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.