Saturday, April 18, 2009

End of the Road

I'm afraid to say I won't be posting on Thirsty Palmetto again for some time. Anonymity is a bit more difficult to maintain than I thought. Thanks very much to everyone who followed this blog and I hope I'll get back to this site again one day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

End of an era

It is 4 am and I'm sitting in the Entebbe airport. Which I'm not happy about. But I am done with my job, which I AM happy about! Now heading out for 9 days of rest, relaxation, haircare and shopping, back to Juba next weekend.

Leaving the job was just about as anti-climactic as possible. No goodbye lunch, no thank you card, no hand shaking. Half the people weren't even in the office when I left. The only sign that anyone was going to miss me was our admin woman in Uganda, who is LOVELY, who got a bit teary eyed. But I reckon she gets teary eyed when they forget to put mayo on her sandwich.

When I've left other jobs there's been functions and parties and drinks and handshakes and thank you for your service and all the rest of it. This was more like watching a damp squib explode, lots of expectation, no pay off.

Ah well. C'est la vie. At least I'm free.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What goes right must go wrong

Here's a story to explain why Juba can be awful, great and awful all at the same time. I was a party last night with some friends, a pretty standard Juba affair of lots of people standing around being sweaty and inebriated in various walled compounds while repetitive music plays in the background (think Sigma Nu party with guards). I was not feeling the party love last night and, by 12.45, I'd managed to motivate my two friends to move on home.

We got out to the vehicle and when the driver turned the key all we heard was wahh-wahhh-wahhhhhhh-sputter-click. Over and over and over. The girl and I, being old hands, promptly jumped out got behind the car (a big ole' Land Rover Discovery) and started pushing to get a pop-clutch start. We're pushing away but, lo and behold, no start. A slight issue had appeared which had never occured to me. It was an automatic and you can't push start an automatic. Who the heck has an automatic in Juba?!?!

Curses. So we're now stuck in the middle of the sandy road at 1 am using our Nokia phone flash light to try and see the battery and figure out what the deal is. A very vague acquaintance happened to come out as we were all staring and, bless, him, he spent an hour with us fiddling around with jumper cables and spanners and sparks and all sorts of nonsense. Since, of course, you can't just call AAA (AA for you Commonwealth folk) to come and fix you.

Finally, at 2 am we were all knackered, dusty, sweaty and admitted defeat. But still, how to get home. The three of us live very far out from town and nobody was willing to make that drive at that hour. The acquaintance, bless him, who lived within walking distance of the party, said "Just take my car. Bring it back in the morning." Which is, you must admit, pretty remarkable. I mean, he knew our names but certainly didn't KNOW us. But perfectly happy to loan us his vehicle since we were in a bind.

I'm feelin pretty good about life, at that point, as I drove us back, trying to avoid roundabouts on the tarmac. Except I didn't do a good enough job and we hit the roundabout next to the ministries where we were promptly stopped by two pretty irritated soldiers. In reflective pennies, no less. Stylin.

Cue ten minutes of "Where you go? Passport? Who you? Out! Out!" We got through in the end, of course, and collapsed in bed at 2.30 or so pretty shattered.

Just a night out in Juba.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stealing more than an iPhone

I've been talking a big game but it has been over a year since I was asked to leave northern Sudan and, since then, I've had a pretty chill life. You want to know how much it wrenches to be kicked out? Read this blog on AlertNet.

I don't know the author, or at least I don't think I know the author, but I know the women's centers they are referring to, in fact I built one of them, and I know that feeling of not getting to say goodbye.

Incidentally, on that whole stealing of personal items, I was just talking to one of my friends today and he literally has nothing left. His phone, computer, camera etc were all taken by the government in Darfur. Then one bag was taken in Khartoum I think for reasons unknown, leaving him with one remaining bag, which was just taken in an armed robbery in Nairobi.

Horrible, wretched stuff.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Don't let the man keep you down

There's always somethin. The "War Heroes Association" (veterans, I believe) haven't been paid their stipend in a few months. Theories abound as to why this is. One person told me it is because the government paid $20 million to get those tanks back from the Somali pirates. One told me it is because the North is "keeping all the money safe" in Khartoum. One because they spent it all on poker, beer and loose women. (Kidding about that) (Well, who knows, I might not be).

The upshot is, all the really scary, hardened, lived in the bush for 10 years fighting a guerrilla war guys want their dang money and it ain't coming.

Naturally, then, the solution is a revolt. They are currently rioting in Yei and Nimule, shooting, looting, blocking the roads and generally being a pain in the ass. Both towns are shut down and everyone is waiting to see what insane response the government makes.

Now, even as I type these words, I have to acknowledge that this report is coming via my Sudanese staff (who is also a War Hero, interestingly), and so should be taken with a grain of salt or five. I mean, it could be nine guys with missing limbs shouting obscenities outside the commissioners office. But we've been working to verify with others and it sounds like things are definitely not good in either location right now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Will the last NGO turn out the lights?

Bashir made a speech today where he said all aid groups will be out of Sudan within one year. He said:
"If they (the international organizations) want to continue providing aid, they can just leave it at the airport and Sudanese NGOs (non governmental organizations) can distribute the relief."

and talked about having to "rid the country of spies."

I have no opinion. Just wanted to share!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spurious reflection

A man may do a good deed, even if he does it out of vanity... In other words, the more you truly feel for people in distress, the more selfish you are being in alleviating that distress. Only those who do good out of cold, unmoved ambition are the true altruists.
- Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue

I read this book years ago when I was in graduate school. At the time, I was very deep and meaningful, as only a graduate student or a teenage female poet can be, and I thought I understood it.

I obviously didn't then (I'm not sure any 22 year old understands anything), but I understand it even less now. Motivation is a big issue. I've written in this blog before about my motivations for working in aid work. And my very, shall we say, mercenary feelings about those motivations (R&Rs in Zanzibar and tax free income anyone?).

This ICC thing has gotten me rethinking the issue again. Mostly because I, very hypocritically, went all "ohhhhh, without the NGOs they'll all DIE" when, in fact, I've often said that NGOs aren't really as effective as they are... a conscience salve for the rest of the world. I've been reading all the discourse on whether it was a good thing or not, the Bashir indictment, if the concept of justice outweighs the lost NGOs and the lost services. I think there is no answer because we will never know if the indictment of Bashir stopped a future atrocity. How do you measure a dictator averted?

This quote just reminded me that there is a pretty hefty amount of self-aggrandizing in all my opinions, maybe I'm so furious with the whole thing because I AM an NGO'er and hang my identity pretty closely on the distant possibility of good in what we do. Which is a VERY different thing from the reality of the benefits of what we do.

Sorry, its late and I haven't been able to sleep lately, hence the deep thoughts. Tales of Juba debauchery to follow soon, I promise.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Karma for the day

We just got word that we received a grant which will keep a small but excellent field site open for another year. Which is awesome. It required a lot of last minute wrangling and finagling on my part, which my staff were aware of.

This is the e-mail I got from the Sudanese program manager in response to me "yay, we're still funded" e-mail:

God bless your hands in this endless struggle , a big spiratual (sic) reward.

I mean, tell me, HOW can you not have a good day when you get messages like that?

I challenge thee to a duel... with my spear

Right before I went down to Yei there was an LRA attack and five people were killed and two children kidnapped. The SPLA (Southern Sudanese Army) doesn't respond because a) they can't be everywhere and b) they haven't been paid in awhile and aren't really interested in doing anything more strenuous than scratching themselves. People are freakin' TERRIFIED, and understandably, death by LRA is not nice at all. So the solution? The Yei Comissioner gets on the radio and tells everyone to defend themselves, much like the solution in DRC I wrote about a few weeks ago.

