Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fodor's guide to strange African capitals

I’ve been waiting to describe Juba because a) I hadn’t seen much of it and b) I was all enamored of being back in field-world and I might’ve ended up writing something a skoosh over the top.

I am no longer enamoured of being in field world (work has a way of killing that), so, without further a-do: Juba!

I’m pretty sure most of you know this, but Juba is the capital of South Sudan. Not to be confused with Regular Sudan. Regular Sudan is the one which has a capital in Khartoum, is run by fundamentalist muslims and is defined mostly by sand and camels. When I was working in Darfur, that was Regular Sudan. South Sudan is mostly Christian, kind of green/scrub-brushy, has lots of oil and was at war with Regular Sudan for about 20 years. Technically South Sudan is still under the government in Khartoum but, as a part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), South Sudan has its own president, its own government ministries and operates fairly independently. Basically, Khartoum just wanted to keep the oil. Which they are.

So, you remember all those pictures a few years ago of Christian slaves who had been kidnapped and taken to evil muslim homes in the north? That was South Sudan.

You know all those pictures of “arab” men on horses in turbans with AKs shooting poor, innocent black muslim villagers? That’s Darfur, Regular Sudan.

I’m in South Sudan.

The great thing about SS is that it isn’t under Sharia law. As we speak I am wearing a sleeveless top and nursing a slight headache from drinking too much beer at a bar last night. God bless it.

Juba itself wasn’t too badly hit during the war. We are pretty far south and most of the fighting was further north, near the oilfields. There ARE, however, random fighter jets scattered around that the SPLA (the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) shot down during the war. All my male staff were in the SPLA and they inform me that they used something called Zoos, Russian missiles I think, to shoot the planes down. Just in case anyone was interested.

The town is on the Nile, which is nice, but it is also pretty ugly. There are few houses, which is why I live in my office, and most of the UN live in huge, expensive tent camps that are scattered everywhere around town. The cheap tents (and by cheap I mean $45 a night for UN, $80 for NGO) are hot and canvas and fairly yicky. The expensive tents (and by expensive I mean $250 a night) are air-conditioned and have ensuite baths and toilets.

There are TONS of bars and restaurants and things, though. Tons. All of which are so expensive I could probably have a big night out in Tokyo for less. A loaf of bread at Home and Away costs ten buck. I took two friends out for a couple beers last night and paid $100. Anything you want can be found here, but it is all at a very, VERY high price. This is totally cutting in to my plan of saving money for a house, I’m telling you.

There are a bunch of tribes in South Sudan and I can’t even pretend to know any of them. The most distinctive, though, have to be the Dinka. They are from around Wau, I think, in the West. And they are tall. Not, like, me tall. Not even like Masai tall. Not even like Dutch tall. I have a guy in my office, and I’d say he’s easily 7 feet tall. Easily. Probably weighs around 150 lbs tops. And that isn’t even unheard of tall for a Dinka. It is very cool.

Overall, I’m happy to be here. When I landed here I smelled that woodsmoke, rotting vegetation, animal smell that Cape Town certainly didn’t have, that really even Darfur didn’t have, but which I love. I instantly started glowing, because it IS pretty hot, and I dang near gave myself a concussion as we went over the atrocious, rutted roads. It was great.

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