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.