Monday, May 26, 2008

Bombs, Ben Affleck and Gin & tonics

Does anyone watch CNN? If you do you may have recently seen a broadcast interview with Ben Affleck about the situation in South Sudan.

Yes, indeed, darling Ben came to visit. In fact, he may still be here, but he tends to hide from us ex-pats. No, his face is for CNN alone. Yes, you detect a small hint of dislike. I have a very simple reason for this. If you have the money and the fame to get peoples attention, and the desire to help out a country in trouble, excellent. I support you. Indeed, I raise my drink to you and may even donate a little to your cause.

However, if you are going to do all those things, and then LIE about the reality of the situation for shock value I will just think you are a twat. Ben Affleck was recently seen on CNN telling the world about his new projects in South Sudan. Excellent. They need all the help they can get. Then he mentions bombs dropping all over the place, and his life being at risk for the duration of his stay. I pause briefly to open the curtain and check if there are any bombs falling. Nope. Sorry. I think back over the last few months.. has my life been at risk? Not really. I mean, if you want to go for a walk through an empty town at midnight surrounded by people who really really need money and food, then yes, you will be in danger. But only idiots walk around ANYWHERE in the world at that time of night alone. He also mentioned that because he is high profile he was at a higher risk. These people have been at war for 20years. They live in mud huts and have never seen a toilet, let alone used one (seriously: we had to train our new staff in how to use the toilets. They were baffled). The last thing they are going to do is recognise a celebrity when they have never even watched TV! Overall, the picture he paints is one of ongoing war, violence, bombings, deaths and poverty.

I spent the evening mulling over this as I sat at a bar on the Nile, watching the sunset and sipping my G&T. I smiled briefly at the Sudanese man to my left drinking his Johnny Walker Black and raise my glass in salute. Yes, the Sudanese have it very very hard. There are few jobs, there is little money, they have no income, or medical facilities or transport or water. They need help from the rest of the world, they need help building an economy that can support the livelihoods of the people here. They need a sustainable water supply. They need lessons in healthcare and hygiene. Basically, they need a hell of a lot. This country is buggered. But what it needs most is a lack of scandal and intrigue so that real businesses are willing to invest in the country and help provide for its future. Not stories of bombs and danger and lives at risk.

I order another round, and raise my glass to you Ben, you idiot.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Monkeys

I am a smoker. Not a social smoker, not an 'only after sex' smoker, not a drinking smoker. I smoke. A lot. And as a result I am very protective of my cigarettes. Especially since here in Sudan you can't just pop down to the corner store and buy a box. You have to think in advance. 'How many boxes am I likely to need until the next time I pass a shop?' Its a constant stress.

Yesterday, I bought two boxes before I went home. Just in case the first box didnt last, or my host smoked some and I didnt have enough or whatever. I bought two. I went home to my temporary accomodation and opened a bottle of wine and settled in for the evening. At the 'house' we currently have a Patis Monkey. She is a very sweet little thing. She is about the size of a small cat, and spends much of her time jumping from table to chair to shoulder to chair to table in an endless cycle of excess energy. She is only about 3 months old so I suppose she is a bit like a two year old in monkey form. She is a rescue. When I was still working at the bar, one of our staff told us that he knew of a monkey being kept illegally, so we rescued it, then realised that along with the two mongoose, the 5 kittens, three cats, one bird, and a very sick chimpanzee we already had, there was just no way we had the time or the space to look after it. So we palmed her off on the Host. He loves her, so it worked out well.

However, as I was sitting outside reading my book and quietly sipping my wine, I suddenly decided that giving the monkey to the Host was a bad idea. This is because as I peered over the top of my book I was confronted by the sight of darling little baby monkey with a mouthful of cigarettes. Not from the open box. Oh no! She had ripped the closed and sealed box to pieces and was sitting there quietly and systematically pulling each cigarette from the box and ripping it apart. As I leapt up to save the last of the cigarettes from the box from being eaten, the monkey got such a fright that she jumped backwards, landed on the OPEN box of cigarettes and let out a stream of pure putrid monkey urine, straight onto the box.

I had one cigarette left. ONE!!! I hate monkeys.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Inbetween

I am currently inbetween. Inbetween jobs, inbetween houses. The new job starts 2 June, as does the new accomodation. However, the last job ended last Saturday, as did the accomodation that came with it. So, in a way, kinda homeless and kinda jobless.

However, I have been lucky enough to get some temp work for the next few days, and a very good friend of mine has offered accomodation at his camp (I am fairly sure there is an alterior motive, but hey). Its actually really nice accomodation. A description: It is a container built for accomodation, so its a metal box, with wood panelling on the inside. The width is the length of a queen size bed and there is an en suite. The toilet is so close to the basin that when you sit on it you could rest your head on the basin and have a little nap if you wanted. There is a little concrete patio out front, with a table and a few chairs and an attempt has been made at a garden. Thats it. This is NICE accomodation. I shall explain why: Its quiet, its safe, you arent attached to someone elses pre-fab house and therefore can't hear the nightly bodily functions of your neighbour. There is some private space out front, and since there is wood panelling, there has been no need for paint, which they never use anyway. Its clean. The goats on the other side of the boundary fence are treated well so there is limited bleating, and the family doesnt beat their children so there is no screaming.

