Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dogs of war

Last year, a dear friend of mine went on holiday in Goma, in eastern Congo, to go see gorillas and relax. She made it sound like a a paradise, beautiful lake, cold beer (I was in beer-less Darfur at the time), fun people, good parties, etc etc etc. My ex was planning a road trip there from Kigali. A friend of a friend counts gorillas there. It certainly never sounded like a set from Apocalypse Now or anything. Everyone I've known who's worked there has liked it and always said the, warranted, horrible reputation of eastern Congo for wretched, abjectly cruel violence, didn't apply there.

Until now. I assume you've all seen the news by now, the advancing rebels, the fleeing people, the crazy soldiers and the ineffectual UN. One of my closest friends from Liberia is in Goma now and I'm harassing him about every twenty minutes for details, making sure he's alive, etc. I won't repeat what he's been telling me because it isn't my story to tell, but it isn't good in the areas around Goma and I wonder if this will finally get people to pay attention to this war that's been going on for so bloody long and been so much more horrifying than most people realize.

Oddly, it is also reversing my desire to be in those situations. This is going to sound really stupid, but I've got no problem with me being in some sort of mortal peril-esque situation, I, of course, being immortal and untouchable reckon I'll get out the other side fine. But I'd forgotten about staff and the absolute, crushing horror of having staff go missing and not knowing if they were targeted because they worked for you, if you can or should intervene and the panic of having people depend on you for their safety.

I mean, I'll still go somewhere cool if I get the chance, of course, but it brought some of those old feelings back.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Well that didn't take long

Suddenly, I am in the (very distant) running for a high level position in Somaliland, somewhere I've always wanted to work. And, suddenly, all those thoughts of going back to the States are being crowded out by thoughts of ROCKIN IT IN SOMALIA BABY.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2 o'clock is clearly drunk o'clock

Driving back from the Lebanese Restaurant in town today, around 2.30 we pass this guy in a nice pair of khaki trousers, blue shirt tucked in and non-flip flop shoes.... which, for Juba, is practically black tie. It has been raining like a car wash lately, so the roads are deep in water and mud. He gets next to a huge tractor trailer truck stuck in the mire and suddenly does this kind of spinning, grabbing old-western-actor-who-gets-shot fall to the mud. I stopped the driver and got out, thinking he'd had a heart attach or a fit or something equally shocking. Get up close and.... nope, snoring like a racehorse, REEKING of local brew. He was just so drunk he had some sort of spastic pass out. For all I know he's still lying there covered in mud, snoring away.

Monday, October 27, 2008

MPoD - The funk begins

I know it is boring for me to keep talking about the Malarial Pit of Despair but, seriously, I just can't get enough of it. So the latest palaver? We can't bathe.

Remember how I mentioned the wretchedness of the road and the fact that the whole area used to be a swamp that was just loosely filled in with gravel? The upshot of that reality is that whenever anything heavier than my Rav4 tries to drive out, it becomes inextricably stuck in the mire that is our road and they have to slowly and painfully dig themselves out.

We have, now, gone through every water company in town, I think, and they all refuse to come out, having all experienced and/or witnessed this little debacle in action. So none of them will come out to deliver water to us. And, for some unknown reason, our logistics department won't acknowledge this and buy us barrels so that we can just start using handpump water only. Meaning we all, from the baby on up, smell very very bad and are constantly trying to find ways to shower at other people's houses.

For those keeping score, the other house has water delivered three-four times a week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Return of the native?

I'm considering moving back to the States. Which has come out of the clear blue sky, believe me. For a long time I thought I'd never move back. I thought if I ever left the field it would be to live in London or Cape Town or Geneva or something along those lines. But the inherent difficulties in getting work permits and jobs and setting myself up administratively in a new country seems like just too much for my addled brain and exhausted self these days. I am about as dynamic as a bowl of grits.

So, now, I'm thinking maybe I head back. Which is terrifying. Every day there will be at least one moment, say, when I'm having an argument with a ministry official and they so clearly loathe me and my presence in their country, when all I want it to be away from here and not have to ever have another Africa fight ever again. And every day there will be at least one moment, say, when I'm taking a boda past the cemetery at sunset and I see all the women walking through the path with water cans on their head and the palm trees lit up pink behind them, that I think I never want to leave.

There isn't a right answer, of course. Staying and going will both have their benefits and challenges. But a decision will need to be made at some point. I hope I go against type and history and actually make a sensible one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saves on fertilizer

There's a little compound of tukuls I walk past every day on my way to work that I'm quite fond of. There's always a group of rotating relatives and kids sitting out and they always seem to be laughing and having fun and just relaxing.

Today, when I walked past, I looked in to see what hilarity was ensuing and saw, interestingly, that they've done some decorating. Instead of planting flowers, outside of each tukul there is a large-ish bed of carefully planted soda cans, arranged in different formations but with no discernible color scheme.

Swear to god.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yakking Yik!

God, almost forgot. We were driving with a rental driver because my organization is perennially short of vehicles in the field. The driver, Rashid, was, I have to say, excellent. But terrifying. Really really terrifying, even for me who rarely notices. Careening across ditches, fishtailing through villages sending children and goats scattering, going like a bat out of hell when a granny in a zimmer frame would've been more appropriate.

