Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Small Thing

     There has been a workshop taking place in one of the meeting rooms at the Guest House, where I live, this week.  In order to provide the workshop participants with light, fans and power for their equipment the Guest House has had to run the generator during the day all this week.  We normally only have power in the evenings, from 7pm until mid-night.  Power only used to last until 11pm, but a few months ago it somehow got stretched to mid-night, which was a great improvement.
     Since there is power during the day I have taken to making myself two cups of coffee in the morning.  Last time I was home my brother-in-law mercifully loaned me a french-press in order to make coffee.  It was so terribly frustrating to live on the continent that gave us coffee and be forced always to have Nescafe!!  Everywhere you go in Africa people are drinking Nescafe, it's awful.  I remember reading Novogoratz's The Blue Sweater and her commenting upon the same experience in Rwanda.  Surrounded by some of the world's finest coffee and being forced to consume instant because of a lack of brewers or electric power.
     Anyway, this week I indulged by making two cups of coffee, really nice Kenyan Blue Mountain coffee, drinking one and putting the other into our refrigerator!  It was so wonderful coming home at the end of a long, hot day knowing there awaited me a cold, creamy sweet cup of iced-coffee!!  There are no workshops scheduled again for a while, so I enjoyed it while I could.  But that simple cup of cold coffee was more of a treat than anyone can imagine!  Pure bliss!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In the Que

            One of the ways you can tell how long people have been in country is their behavior in a que, or line.  It is one of the realities of life in the third-world that there is no concept of personal space like in the west.  Someone waiting in line in America will keep a few feet back from the person in front of them but here people will be pressed check to jowl.
            I recall visiting a bank a few months ago.  There was a line of about two-dozen men waiting at one of the customer service desks.  The men were all pressed against one another single-file.  You could not have passed a piece of paper between them, they looked like a centipede, just all legs and arms.  While I was waiting for a teller I saw in a different line a young western woman.  The young lady was standing several feet back from the person in front of her and eying nervously the person standing closely behind her.  “Newbie,” I thought.  I’ve been here long enough and have gotten used to the way things are that I am now comfortable standing right behind the person in front of me and don’t mind the person behind being equally close.  I’m sure I am going to have to re-adjust myself upon my return to the US else I will cause offense and make people needlessly nervous.
            The same is also true in terms of being served.  Unless you are prepared to push and shove your way to the front of the line and demand to be served you simply will not be served.  If you expect to stand politely waiting your turn western-style you will certainly starve to death if you are at a restaurant.  It certainly takes some getting used to but once you get the knack it becomes second nature.
            Washing hands before and after one eats is such a part of the culture here, all restaurants have washstands.  I hadn’t been here long and was waiting patiently in line for my turn when someone just cut directly in front of me, they just jutted in as I was about to wash.  At first I wondered if this was because I was a kawaja, a white person, but then I noticed people doing this to others as well.  I soon learned of the need to protect your space and to shove your body in front of those trying to cut-in.  It’s not an aggressive, hateful thing as would happen in the US where angry words would be exchanged.  Here it just more matter of fact: I allowed a tiny opening and someone took advantage of it, so what’s the problem?
            Setting-up a copying machine on the sidewalk or side of the road where you can find power and then charging for copies is a very common small business here.  One day I desperately needed to make a copy and there was no power at our office (surprise) and so I was forced to use one of these street copiers.  But as I was waiting my turn these short ladies, nurses from the hospital across the street, kept jutting in under me and pushing up to the copier.  Realizing that I would have been kept waiting all day, and as I was taller than the ladies, I simply reached over then and shoved my document into the hands of the guy running the copier.
            The lack of personal space extends to transport as well.  Riding in a matatu, one of the Toyota minivans that have been adapted to hold 15 or more passengers, you have to be prepared to be pressed tightly against the person next to you.  Riding from Yambio to Ezo last month I was squeezed into the rear of a Toyota Landcruiser with 19-other people, a third of them mercifully were children who didn’t take up much space.  Still, every bump was agonizing as we all crushed in upon one another.
            I remember riding the bus from Stonetown to Jambiani Beach on Zanzibar in December, 2010.  Here the bus was more like a small stakebody truck which had benches and a roof built over the rear section.   Upon the roof were loaded dozens of bags of sugar and flour and other goods for shipment way out on the island.  Although we started out with only a handful of passengers, because we stopped often soon the back was full except for the seat next to me!  No one wanted to have to sit next to the white guy until the very last passenger, number 24 I think, came aboard and there was no where left to sit.  It’s an interesting experience to be the passenger no one wants to sit next to because of how you look.   
       It is so difficult as a westerner to get used to this, it goes against every notion of politeness and decency and yet it is the way things work here.  I have now gotten used to throwing elbows in lines and pushing my way forward.  It is one of those traits which it will be hard to drop once back home, like passing cars anytime or considering motorcycles as anything other than annoying pests.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Animal Tales

