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.