentially better able to feed many children, something which is done very openly anytime, anywhere.
            But the phenomenon I’m talking about is the appearance every so often of fully grown men walking around naked or mostly so.  There are about four or five men, all of whom appear to be if not directly related certainly belonging to the same clan or tribe, who wander around different sections of Juba in various states of undress.  They all have a dazed, wild look in their eyes, unkempt hair and since they seem to live on whatever they can scrounge, are on the lean side though in general they appear to be remarkably fit.
            I hadn’t been here long when I spied a young man, looking to be around 18-years old or thereabouts, a wild look in his eyes, nonchalantly walking along a nearby road completely naked.  When I got home I mentioned this to the others I lived with and they all started telling of their encounters with naked guys around town.  I began to notice that I would see this particular fellow around our part of town, and that I would see other naked guys regularly in other parts of town.  It was as if these fellows had divided-up Juba and each decided to occupy a particular section of town.
            The fellow I used to see around here I now see mainly over in Konya Konya, and there’s now a different, slightly younger guy I see near home and who regularly walks past our office, same vacant dazed look on his face and the scraps of clothing he has managed to obtain hanging off his body.  The oldest member of the group I see over in Malakia.  Malakia is an area crammed with retail shops owned mainly by Arab merchants for whom personal modesty is important.  I have no way of knowing but imagine the merchants of the area persuaded this particular fellow to wear shorts, or at least the front section of shorts, which are held-up by a piece of rope and completely open in the back.  I remember driving over to a merchant in the area with one of my housemates who upon observing his bumm (she’s English) opined, “he seems very firm.”  
            I once saw a woman who appeared to be from the same group, having the same general appearance, but she was fully clothed.  It’s an odd phenomenon, nudity.  Where it is appropriate such as in bathing or swimming, it raises not the least interest.  But where it is inappropriate such as in someone walking around town or in any other casual setting it is widely frowned upon.  It’s hard to explain but it makes sense if you appreciate first, how practical people here are; one can hardly wash-up if dressed, can you?  And second, how also generally conservative people here are, a legacy of the decades of Arab occupation which is one reason while in public most people here are fully covered in long sleeves and trousers or skirts.  The lady I encountered was fully clothed because were she not one, she’d be the object of advances and two, it would be considered entirely inappropriate for her to be seen undressed.
            About a month ago my housemate and I were walking home after work.  When we passed by the crosswalk on Unity Avenue in front of St. Joseph’s Catholic School we saw a fellow standing in the crosswalk completely starkers.  The funny thing, well, in addition to his being completely naked, was that he was standing in the crosswalk and in between moments of looking up towards the sky and motioning wildly he was attempting to direct traffic along the busy road.  In this he was actually a little more successful than the crossing guards who occupy the same place in the morning because motorists were certainly slowing down to look at this naked man standing in the middle of the road.  School fortunately had already let out for the day; there were only a handful of students still around who had to witness this spectacle.  This fellow didn’t look anything like the other naked guys around town, well, other than being naked.  But we speculated he might have slipped-out from Juba Hospital located across the street, perhaps ill with some sort of brain fever which deprived him of his senses.  Like the other naked guys, no one seemed to bother him or yell anything at him but just pretended like he wasn’t there.  Never a dull moment in Juba!