What this means in reality is that all those weapons people had stashed away in the cupboard are now free to be bandied about willy nilly. So, of course, you see lots of AK-47s and such. But what it ALSO means is you see lots and lots of bows and arrows and spears and the like. There is just something wildly amusing about seeing a dude bicycling down the road with a 6 ft long fishing spear tucked under one arm and a reed bow and arrow slung over his shoulder ready to do battle with the marauding hordes. Freaky. But amusing.

Jumping the humanitarian shark

There's been an interesting, and by interesting I mean horrifying, new development in Darfur-land. Three MSF (that's Doctor's Without Borders) staff have been kidnapped at Saraf Umra, a very unstable town in North Darfur. This is unusual in and of itself, in Darfur until now the violence has been either random, targeted at peacekeepers or targeted at stuff (i.e. vehicles hijacked) as opposed to aid workers.

However, there is an even bigger twist. BBC is reporting that the kidnappers have asked for ransom for the release of the staff. This has, to my knowledge, not happened out there before.

There used to be a feeling in Darfur, totally unfounded but useful, that if you messed with a khawaja (whitey) you brought down the fury and the thunder upon you and yours. This feeling has been eroded away over the years for sure as the international community looked placidly on while cars were hijacked, staff kicked out by the government and programs summarily shut down without so much as a by-your-leave. However, this latest debacle, the 13 organizations being shoved out and all their assets seized, has really sent a message: It is open season on humanitarians, have fun.

I'm trying to get in touch with my Fasher friends to see how they are, but it is Friday, the day of rest. Inshallah they are getting out soon, I think we may be hitting the point where enough is enough, there is no longer going to be value for humanitarians to even be there.

Which is just about the most horrifying point I could ever imagine reaching.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Whew, problem solved

The government had a huge meeting with all the remaining NGOs in Darfur where they told everyone that they would personally be carrying out the activities the "spies" (read: Aid Workers We Kicked Out) were doing. So all that food distribution, health care provision, well digging, latrine making etc will all now be done by the Khartoum Government.

I see this going oh so very well...

Monday, March 9, 2009

If ever there was a reason to do a shot

The workers for the NGOs who were kicked out have all been pouring into Nairobi in the past couple days. One woman, understandably drunk and raucous, saw the long long visa line (anyone who's ever flown into Nairobi knows what I mean) and shouted out "There should be a special line for people who have been PNG'd" (PNG means persona non grata, kicked out of a country) and god bless the Kenyans, they did it. Gave all these poor lost souls a dedicated "people who have been screwed over" line, one little act of kindness for a group who have been pretty brutalized over the past few days.

It is hard to explain how awful it is to be taken out of your field site suddenly, be it from evacuation, getting kicked out, arrested, whatever. I've been talking to a number of friends who were among those forced to leave, they are all in states of shock and denial.

Some are fixating on little aspects of their program they left unfinished ("I had a carton of condoms I was about to deliver to the clinic, I wonder if they'll do it," not really realising the clinic itself will most likely not be functioning).

Some are obsessed with their staff, the fact that they weren't able to say goodbye, that they may now be in danger or a target to the government or just simply that there will now be thousands of unemployed, well educated and trained Darfuri national staff who will all be looking for jobs at the same time meaning many wonderful staff will be out of work in a place which is already on a knife's edge.

Some, understandably, are freaked out because around 300 expats (I think I heard) are now out of work. All highly skilled and field experienced. All will now be looking for work at the same time. And the Global-Economic-Crisis (tm) affects the humanitarian aid industry the same way it affects everyone else. It will be a debacle to try and find a job for the next few months.

Overall, speaking to everyone I just get such a sense of chaos and fear and loss and powerlessness. Imagine that huge, tight knit mass of humanity all working towards the same, or at least a similar, goal suddenly wrenched away and rudderless.

There's gonna be a LOT of drinkin going on in Nairobi in the next few days. A LOT.

Eye off the ball

This weekend was lazy in the extreme. Field people tend to work 6-7 days a week at all times, not sure why, it is just the culture out here. My soon to be new boss, who is a workaholic, pointed out to me that once I start my new job I will be working pretty much 24/7. And so I should take advantage now of not being quite so busy.

Meaning I took Saturday AND Sunday off. I washed knickers. I organized my tent. I watched approximately 100 hours of West Wing. I went swimming multiple times. I played a very competitive game of Risk. I went for a long ride on Donk just because I could.

So, at the end of this long weekend of nothingness, I'm lounging on the porch of my tent with some friends, talking about the state of world religion (seriously) when I got a call from my field site. The LRA have carried out a series of attacks in our area, security is now a mess and displaced people from the attacked villages are living in Freedom Square.

Kinda killed my happy-lazy-weekend buzz.

Numbers game

Just for some perspective, this was in the briefing by the Deputy Emergency Coordinator to the UN Secretary General regarding the impact of the removal of all the NGOs on the people of Darfur :

1.1 million people may not receive food aid; 1.5 million people will
lose access to health care, and over one million could soon lose access to potable water or sanitation. The loss of Médecins Sans Frontières alone will leave more than 200,000 patients in rural areas without essential medical care. The departure of Oxfam Great Britain leaves 600,000 people without water, hygiene, or sanitation services. It may be useful to look at what this decision could mean for IDPs in Kalma camp, one of the largest in Darfur with 89,000 people. As of Monday Oxfam, which provided potable water, and MSF, which ran the camp’s clinics, will both be gone. I should mention that this follows this week’s announcement by the State Ministry of Health in South Darfur of an outbreak of Meningitis A in Kalma. Without partners, the Ministry of Health and WHO will be hard pressed to deliver the necessary vaccinations and treatment to arrest the spread of this highly contagious disease.

Word on the street is more will be kicked out soon as well. What hath we wrought?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Separation anxiety

And we got assurances from the Southern Government today that we (we international organizations) were like family to them and they'd never let us leave them.

So whew on that!

The other side of the story must be told

The furor is already going down. As I think we all knew it would. Driving around Juba today the only sign that anything was afoot was the presence of soldiers outside all the consulates and donor offices. For protection, one assumes.

I was in a meeting most of the day with all Southern Sudanese and myself. Predictably, the Juba-ites were all thrilled with the indictment, having a healthy, long standing dislike of the northern leader. When I started my, now slightly old, tirade about "lives of women and children...blah blah blah... ivory tower...blah blah blah... western paradigm of justice... blah blah blah" they all looked at me kinda cockeyed and said "It's a court. Of course it is justice."

I pointed out the harm the indictment caused, the organizations kicked out, the hundreds of thousands, literally, who now faced god knows what since their lives depended on the aid those organizations gave.

Another cockeyed look. "But that's the whole point. A man who would do this, he deserves jail. This just proves the point that the indictment was right."

Given that my visceral reaction the other day seems, somehow, to be being taken as representing general opinion in the south, I felt obligated to point out that, while I have yet to meet another expat who thinks the indictment was good, the Southern Sudanese around me think it rocks. Hard.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Folsom prison blues

A dear friend of mine has just been arrested out in Darfur. Someone I adore who is the sweetest, most calm human being and now has been arrested for god knows what. Probably something they got off a computer when their office was raided.

This won't be the last of these, I'm sure. And three more NGOs have been kicked out, by the way, with the suspicion more are to come.

I can already feel a "can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs" conversation with ICC supporters coming on. To which I offer a thoughtful, well reasoned, intellectually balanced "bite me".

Khalas namshi

In an interesting new twist, it suddenly isn't clear if the expulsion is only for the North (i.e. Darfur, Khartoum, Kordofan and the Eastern States) or if it is for all of Sudan including Southern Sudan. Meaning all those organisations could ALSO be kicked out down here, but just not know it yet.