It has one major downfall. Its quite far outside town (please note that the term 'town' is used loosely). Its actually only about 8km, but it takes about 25-30 min to drive it. There are a number of factors here: The 'roads' are so bad that your car will fall apart at more than 30k/h. The goats randomly decide to cross the road and you have to avoid them because if you hit one the owner will kill you (thats not a joke), and lastly, the traffic. Yes, traffic. 3 years ago, there were 45 cars in Juba. Now there are 4085. And no roads. They even have spangly new traffic cops who for some reason unbeknownst to man, wear white. They stand there staring, terrified, at your car and occasionally wave frantically in an effort to not be knocked down by the stray car that has been herded off the road by the goats. I love the drive into work in the morning. Its a different adventure every day.

Soon however, I will be moving into my new house back in town and the adventure will end. Well, will lessen maybe. Or maybe not... there is never a lack of entertainment here for those that are willing to laugh instead of scream. I think I quite like this little hiatus into distance travel. Inbetween is a good place to be.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Last days are never easy

Yesterday was my last day as Food and Beverage Manager of the good old Bedouin Bar in Juba. No, I will not be leaving Juba (although the small sane voice in my head has been urging me to do so). I will instead be making my way into Sudanese politics working for a security company that does SPLA training. This should be fun.

As to my last day. You know, I really thought I could just close eveything up, hand everything over and then my last day would just be a matter of wondering around the bar, graciously accepting free drinks from well wishers. But this is Juba, it was not to be.

We had a meat crisis. This sounds bizarre, but we did. There was no chicken or beef in the whole of Juba for 3 days. Well, there is local beef and chicken, but if you see them, trust me, its salmonella on a plate. Finally, using my excessive charm and flirting to the point of prostitution, I was able to convince one of the camp managers of another camp to part with 10kgs of beef and 20 chickens imported from Nairobi. Excellent. 'Ta-da!' I say to the chefs as I walk triumphantly into the kitchen with my prey. It cost an arm and a leg, but we managed, so we have enough for the customers for the next 5 days.

This is all Friday. This was the day of sorting to be followed by Saturday: the day of drinking. Saturday dawns, as does the food poisoning. I was poisoned by my own kitchen, the bastards. Through the haze of nausea and cramps, I manage to make my way to work, only to look over the orders for the day, and see at the bottom of the list....... 20 chickens. Excuse me? This is followed by ..... 10kg of steak. WHAT???

I wait 5 minutes to calm down, and head into the kitchen. 'CHEF!!!' I scream at the top of my voice (this is me calm, by the way. Bear in mind that my own staff had poisoned me, and the toilet had recently become my best friend). WHAT THE F**K IS THIS ORDER????? He looks at me in complete shock and asks what I mean.

Me: 'Why have you ordered 20 chickens and 10kgs of beef? I brought those items in yesterday!!'.
Chef: We have used them all and we need more. We only have 1kg of beef left and 4 chickens.

I cast my mind briefly to the previous night when the only defining feature of dinner service was a tumbleweed drifting lazily through the empty restaurant.

Me: What, exactly, have we used them for?
Chef: Well we couldnt get any meat for staff food last night so we gave them chicken (there are 42 memebers of staff that work for this camp).
Me: You gave them CHICKEN????
Chef: *bewildered* yes, why not?

This is the mentality I deal with. He is convinced it was the right thing to do. He doesnt stop to think about where exactly the next order is coming from, just that, as far as he was concerned, he made a decision that makes sense and now he being shouted at. This is rapidly followed by him explaining that he has been using fillet steak for the beef stew, and that most of the fillet we recieve needs to be trimmed anyway and we lose about 300g and that also goes to the staff. Do you see a trend? At this point I took a brief break to throw up.

Written warning issued. Maybe NOW I can start to enjoy my last day. You may be thinking at this point 'didnt she say she was sick?' Yes I did. The information you are missing is that I am always sick. Everyone in Juba is. There is the highest density of tropical diseases found anywhere in the world in Southern Sudan. Its so bad that talking about the condition of ones 'stool' is commonplace. It is not unusual for a customer to tell me happily while eating his meal, that he is so healthy at the moment, he doesnt even have the shits. This is normal dinner time conversation. You can diagnose just about any illness here from the quality of your stomach processes. Malaria, Typhoid, Giardia, Amoeba, etc etc etc, all have their defining characteristics. So yes, I was sick. And yes, I had every intention of getting drunk on my last day anyway.