On the way back we had a couple guys in the back of the pickup, with the luggage. I noticed a commotion at one point but I turned around and they were still alive and there so didn't give it much more thought.

When we stopped to look at a particularly nasty bit of roads, the guys in the back all hop out sharpish and start gesticulating wildly and speaking rather aggressively in Madi or Acholi or something. They're pointing in the bed of the truck. One guy looks sheepish. We get out and there is vomit everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It is all but sloshing around, lapping up against my lovely leather monogrammed bag and sitting happily inside the box of training materials for our water and sanitation program.

Honestly, this has happened to me multiple times in the past few weeks. People who aren't used to anything that moves faster than a bicycle seem to get right ill when being driven around by your average NGO driver.

Confirmation of suffering

I'm back in Nimule after a looooong absence (mostly self-inflicted) and had to head back out on the back breaking, be-pothole'd road to Magwi center. Some of you will recall earlier I wrote a rather depressing post back in April about the returns process, seeing all the bewildered, dripping refugees standing on the side of the road. That village has, well, haunted might be a strong word but it has certainly bothered me. Whenever I go to villages which are a bit wretched I always say in my head "At least it isn't as bad as that hell-hole in Magwi."

So I was actually kind of jazzed to see it again, I was thinking, yeah, maybe it won't be as bad as I thought, maybe it was just the rain and the befuddlement of being in a new place or not eating my Wheaties or something. Maybe it is a nice, prosperous, happy little village now and I'll feel that all is redeemed with the world.

Annnnnnd..... nope. Still wretched.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Some of us need 4x4 lessons

Ughhhhh. Our server or modem or some dang thing exploded so we have no internet in the office. Seriously, I didn't realize how much of a difference it made to my day, being able to just quickly check BBC News or see what crazy thing was on "Overheard in New York" or getting the latest gossip updates from my friends on skype. I feel as though I'm living in a sad, anti-social little bubble.

Anyway, I'm now camped out in a coffee shop and cafe, using their free wireless (yes, there is free wireless in Juba), and just wanted to share a wee vignette from last night.

I was out at a friends camp, which is VERY far , out past the jebel (mountain/hill thing) which stands on the edge of town. At around midnight, someone had the idea that we really needed to go to another place in town, in a convoy of, like, 12 vehicles.

So there's me, by myself in the Purple Rav4, singin' along to Nelly, cruisin down the dusty, winding road in the pitch black, when, all of a sudden, I come up over a rise and below me I see all the other cars stopped, with their headlights on, pointing at one HiLux which missed a bypass and is now mired in mud up to the mid-door range.

The men have all piled out and are wandering around in the watery mud discussing comparative axle strength and calculating the length of bands needed. The girls are all sitting on the bush guards of Landcruisers smoking cigarettes and laughing at the guys. We saw some lights coming up behind us and didn't really think too much about it until all of a sudden, oh holy bejesus, we are SURROUNDED by soldiers all pointing their guns in random directions and hollering. Hollering a lot. They had to get through, we were in the way, why were we out so late, etc etc etc. I looked up and the guy in the back of the technical had his 50 caliber pointed at our friends in the mud, as though he could blow the HiLux out of the way.

We all hopped out of the way quickly, they sped past, still yelling, on the bypass we directed them to and, then, pulled the truck out of the mud.

A heck of a lot of effort for a beer.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rage and honor

There is a cheer I used to do when I was a middle-school cheerleader, I'm sure you all know it - "Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive. B-E-A-GG-R-E-SS-I-V-E" Not exactly Shakespeare, but very effective when your defense is waddling around like little girls and the game is on the line.

I used to be a fairly non-aggressive person, always a bit, um, convinced of my own ideas, shall we say, but overall pretty laid back. As I've mentioned before, this has changed in my time in Africa and I've become much less patient, much more blunt and generally less pleasant to be around. Which has always been a problem but not SUCH a huge one that it required, like, cognitive therapy or anything. Often, being a young white girl in a land of older African dudes, it can even be a benefit.

Today, though, not so much. I got called out by a partner for being too aggressive, they said I behaved badly towards some community organizers we were visiting, that I was too blunt, and amends needed to be made.

Now, obviously, being the girl I am, the minute I get back to Juba I'm breaking out the embossed stiff cards (yes, I have embossed cards in Sudan, I can't help it) and writing thank you notes to everyone under the sun as penance.

But the real crux of the problem is that, swear to god, I can't figure out what I did wrong. I honestly don't see where I was too aggressive. I sat and looked at mushroom farms, I smiled politely while people danced, I asked lots of pertinent questions about composting. I mean, composting, seriously! And did enjoy the efforts.

Is is getting older that makes you meaner? Or is it living here? I really don't know.

Monday, October 6, 2008

It is a very masculine color

I'm in Northern Kenya now, for some work, and find it absolutely HYSTERICAL that all the guys who run the bicycle taxis (imagine lady of large rear end proportions perched precariously on the little rack thing at the back) wear bright pink shirts with license-late numbers etched on them.

I find the cold less hysterical, but the pink shirts almost make up for it.

Anyway, just to say I'm back, I'll be posting more, the distractions in my life have been deleted, so hopefully we'll be back to the good ole days soon.