We are, you see, technically one country even though de facto we are two. For example, I don't have a visa from Khartoum, mine is from Juba (hence it is a funny little rubber stamp instead of a fancy sticker) and I am not registered with a work permit from the north (good thing since I was firmly encouraged to leave last time and I doubt I'd be let back). Organizations generally run two country offices, one in Khartoum and one in Juba and the programs are rarely linked (I couldn't tell you the name of a single staff who works for my organization in the North nor could I tell you what programs they run).

All this, however, is down to practice. If they suddenly start practicing the letter of the law, which Bashir (the now indicted president of all Sudan) would be completely within his rights to tell Salva Kir (the President of the SPLA/M, leader of Southern Sudan and First Vice President of all Sudan) to do, then trouble will come a'nockin. And I'll be chilin' in Nairobi for three months, minimum, I'm sure.

Semantical slaying

Today is going to be a boring day on the blog, I'm obsessed with this indictment and will continue to write about it. Feel free to skip. The International Commission of Inquiry into Darfur, headed by Antonio Cassese, concluded that there was no evidence of a genocidal plan but that "individual acts of genocide" may have occurred.

This is interesting first because the charges of genocide were dropped from the final indictment, thank god.

But secondly, what the hell is an "individual act of genocide"? Genocide, by its very nature and definition, is a multitude of acts, it is a multitude of SPECIFIC acts, no less. If I go out and kill 75,000 people, that isn't genocide. That is mass murder, a crime against humanity. I have to go and kill 75,000 people because of some defining characteristic (ethnicity most often). Even if all 75,000 people happen to share the same defining characteristic, if that wasn't my MOTIVATION for killing them it isn't genocide, i.e. I happen to kill 75,000 Mormons, but only because I cut lose in downtown Salt Lake City, not because I hate Mormons, then it is murder. 75,000 times over.

So, then, explain to me how genocide, which hinges on extermination, can be reduced to an individual act?

God I'm hacked off at the international community right now.

Dilletantes and diatribes

Ten organizations were kicked out of Sudan today, including one I used to work for, one I handed over my entire program to when I left Darfur and many whom I respect hugely. Thousands of refugees are pouring into Zam Zam IDP camp right now as a result of rebel attacks and all the organizations who would have mobilized to feed, clothe, shelter and care for them have just been summarily kicked out.

This is the justice we are getting for the ICC. An unenforceable arrest warrant. A public statement to let people in Geneva, Rome, Brussels, the Hague, London, New York wherever feel better about themselves and say "we aren't reliving Rwanda." As though this empty, harmful gesture means anything.

I spent this morning getting play by play accounts of what is going on right now out there. Offices seized, files destroyed, projects stopped. A terrified friend sat skyping as she listened on the security channel to the sound of another NGO, one who was kicked out, being assaulted by gunmen as they tried flee.

I know often talk about the uselessness of what we do (here for example) and I'm not saying that suddenly I believe all NGOs and humanitarian relief is perfect and Darfur will crumble as soon as we go. But those 10 organizations who were kicked out were the 10 biggest providers out there. Food, water, health, education, shelter, blankets - all of it depends on them. And now its gone.

For what... somebody tell me how THIS is more just than the alternative.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy ICC Day!

This has been the refrain around Juba today. For those of us actually moving outside our walled compounds. Today is the day the ICC will, we all assume, issue the arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and other nefarious deeds.

I myself think the ICC is a load of hogswalop and am irritated as heck that the ICC prosecutor is doing this, but whatever, I'm just a lowly field worker.

What it means is that across Sudan anything even remotely international oriented is being disrupted. Different organizations react in different ways. Some are on 48 hour lockdown, not moving from the house and restocking their hibernation kits. Others are carrying on as though nothing is different suspecting, probably rightly, that southerners aren't going to be that upset that a man they fought a 25 year war with is getting arrested.

There are a LOT of extra soldiers, many, disturbingly, northerners, so I myself am going to leave the office by 2 pm (the indictment will come down at 4 pm local time) so I'm at my house with my passport and stuff and all in case the business does hit the fan.

That is a brutal lie, by the way. I'm going home at 2 pm because this is an excellent excuse to go home early and I want to sit on my porch reading a book and hanging out with my friends.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Love You. A Little.

Those words were spoken last weekend to a friend of mine by the guy she's been seeing. This girl is an Asian American who's lived abroad for the past five years, I believe (and who is stunning, of course). The boy is like, Spanish-French or Italian-French or Italian-Portuguese or some other impossibly Latin, suave combination that makes him dangerous.

Romance in the field can be... tricky. We none of us are very normal out here and, as I've mentioned before I believe, Vegas rules apply. Geographical monogamy is the norm(i.e. my wife whom I adore and three children aren't on this continent and therefore it isn't cheating) and bounders and cads (of both genders)are everywhere. I don't know a single aid worker who doesn't have a horror story about falling hard for someone only to find out they are married/dating someone else in another country/sleeping with everything that moves/purchasing under-aged prostitutes in the market at night.

Add to that the social scene of places like Juba (and Kabul and Monrovia et al) which are... well, juvenile doesn't even being to cover it. This weekend I attended a party where men were dressed as women (including some VERY high level policy people in the UN) and a party where there was mud wrestling. I am BARELY on the edge of still being allowed to do things like that at 28, but I am usually one of the younger people at these things. Which means you've got 40-somethings with exceedingly powerful jobs doing tequila slammers and belly flopping into a mud pit next to a bonfire.

Which gets us back to I Love You. A Little. No matter how much you like someone, in an environment where there's huge amounts of drinking, huge ammounts of philandering, huge amounts of responsibility and huge amounts of stress, not to mention all normal social checks have been removed, you have to be cautious. To qualify every emmotion with "yes, I do love you, but in a Juba way" or "a Jijiga way" or "a Baidoa way" all of which translates to "I love you. A little."

Monday, March 2, 2009

The wiggle room in my brain

I have been in a very strange mood all weekend, alternating between unbelievably happy and pretty low. I'm guessing because of all the changes which are coming upon me soon. It kind of came to a head on Sunday.

I had to leave the place I've been staying and go back to the malarial put of despair. It has been, unseasonably, raining, and so the road to town was awful, Donk and I were covered head to foot (head to foot-pegs?) in mud and I almost fell twice in the muck. Then I was turning into an Ethiopian restaurant, signal on, going slowly and almost turn directly into some boy racer who was speeding past on the wrong side. He turned around and came up screaming and yelling "Are you stupid? Do you use your brain?" I just stared at him blankly until he went away, grumbling about bloody khawaja women and their bloody driving.

It just got me all bummed and nervous about my decision to stay. All the petty annoyances and dealing with a culture I'm not always so fond of.

It is also a bad time in Southern Sudan all together right now. You may have heard about the fighting in the town of Malakal last week. It was awful, one of our staff was up there on her own and she couldn't be pulled to safety because the fighting was intense the UN soldiers couldn't get out to her. That incident (which was linked to Bashir's aforementioned visit I believe) and reports I'm getting from people on the border of troop build ups and tensions makes me think March 4 (the day the ICC hands down their indictment on Bashir) could be the beginning of some pretty tough times.

Funny thing on the MPoD, by the way, on my first night back in last night, the guard was drunk and asked me for a cigarette. Honestly.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Condom dealer

I think I actually have saddle sores.

I got the word last night that two cargo flights I've been trying to get forEVER to transport 300,000 condoms to a place nobody could get to due to a bridge collapsing were going to go today. Which is great news. Except, of course, nothing is ever easy.

