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...