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.