Spent all day today driving from the warehouse that had the condoms to the office where the manager had gone for a meeting to the Ministry of Health to get a stamp to the control tower in the airport to get permission to bring a truck onto the tarmac to Konyo Konyo to find a truck and laborers and on and on.

Finally, after I basically go through a tank of petrol on Donk, we have driven the truck out onto the tarmac, to find one guy who sits there all day long and coordinates things. Annnnnnnd, the planes aren't there. So I sit, in my Ralph Lauren skirt, on the spare fuel tank of a fighter jet, feet propped up on my helmet, next to the runway of Juba International airport, reading a Stephen King book of all things (I love the Gunslinger) and throwing rocks at the cows that wandered past. It was oddly peaceful out there, brutally hot, of course, but about the only quiet place in Juba.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Free at last

I can now say the big news. I've just resigned. Like, right this minute just resigned. I'll be staying on with a new organization in Juba, working towards the same issues, but, inshallah, without all the background issues which became so difficult with my current organization.

All VERY exciting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Big news coming soon. SO EXCITED!!!!!! Just need to get final confirmation.

The dark man cometh

Bashir is coming to Juba today. Bashir, the president of Sudan, focus of a potential ICC indictment and the man whose presence once, in Khartoum, forced me to hide in a construction site for two hours while he toured a new airport terminal (apparently the security people didn’t want him knowing the chaos they caused, so they made all of us hang out behind the barrier).

Now, for obvious reasons, the news of this visit was not made public. Also for obvious reasons, when a man as contentious as Bashir comes the entirety of Juba shuts down. See, this would’ve been a nice thing to know BEFORE I started my morning commute.

I get to the end of the Gudele road, a horrible dusty potholed road that is the first 15-20 minutes of my commute every morning, and find a massive traffic jam. Being on Donk, I’m able to bob and weave my way up to the point where I normally turn (right next to the memorial for the late John Garang, leader of the SPLA rebel movement, in case you were interested) and there are soldiers all along the mouth of the road. Waving big sticks and hitting people. Ok. Not going that way. Carry on to the large, fetid market up and try to turn there. Again with the sticks and the yelling. OK. Carry on up to the Customs roundabout. Ah, looks like I can get through there. Oh crap, no I can’t, man with gun and stick is coming at me at speed screaming angrily in, I think, Dinka.

This went on and on for over an hour. Every turn was met with angry soldiers itching to hit something. I finally managed to weasel my way past one checkpoint and then used my extensive knowledge of back roads gained from riding bodas for a year to sneak past three other checkpoints to eventually get to my office.

No we’re all locked down (and by we I mean everyone), no movement allowed in the entire city. You’ve gotta wonder, if the whole city is essentially put on lockdown when the man comes, what exactly is he coming to see? The progress on the tarmacking?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Vaudville cross talk meets starving lepers

I got in SUCH a fight with one of my donors today. We were actually yelling at each other in the halls of the Ministry of Health. I believe at one point I yelled "Explain to me how you can call yourself a humanitarian when you are leaving lepers to starve to death?!" and she definitely yelled at me "Do you cry when you think about all the orphans you've refused to help? Do you?"

Yeah. It went well.

See, I've got a group of people who suffered from leprosy, TB and cancer who were left permanently incapacitated by their illness, even though technically they are "cured". I want this donor to give me a bunch of stuff to assist them and they claim that, since the people are no longer straight sick, the community should take care of them. To which I point out that Southern Sudan has no safety net right now, everyone is on the ragged edge of survival and any shock, like, say, your dads feet and nose rotting off, can catapult a family into malnutrition and risky behaviors like prostitution.

See, I said it much more calmly there. When I was in front of donor lady, I was frothing as was she.

I won, in the end, through sheer witchiness and refusal to leave their office. Their office is situated on the river right next to the place where water trucks come to fill up with water and, as I pulled away from the compound, I was doing a little victory dance on top of Donk and all the water guys cheered for me.

What a day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Too many thoughts are a bad thing

"A Moroccan peacekeeper told an AP photographer the 240 U.N. troops now have no contact with the people they were sent to protect; they stay in their new camp at an airstrip, a 20-minute drive from town, according to the soldier, who would not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

After the rebel attack on Dungu in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 1, the peacekeepers finally arrived at 4 p.m. to evacuate aid workers from the town, U.N. officials said. By then, the Congolese troops had driven out the rebels.

"MONUC did nothing for us the day we were attacked," said Edoxie Babe, a market vendor, using the French acronym for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo. "I saw MONUC come in only in the afternoon, and then only to get the white foreigners to safety."

This is from yet another excellent AP article (link here if you want it) about the LRA attacks in Congo.

I get accused a lot of being way too cynical, of being needlessly hard on the humanitarian community and, honestly, being a bit of a whinger. At drinks by the river a couple weeks ago a friend asked me if I had it to do all over again would I do this again. I said honestly, even though I love my life and all the things I've gotten to do and see, no, I wouldn't do it again. And, more to the point, when people come to me asking for advice on how to break into the aid industry I tell them to run screaming in the other direction.

The friend, who had been doing this for yonks as well and is just as tired but still believes we do more good than harm, was horrified. No no no, she said, we still save lives. Which is true, we do. But then we also leave people on the side of the road for weeks without any support when they flee a conflict (see this post), when we're returning them, it isn't much better (see this post) and, as you can see above, even when men with guns come out to protect you, they really AREN'T interested in getting shot at to protect some kanga-wearing villager from a deranged child soldier.

So yeah, there are some bugs in the system.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Boiling in a bag

It is insanely hot in Juba right now. So, me being me, I went on Google to try and get the current temperature here (I don't have a thermometer, obviously). I'm guessing there is no weather station here because according to different sources the current temperature is 84 degrees Fahrenheit (no way, I'm cold at 84), 95 degrees Fahrenheit (possible, but I dunno) or, on two sites, 111 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 44 for you Celsius folk).

Anyway, just to say it is freaking HOT.

Opressive regimes are getting lax, man

My friend lives in Myanmar/Burma, one of the many people who scooted out there after the hurricane. Now, in my head, Burma (sorry, I just can't use Myanmar, it irks me for some reason) is one of those super closed off countries, like North Korea or Somalia where few go and life inside is surreal and wretched.

Except, of course, life isn't really like that.

Apparently, Yangon/Rangoon is like a little Bangkok, lots of bars and restaurants and salons and such and it is a family duty station, meaning people bring their kids and spouses with them when they're posted there. So I've been imagining this kind of dull, plodding life under the thumb of an insane and oppressive junta where a small cadre of aid workers struggles against the whatever, and instead its blonde haired kids running 'round the pool whilst their mommies get mani pedis and drink margs.

All illusions shattered, I'm telling you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The rise of Donk

Yesterday was the first day riding my "ladies motorbike" (which I christened Badonkadonk Junior, but has already been shortened to Donk) around Juba. Now, I am VERY proud of myself for sorting this all out on my own. I went and picked out the bike, got a mechanic to come look it over, went and registered it with the traffic police, got a number plate (only took 4 days and one slightly form fitting t-shirt!) and had Donk delivered from Yei to Juba all by myself. It was exhilarating, made me feel independent, yay!

So yesterday, I go to pick Donk up from the people who brought it up for me. They tell me there were some issues in transit, battery acid leaking etc, but all should be ok. Fine. I get out and, I'm not gonna lie, I was nervous. Its been a looooong time since I've ridden a motorbike on bad roads, so I'm a bit shaky. I go maybe 15 yards and.... Donk dies. Won't start back up.