OK, this is kinda weird. I run with a group known as the HASH Harriers on Saturday evenings. The HASH runs were supposedly started by some British ex-pats in Singapore or Thailand? as a way of getting together, having a little exercise and A LOT of alchohol. I've heard the HASH referred to as a drinking party at which some running occurs.

Although I've been in Juba nearly two years now I'd avoided participating in the HASH. I don't really like to drink that much, and I was afraid it was just going to be too silly English-school boyish. Plus, I don't really associate with that many ex-pats, not the general NGO types anyway. But I've been to the HASH two weeks in a row now and have had a great time. Plus, the friends I have made here have turned out to be useful in my work, so it has been a really good thing and I regret now not participating earlier.

Anyway, about the runs: The runs are several kilometers in length going through different parts of Juba. The trails are marked on the ground with dots and arrows through the use of white flour. The only problem is there are so many goats around Juba and they LOVE white flour! So the trail markers will always say something about how they were out marking the trail followed by a herd of happy goats lapping up the flour! In truth, we've never not been able to find a trail because the goats have eaten too much flour, but you can see where they have nibbled-up a lot of the markings. Weird, but just too funny!

Juba is a city of a million people, about 300,000 goats and maybe a couple of thousand cats and dogs. People don't really keep pets here. Dogs and cats are viewed as little more than carriers of fleas and people normally just shoo them away. Small packs of scraggedly mangy mutts live around town living on garbage and handouts. The cats are more stealthy but possibly more mangy - if that is possible - and seem to live off whatever they can catch. Since rats are a problem here I think people tolerate cats a little more, plus cats are pretty quiet and unobtrusive as opposed to dogs. When the dogs get to fighting, or one of the females is in heat the howling and noise from the dogs all night can be horrible. There are a couple of little packs that live in our neighborhood and I am often woken during the night by the various howlings of the dogs.

The dogs here are mostly small mangy things, tan colored - they all look like they came from the same few original dogs. I've actually seen some basically hairless dogs, dogs where I suppose because of mange and whatever other diseases exist have lost their hair. How they survive in this intense sunshine is beyond me. Flies are forever around the dogs and all dogs have bloody places where the flies have made a mess of their flesh. Virtualy all dogs here, the place where their ears fold over, this is a bloody mess where the flies feed and maybe lay eggs. It's pretty gross. For a while it seemed like hardly a week went by where on my walk to work I wouldn't see one dog that had been run over. Because of the heat and action of the maggots and whatnot the bodies didn't last very long. Within a few days there would be hardly anything left. Equally gross.

I've only ever seen a few people here - ex-pats mostly - who keeps dogs or cats as pets. Veterinary services are scarce and I'm sure things like regular shots are non-existant so maintaining a healthy pet would be difficult. I've heard that vets from other countries occasionally make visits to Juba. There is an organization called "Veterinarians Without Borders," kinda like the human Doctors without Borders, but I believe they deal primarily with livestock and not domestic animals. Anyway, I've never seen a dog or a cat here that I would say is older than maybe 3-years old. I don't think the life expectancies are that great. But then again, the same is true for people here as well.