I had to go find a group of guys sitting under a rattan lean to who looked greasy, convinced one of them to come investigate Donk and, eventually, clean out the carburetor. On the side of the road. In the scalding heat. With me in a pencil skirt and my little L.L. Bean boat bag over my shoulder. Was quite the sight. But we got it fixed.

I've now done the long trip out to where I'm staying twice, and am feeling more confident. I am COVERED in dust at all times now, of course, but that's to be expected. Overall, I'm extremely pleased and feeling very very free.

And yes, I am wearing a helmet.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Escaping the slaughterhouse

We did the assessment on Saturday, it wasn't NEARLY as bad as I thought it would be. Thank god. Most of the people ran ahead of the LRA so they hadn't been attacked, just fled the fear of it. "They were coming for slaughter" as one man put it.

The first group, who fled a month ago, are living relatively well. They are in a gorgeous, GORGEOUS location, amidst banana trees in a wee valley. As we sat there, cross legged in the dirt under a little thatch shelter, breeze blowing through ruffling my hideous be-logo'd t-shirt, I thought "this ain't too bad, I can be a refugee here."

Then we went to the second group. The bulk of these guys, around 4,000 people apparently, came a week ago. They are living wherever they can find spare land, out in the open, just sleeping on the dirt, the lucky ones maybe are inside the old, crumbling mud-thatch school which has huge chunks of the wall just missing. They don't have much food, and none of us have given them any, so the women are having to sneak back inside into DRC to take little bits from their gardens all while hiding from the rebels.

It wasn't the horrible, wretched experience I feared it would be, no stories of limbs being hacked or daughters taken away, no eyelids removed, etc etc etc. Whew.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The edges of humanity


Read this article please. Just take a minute and do it. Read it and think about:
a) What it would feel like to being calling for help from everyone and realise nobody was coming.
b) How easy it is for "victims" to be just as cruel as "perpetrators"

For all those who are going to shake their head and think "ah, Africa, totally eff-ed up, no hope, bunch of savages" or whatever, just remember that these are individual people in a pretty god awful situation responding the only way they can think to. And I'm including the LRA there, most of them are children who were abducted and purpose built to me merciless and crazy.

I may be staying in Yei to go down to the border and do an assessment with the refugees from this conflict tomorrow, as mentioned, god help me.

Please do read the article, whoever is writing these is pretty amazing.

The wind in my hair, the sand in my eyes

I did it! I bought a moped. It has a four stroke-engine, a semi-automatic gear box (I have to shift but no clutch) and a zippy little basket on the front for my purse and bottle of Pellegrino or whatever.

I've bought it in Yei and am now convincing someone to bring it down to Juba on truck on Saturday. At which point I will be the happiest, freest girl in ALL of Sudan-land. It has been a very VERY good day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wild blue yonder

How's this for a good idea, by the way. A friend and I have a new genius plan. He and I are going to ride Tuk Tuks (auto rickshaws, those three wheeled things they use as taxis in India and Khartoum) from Juba to London.

I would like to get a lift kit and nobbly tires for mine, put a stereo in the back and call it the "Badonkadonk". We actually are quite serious about doing the journey, but I'm not sure how we would go about it. I want to get someone like Ralph Lauren to sponsor us, we'll wear their "safari" line of clothes or whatever and make a documentary along the lines of The Long Way Down.

However, there is absolutely NO humanitarian purpose to doing this. We don't want to raise awareness for Darfur or collect money for donkey sanctuaries or open the world's eyes to the plight of the red crested warbler. We just think it would be really really cool to drive tuk tuks from Juba to London.

If anyone has an idea of how to get money for this, be sure to pass it on!

My loins aren't girding as well as I'd like

I'm up in Yei now, which is on the DRC-Uganda-Sudan border (and yes, that does actually make is "down" in Yei compared to Juba, but I have major issues with directionality).

Yei is a nice town, very pretty tree lined streets and a good bar where you can get beer that doesn't taste like the beer the pigs threw up, and I always enjoy my time here. Near here is a big area of unrest with the LRA, one of the staff was just in the office talking about the brother of a friend who was attacked by them a few days ago and hacked to death in front of his sister or girlfriend (I couldn't figure out which). Not pleasant. At all.

A bunch of refugees (at least 5,000) have just come across the border and more may be on the way. I'm hoping to get down next week and see what's going on, whether we can help. I was telling this to a friend yesterday, a human rights researcher, and she started telling me all the stories she heard when she interviewed refugees from the last big LRA-displacement, in Yambio (another Sudanese town). I've had my fill of wretched stories and really not sure I'm for more crying, keening, heart-shattering stories followed, inevitably, by that look that says "and what are you gonna do about it?"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

But there IS a scar. A scar on my SOUL.

I'm on my way to Logali House, my most regular watering hole, yesterday, on the back of a Boda at lunch time. All of Juba is currently being paved, which rocks, but is means you never know what roads will be open. We had just gotten to a road near the restaurant when we saw it was blocked for tarmacking. OK, fine, there's a little road that cuts next to the president's house, people walking up and down it.

My boda guy and I shoot down the road and had paused to go over a curb when a fat man in a red shirt with scarification marks all over his forehead stops us. He starts screaming at the boda guy in juba Arabic. I came off the back of the bike, the guy is screaming screaming. He takes the keys out of the bike and is screaming screaming. I hear him saying "mashi wain" over and over again which is "where are you going" in Arabic and so I say "namshi Logali House."

Oh Lordy. That made him unhappy. Don't know why. He starts SCREAMING at me in English. "Where are you going? Why are you here?" blah blah blah blah blah blah. I'm trying to be calm here, having NO idea a) who this dude is and b) why he's so pissed off. Finally, he feels he's exauhsted his needless, no doubt linked to impotency or something, rage and he takes the keys and chucks them, very hard, right into the middle of my Boda driver's forehead.

Oh man. That's it. I turned to him, sweet as pie, "I'm sorry sir, where are you from? Who are you? Are you police? Are you army? Can I have your name please sir?" He's screaming and yelling at me at the top of his lungs, pushing me harder and harder towards the bike and I just keep asking, "No, I'm sorry, who are you?"

Finally, my boda driver begged me quietly to go and so I let it go. I could've gotten a little knocked around, worst case, he would've been beaten to within an inch of his life.

The whole thing just shows you, though, why a country like Southern Sudan struggles so much to develop to anything beyond cruel, degrading poverty. Sure, he's not that hurt, just a cut and a wee lump on his forehead, but what the hell has all this taught my boda driver about his value to his government, not to mention how to deal with situations when you're in authority. No wonder violence is so prevalent here.

I've asked everyone I know what I can do about this, this sort of ridiculous, wanton abuse of power and really nasty behavior and the answer is nothing. There is no way for me to have this guy be held accountable for assaulting a citizen he has sworn to protect.

I really do hate it here so much sometimes.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Flea-ridden comfort

Its been a hell of a week. Let's just say that enthusiastic post I put up about my country team being uber-supportive was a bit premature. I'm at crisis point now and deciding whether it is time to leave, having a new job be damned, and this may very well be the straw that broke the over-tired aid worker's back.

Anyway, due to a whole bunch of annoying stories I won't go into here, I'm still out of the Malarial Pit of Despair and squatting with various and sundry friends. Last night I stayed with a friend in her tent, which has a broken zipper (its in a secure compound).

I'm in the bed closer to the tent flap and, as I'm settling in to go to sleep, I suddenly hear the sound of something alive coming through the flap. And then I feel something alive jump on to my bed. I'm not super psyched about this, needless to say. I turned my head, expecting to see a huge rat or a monkey or something equally annoying. Instead, there, perched next to me, is an adorable, if underfed, cat. It nudged by arm with its head, circled me twice, then settled into my side where it proceeded to sleep and purr the rest of the night.

Very sweet.

Friday, February 6, 2009

On the outside, looking in

Two things:

1. I've become a bit of a vagabond, squatting in the rooms of people who are out on mission, since they still haven't put locks anywhere in my house and I find this makes it difficult for me to sleep because I keep thinking people are sneaking into my room. Because I am cleary far more sensitive than I prviously thought and a bit of a girl.

Anyway, last night I stayed in my friends absolutely GORGEOUS little studio cottage that is just... I'm getting teary eyed talking about it now. All I'll say is 24 hour power, hot and cold running water, a television, a bed with a real mattress, fans, french doors and a kettle for tea when you wake up. When I did wake up this morning I couldn't fathom the fact that I was in the same town as the damp, bad smelling, bug infested, sweltering hell hole I live in.

It was great.

2. Just on the 25 Things thing, I want to go on record as saying I love it! People have been sending me lots of articles about how annoying it is and how narcissistic and blah blah blah but I love learning little facts about people I haven't seen in years, it literally makes my day whenever someone posts one. So all those of you on Facebook who are my friend, do it, I need things to keep me occupied out here. It is your humanitarian duty!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

25 Things - Spillover from Facebook

All the rage on Facebook is this "25 Things" where people write 25 random facts about themselves on their profile. I was so knackered from my over-productive day yesterday, that I decided to do it today (you know, instead of working).

On other blogs, I really like it when I get some flavor about the person who writes the blog, so I thought I'd reproduce it here. For those who don't care, skip away....

1. I haven't thrown up since I was a small child, though I've wanted to a zillion times.
2. The first time I ever got malaria I was in a 3rd class train cabin in India packed with shirtless pilgrims wearing black lungis. In my malarial haze, I was convinced they were all stunningly handsome and became very agitated that my hair wasn't fixed properly.
3. The third or fourth time I had malaria I spoke to Jesus as he stood on my chest. I'm still not convinced this didn't happen.
4. I've been hit by a car twice. Once in Oxford on my way to a friend's house, once in Geneva on my way into the office. Both times I was fine.
5. I did the world's tallest bungee jump in South Africa and developed an immediate fear of heights which made getting off the bridge interesting. The fear is gone now.
6. I often lie about my phone not working because I hate speaking on the phone so much. Sudan makes this very VERY easy.
7. I have inadvertently eaten one of my pets. It is an awful story.
8. I have a very large birthmark in a pretty prominent place and yet nobody ever remembers that I have it. Including my mother.
9. I have only ever properly cried twice in my life (that I can remember), but I tear up at every single Extreme Home Makeover.
10. I secretly believe I'm going to live in Hawaii one day even though I've never been there, have no idea what I would do and don't surf.
11. The most unhappy time in my entire life was a month spent at a boy's boarding school in Kempti Falls, India. I had to crack ice off my bucket of water for bathing. It sucked.
12. [Redacted, too personal]
13. I have crossed an international border at least once a month every month for the past 7 months. Maybe longer, if you count Sudan to Uganda.
14. I once paid two chickens and a duck to get a witchdoctor to fix a damaged ankle in Liberia. Which he did.
15. My most treasured possession is a book my best friend gave me.
16. [Again, redacted, too much information for the blog]
17. My laugh is so loud that I have actually stopped a meeting before by being outside, in the hallway, laughing to myself. That's embarrassing.
18. Five places I want to visit most are: Harare, Mogadishu, Hong Kong, Rome and a Greek Island (a nice one).
19. In my heart, I know I will marry Hugh Laurie one day. Never mind he's the same age as my dad.
20. Manners are extremely important to me and I hold all men up to a Southern Ideal of gentlemanliness. The only person who has ever met that ideal is Lebanese (you know who you are!).
21. I've never changed a diaper by myself.
22. Whenever I get really stressed I will start narrating in my head whatever is happening like it is happening to a third person. i.e. "She was struggling with the Global Fund indicators but suddenly, with a small smile, she found a way to capture impact and typed away gleefully." I literally just thought that 10 minutes ago.
23. I have read Franny and Zooey over 100 times.
24. Favorite five cities/towns in the world, in no particular order: Charleston SC, Cape Town, Pondicherry, Oxford and Nantucket.
25. There is only one dream I ever really remember and I have it at least once a week, where i desperately have to get somewhere and I'm trying to run but I can't get my legs to work properly. I really should look that up.

Sweet freedom

Its been a weird week. I've been extremely jumpy and not sleeping, unsurprisingly, and am getting very irritated that I STILL have no way to lock any door in my house.

But, on the plus side I think I MAY have found a way to improve my life in Juba to no end: a scooter! See, I was gonna buy a motorcycle but I know myself. I like going fast way too much and on one of those things there is every chance in the world I would kill myself. However, a scooter can only go so fast AND I'll be able to get around free of the restrictions of my organization's policies on driving.

GENIUS I tell you!

Monday, February 2, 2009


I gotta say, my country team TOTALLY came through. They said I can stay wherever I feel safe until they get locks in the house and were very kind.

Feeling much better now.

How to stop my heart in two seconds flat

God, what a night.

I'm alone in the Malarial Pit of Despair right now, which is fine, I've stayed there alone quite often and don't really mind one way or the other. Last night I got home around 8.30 from a stressful Nile cruise and the guard told me he couldn't get the generator on (for the second day in a row). Fine, whatever, I was deep in the throes of the second of the Twilight books and happy to get in bed and read with my headlamp.

About 10 minutes later, the guard starts banging on the door, asking for water. Fine, I give him two bottles, go to bed. Then I start hearing something outside my window. Someone is pulling at it. I have my headlamp on, which means I'm blinded to anything more than two feet from my head. Soon, I start hearing incoherent rambling, coming in my window, and realise it is the guard. I get up and leave my room, suddenly rather worried.

Now I can't lock any doors in my house. Not the door to the outside and not my room. I go into the sitting room, still in the dark and in my pajamas, and realise the guard is opening the door in the kitchen to come in. I yell and go to the door. He's standing there, asking for more water. I get him some more, and tell him he needs to stay by the gate, stay away from my window and NOT come into the house. I then shut the door and pull the two, heavy, iron bars across, which CAN be opened from the outside as well (through a hole cut in the door) and go back to my bed.

I'm lying in bed when I hear the sound of the first bar being slowly pulled back. I jumped out of bed, and listened, knowing there was no way I could lock my bedroom door (no handle, I shut it by putting a bag in front of it). I hear the sound of the second bar being pulled back and simultaneously: 1. Scream "Get Away" at top volume, 2. throw some jeans on over my jammies and 3. call a friend of mine and say my guard is breaking in, I'm going to try and get out, she should hear from me in 5 minutes if I get out.

The issue was it was pitch black since there was no generator and I didn't know where he was. I grabbed my car keys, saw him flitting out of the kitchen and came out onto the back porch where he was in the corner. I told him to stay away from me and ran towards the car. He came towards me, I think just drunken and wanting to get my attention (he kept muttering "forgive me" under his breath). I jumped in the car and locked the doors, then sat there blowing on the horn yelling at him to open the front gate, which he finally did.

I haven't been back yet, I'm waiting to see how this all unfolds...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A hallmark card sentiment and a hedgehog reality

A very good friend of mine recently started working in the east of northern Sudan where, apparently, the communities are so conservative that women will literally cast themselves to the ground and curl up in a ball when a man they don't know walks past.

Into this, enter the odd fact that the strongest request they are making of my friends organization? Girls schools. I just find that interesting. What sort of thought process leads a man who is used to women curling up like hedgehogs suddenly go "my daughter needs an education, even if it means being outside the house in the presence of non-family men"?

My friend and I were talking about it, we got all soppy and thought maybe these guys just really love their little girls, cultural insanity aside, and want them to rise up.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Shot down like... something that gets shot down a lot

Well, this whole time I've been interviewing for the job in Somalia and, apparently, after many interviews to assess my personality, intelligence and general ability --- not so much. Got told today that, while I'm obviously wonderful and fabu and blah blah blah they aren't that into me.

This is actually the first time I've ever interviewed for a job and not been offered the position. Kinda stings, gotta say.

So I am now in the middle of nowhere, leaving-wise. I'm not shortlisted for anything and not likely to be in the near future. Better just steel myself to much more Juba time and be grateful I'm not a banker and out of work in London with a mortgage on a townhouse in Clapham or something.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't be a child in Maridi

Remember the thing I was talking about? The thing I want to respond to that I'm having trouble getting enthusiasm for in my organization? Here is a link to a BBC story about what is happening.

It isn't a very good story, but, nonetheless, it is something...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thin line between heroism and madness

It is confirmed that (23) people were killed from Mburoko alone and the figure keeps on rising since most of the abductees are tortured to death and more bodies are being discovered in the bush.

That's a quote from an assessment report of county near my area of operations. The LRA are wreaking havoc there and I want to get involved, to send out teams, to be, you know, humanitarians.

Apparently, the rest of my staff, not so much. They have shot down every idea I've proposed, so we sit back, quietly, and let others do the real relief work while we organize three day workshops and have planning meetings.

I acknowledge, wholeheartedly, that I was born missing some common-sense chip and that I will purposely go into situations that other people run away from at top speed. But, I have been with staff who would risk everything and anything to try and help others, I've watched them jump in front of blades (literally), talk down child soldiers cracked out and ready for a fight and voluntarily go live in dangerous, brutal places.

These guys, not so much...But hard to know who's the smart one.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another custom bites the dust

So a couple of days ago I wrote a wee thing about the people in Kapoeta, their fun, super exotic "African" dress sense and how nice it was to see that Southern Sudan does have some colorful culture.

TODAY I get a memo from the comissioner of Kapoeta saying that the following things are banned:
1. Women in tight trousers or blouses revelaing the navel.
2. Skirts above the knee
3. Men who's hair is plated (because it "makes them look like ladies")
4. Drinking except between the hours of 4 and 6 pm

And, oddly, the use of plastic bags. (Actually, that one isn't so random, Rwanda totally banned the use of plastic bags a few years ago and they search every piece of luggage that comes in looking for them. Its a litter thing).

The kicker is the last line of the decree: "We should not import other cultures which can not go with our cultures and norms."

This IS going against their cultures and norms. The freakin dress code of this tribe in the area (the Toposa, I googled it) for women in short skirts and no shirts. I mean, seriously, this is hypocrisy to an unbelievable degree. It is just an excuse to, yet again, impose hideously mysonginistic and controlling rules on the women of this country for no better reason than former rebel leaders and fighters think every random thought bubble that pops out is a pearl of undeniable wisdom.

Ok, ok, ok, I'll stop before I get arrested, but I'm telling you, they did this in Yei and they did this in Rumbek and women were horribly abused, harassed and beaten (check earlier on this blog for more stories of that).

The battle rages on.

Men in tights

This is just too cute, my guard here, at night, patrols my compound carrying a bow and arrows. Seriously. I'm being guarded by Robin Hood.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why I wasn't a Peace Corps volunteer

I'm in Kajo Keji alone this weekend. Which stinks. As much as I love KK, and I do, I'm not good at alone-time and there is little which is more alone than a white girl in a remote town by herself on a weekend.

I lived in Kutum, in North Darfur, essentially on my own for a number of months and I got into this sort of zen-like state of sloth where I would literally not move more than five feet all of Friday and maybe, MAYBE walk to the market for ten minutes on Saturday. If I felt up to it. And the janjaweed weren't around.

This weekend is shaping up to be very similar. Well, without the horseback rebels, of course.

The explosion, by the way, was a landmine, the deminers were clearing a road and there was an anti-tank mine in an unexpected place. It blew up their truck, but, thankfully, nobody is hurt.

Yup. Just me, my book, my packets of dried soup for one and the landmines... should be a great weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boom goes my theory

As I was writing the last post there was a huge explosion in town. Not sure what it was, but I think it was a landmine. So, you know, everything obviously isn't exactly the same.

Fratire as a metaphor for Juba

While on the flight yesterday I read a book my little sister pointed out to me when I was in the States called "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell". Its by this guy, Tucker Max, who has made a career out of being a promiscuous drunk who likes to say nasty things about women and, well, pretty much everyone who isn't him or his buddies.

The guy is a moron, but the book is amusing and I finished it in 5 hours so clearly not intellectually taxing. But what I found most amazing was that I know at least 30 Tucker Max-esque guys who work out in the field. There were a number of stories where I actually could picture somebody I know doing the things, but just transplant the setting from Austin Texas to, say, Lusaka.

Having just come fresh off being back in the States and getting lots of "You must be such a good person because of the work you do" type comments, it made me laugh even harder. There are good people, sure, but lots of people are in it for the lifestyle which often translates to insane amounts of drinking, random hooking-upping and pretty remarkable social cruelty all excused under the banner of "I'm in the field, it doesn't count."

Just in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Anime inauguration

OH, and, I forgot, I was in Juba last night for the inauguration, which meant we all watched it together on the porch of Logali. I was deeply inspired and adore Yo Yo Ma even more now and blah blah blah, we all know Obama rocks as a speaker and yesterday was a very patriotic day for everyone.

Best thing for me, though, when the Bushes went up in Marine One to be taken to Andrews. CNN was being projected on the wall and just as the heli goes up, we all gasp, it looks like something is attacking the chopper. "Oh god" I'm thinking, "Its a misile or another aircraft or a... wait, no, that's a huge gekko on wall." So the Bushes survived.

Africa like your mama made it

I flew from Juba to Kajo Keji today on the World Food Program flight, for a week of being frustrated and tired (woo hoo!). The flight was not a good start.

First, I started losing my voice last night for no apparent reason and, this morning, had none at all. None. I could barely whisper. So that's fun. Get on the plane for the 20 minute flight to KK and am informed, oh no, NOT 20 minutes, 5 hours. In a tiny plane. Stopping abso-freakin-lutely everywhere. God knows why.

The trip sucked, except for one very cool stop, in a town called Kapoeta. Kapoeta is near the Kenya border, a small and violent town full of cow herders and...ummmm.... dust. I have NO idea what the tribe is, but they rock. The men all look like Sudanese Masai, with their shawls and their sticks and whatever else. But the women! The women are wearing very very short (like Britney short) pleated things made out of local fabric, no tops and lots and lots of necklaces piled up on their necks.

Sudan doesn't have a lot of "tribal fun" normally, it is pretty much just poor people being poor in the mud. But in Kapoeta, I felt like a National Geographic special.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The things I do for my job

Uggggghhhhhh, I hate small specialized aid world sometimes. The problem with being in a small community like Juba is that, for many issues, there is only one person who really knows anything, so you are forced to go to them.

It could be that this person is someone you just don't like, someone you embarrassed yourself in front of at a party or someone you don't trust.

Or, in my case today, it could be your ex-boyfriend whom you haven't spoken with since the end and now you have to come crawling back (after make the, wildly ambitious, statement "We will never speak again") asking for information about a law thing that apparently only he, in ALL OF SUDAN knows about.

Some bridges we should be allowed to burn, dang it!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Glorious battle - and bug spray

Since it has been, what, all of 4 posts since I whinged about the Malarial Pit of Despair (MPoD), thought I'd share a cute little story.

So I went and had sundowners last night on the Nile, which turned into sun-has-set-but-still-drinking-ers which turned into being-at-a-bar-ers, the moral of the story being I didn't wake up until rather late this morning. I was rubbing my eyes, not really looking where I was going and I walked straight into the BIGGEST nastiest floor to ceiling spider web ever. Swear to god, it was like that scene in aracnophobia where they go into the barn and everything looks like it is covered in candy floss.

So there's two issues here. Well, three really. One, I am now covered in spiderweb and there's no water, as usual, and no car, so I will have to walk the 30 minutes in scorching heat and dust covered in spider web. Two, I'm pretty sure that web wasn't there last night so either there is a nest of spiders or one really honkin' big, industrious one. Three, and most importantly really, I needed a wee desperately and the rest of the web is between myself and the toilet.

I prioritized, decided I was already covered in web so might as well soldier on through, got to the toilet, then went and found a stick, started tearing down the web, discovered it was, in fact, a nest, or colony, whatever the word is. They, sadly, are no longer with us and I have used up an entire can of bug spray.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Devil done come

Rebel groups are problematic at the best of times. When they are cracked out kids with no leader and not even the slightest hint of an ideology or goal other than surivial, they are a HUGE pain in the rear.

The LRA (Lord's Resistance Army, google it if you don't know who they are, I can't do it justice here) is currently rambling around the Congo-Sudan-Uganda border wreaking low-level destruction wherever they go. They tend to wander through the bush, stumbling onto a village, raping, looting, pillaging and kidnapping, then fleeing back into the bush before the Sudanese soldiers show up and surround them.

Needless to say, everyone's a bit edgy about this. I'm edgy because there is nothing I hate more than knowing I've put staff in a potentially difficult place when I'm safe by the pool in Juba and my staff are edgy because some of them live out in those villages and LRA are totally unpredictable. God knows when they'll show up somewhere and what they'll do when they'll get there.

I'm off to Kajo Keji again on Tuesday for a week, an area they are apparently moving towards, so I can do some assessment, see what the deal is, how much of a threat we're looking at here.

Luckily, they tend to leave whiteys alone, we're too much of a pain, so for once I'm not a liability for the safety of my staff but a plus.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Flip a coin

I'm sitting here trying to write a report for one of my donors and, instead, having one of my usual crises of... what... a crisis of determination, I suppose.

I have a few jobs up in the air right now.

One is as the country rep for a very good NGO in Somaliland. It would be two years (I'd turn 30 in Hargesia, hmmmm), hard work, stretching my current skills, a bit isolated and, depending on what happens in the next few months, potentially a bit tricky on security which, as always, means lots of time trapped alone in your house. Career and pocketbook-wise, it is a no-brainer. This makes me look like a wunderkind rockstar and I'd make tons of cash. Plus, you know, I mean, SOMALIA. How cool, right?

Two is in Cape Town. I haven't even been shortlisted for it yet, but I'm overqualified and one of my best friends works there and I feel pretty confident I could get it. This would be a sort of reports and grants job, a standard 9-5 deal, absolutely no career advancement and, most likely, stalling the momentum I've been lucky enough to build over the past couple years. If I took this it would be about the other life: vineyard tours on the weekends, all my friends, bookshelves for my books, boxing lessons and fresh vegetables whenever I want.

Three is back in the States. This one I've been offered, kind of, but there's no money for it so I'm being asked over and over to be patient. It would be a mix of the two, long hours and high stress, like a field position, but in a first world country, just not one I'm overly fond of and a city I loathe. It would be a career advancer, though.

What I am trying to figure out right now is what I want to BE. Do I want to be a real go-getter? Ambitious girl who gets to be a country director at 28, works herself hard, lives in remarkable, if difficult places? Or do I want to be just another girl, career-wise, who is in a job she could do with her eyes closed but has a rich outside life, with people and activities and hobbies and all that?

Eccentric, knackered and lonely or bog-standard normal, bored and surrounded by friends?

Man-ing up

"I have no other business but to secure something to eat, water to drink and some wood and paper to warm them during the night," he said. "I feel ashamed of myself. I can do nothing for them."

That's a quote from a father in Gaza which broke my heart this morning as I read the news. Now, I have no interest in discussing what's going on over there since many people get very angry at my feelings on the subject, but it does raise an interesting point about responsibility and depression in refugee/war situations.

Let me give you another quote from the Congolese in Uganda I was assessing last month:
"There is no food and my wife and children are starving to death. The children cry every night, they're dying... so I left."

I was, of course, scandalized by this. The man in question who gave the quote looked healthy enough. I looked at the two Ugandans who were with me, hoping for some solidarity disgust and instead got nodding heads. Later, I spoke to them about it and, yup, I had understood correctly, the man's family couldn't get enough food and his kids were sick from malnutrition so, rather than go without himself or work harder to get them more, he abandoned them all. Which, apparently, was not considered a despicable, cowardly act by my team.

However, in way, I get it. Look at the pictures coming out of Gaza right now, all that suffering. Look at pictures of Somalis (many MANY more of which we'll be seeing soon once the Ethiopian withdrawal leads to full scale chaos), people who have been trapped in an inexplicable and remarkably violent war for what seems like forever now. Go to any IDP camp (IDPs are internally displaced people, people who haven't crossed a border. IDP camps tend to be worse than refugee camps, in my experience) and see a family of 10 people all living in one little pup-tent-sized shelter.

Imagine not knowing when you'll be able to return to your home, to a normal life, being exiled to some forgotten dusty corner of some foreign country and depending on others for everything, and having it never be enough. And seeing this stretch out in front of you ad infinitum. Boredom and poverty or death and destruction. Nothing ever the same again, etc.

It is awful. If I faced even a tenth of what these guys face, I would curl up in a ball and rock back and forth catatonically. Look at me whinging non-stop for months about the malarial pit of despair.

And so, yes, from the depth of this depression, wretchedness and misery, some people make seemingly counter-intuitive decisions like abandoning their children to die so they don't have to watch it. But who knows how any of us would react in what is a truly god awful, forsaken situation.

I still, however, know my own father would cut off and barbecue his own leg for his daughters before leaving them hungry, so I can't help but judge these dudes.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ringing in the new year

Hey kids and campers, Happy New Year!

I haven't been writing because I'm back in the States and, unless you find stories of me eating my body weight in fried food every day interesting, I thought I'd leave it be until I got back to Sudan. Also, sadly, I haven't really been able to take a break, I've been working pretty much non-stop, so, in-between my feeding frenzies, it is a lot of sitting in front of my parents' fireplace writing proposals. Also uninteresting.

It is great to be back though I'm not, as I had thought I would be, suddenly desperate to return to the land of TiVo. A lot (a LOT) of people are warning me I need to leave the field, that I'm getting dangerously close to becoming sad, bitter, lonely, leathery old aid-worker-lady. My mother is, very sweetly I must say, turning on the "you're not getting any younger and I want a grandchild" guilt. And I am dreading returning to the Malarial Pit of Despair with a fervor usually reserved for colonoscopies.

But I'm not as convinced as everyone else is that, by returning here to the States, I'll suddenly be happy, normal, dating Mr. Perfect and popping out tow headed angels by 30. I reckon I'd just be poor, fatter, overworked and owning a Blackberry (god forbid).

Anyway, 2008 wasn't a great year, but I've got high hopes for 2009. Whether those hopes involve me moving to Cape Town (best case scenario), Somalia (almost best case scenario), DC (mid-range scenario) or staying in Sudan (worst case scenario with bells on), we'll see.