However, one chef didnt show up, another chef had to take his wife to hospital (undiagnosed dysentery like disease, as usual) and my cleaner was 2 hours late cause her little boy has malaria. So I spent all night in the kitchen running around like a mad person and by 11pm when the kitchen closed, all the people that came to buy me drinks had gone home, and I was dead on my feet. Bed, book, sleep. Hell of a last night.

Ah well, I shall make up for it today. I sit here with a G&T in hand ready to celebrate on my own if neccesary...... Cheers!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The day Chicken became a Cat

We have a bird called Chicken. He is not, in fact, a chicken, but we call him Chicken anyway. He is a Bulbul. A small little brown thing with yellow feathers round his bum, that is very sweet and sits on your keyboard when you are typing (this is most common when you have something very important to write, like a letter to the Ministry of Health).

We found chicken attached to the bar. This was not his natural state of being. Rather is was a clever idea of the gardner who had found him. The gardner decided that since we already have a mongoose on a leash (Mr Mong, banded mongoose, eats toes) then obviously this is what crazy white people do with their pets. So he tied a piece of string around Chickens leg and attached it to the bar. "See, madam? Now the customers can see your new bird!" (imagine a completely toothless grin to accompany the statement).

Needless to say, we rescued poor little Chicken and raised him ourselves. The problem is that Chicken thinks he is a person. He sits in the office and has loud conversations with anyone that will listen. This in itself is not really an issue. What is an issue is that he cant understand why cats, hawks and dogs all think he is a bird. If the humans can be affectionate with them, then surely he can too? Clearly not. So far he has escaped a close call with a hawk (I saw a flash of striped tail and a frantic tweeting flutter by my window, followed by a yellow bottomed creature plummeting like a stone to the ground), being attacked by a cat (explaining his complete lack of tail feathers) and most recently being stepped on by a dog (explaining his current lack of co-ordination).

Chicken looks a little tattered. He has been silenced and now sits quietly in the office recovering from his wounds. Its a very sad little sight. Give him a few more days and he will be twittering around and waiting for the next animal have him for dinner.
For surely, if he is not a bird, and he is not a human, the only thing left to consider is his continuing escape from death traps. Only one explanation remains for his excessive number of lives.
Chicken must be, in fact is, a cat.

The first (old) installment

As a young woman living in Southern Sudan, I am increasingly realising how bizarre my day to day life is, and have finally got off my lazy dusty ass and decided to create a blog to record the craziness that is the 5th World. As a taster of what is come, here is a mail I wrote some friends a while back about a normal day at the bar:

The Infamous Banana Split Incident


It was a normal night at the good old Bedouin bar. I arrived after my mid-afternoon rest and I began to do the usual opening up things for evening service.

'Do we have all the items on the menu?'
'No.'
'Why not?'
'Well, the cows were sick this week so we dont have any beef.'
'Ok, I can live with that. What else?'
'Weeeell, we dont have any cheese.'
'WHAT? Why not?'
'Somebody put it in the freezer and now its solid. But we can always get cheese from the market...'
'They sell cheese at the market??? I have never seen it!'
'Well, its in a tin.'
'In a tin?'
'In a tin.'
'Fine, get some. Anything else?'
'We dont have a dessert on the menu. But we could do a banana split I suppose.'
'Excellent. Thats the kind of initiative I am looking for!'

I walked away feeling that maybe the chefs were learning. Excellent. Next item..

'Do we have enough alcohol in the freezers for tonight?' (fridges dont cool stuff down fast enough)
'Ummm, well, there's a problem there.'
'What now?'
'The freezers arent working.'
'They arent working. Why?'
'I dont know, madam.'
'Did you speak to the electrician?'
'No, he has malaria.'
'So how long have they been off for?'
'24 hours'
'WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME?'
'...............................'
'Fine, lets have a look at them then... OK, you see this button here?'
'The white one?'
'Yes, the white one. Whats that next to it?'
'A plug?'
'Yes. Now watch carefully..... You turn the plug on like this..'

Finally I feel that everything is marginally under control. And the customers start coming in....
There are two sets of customers here. The old, drunk and dysfunctional, and the young, drunk and rapidly becoming dysfunctional. I love crazy people though so it suits me down to ground. They start to crowd round thethe bar and fill up the tables, all of them with the patina of dust that has settled during the journey from their shower to the bar. The hot and sweaty day fades into a hot and sweaty night as the music begins to rise in volume to match the merriment of my customers.

I circulate amongst the tables just to chat to those I know, get to know the ones I dont, and generally to blackmail them into coming back. I have to ward off a few bum slaps, a couple of marriage proposals from the more desperate than most, and one or two generalised complaints about the quality of our cheese. Luckily I can be quite charming. Or I hope I can.

I decide to head to the kitchen to check how things are going on this suprisingly smooth running night and as I pass the bar I am passed by a waitress carrying something rather odd looking.

'What is that?' I say, glancing in confusion at the plate
'I dont know, the chef just told me to take it', Sylvia shrugs and stares at me blankly.
'Come with me' I say, dragging her into the kitchen. 'CHEF! What on EARTH is this?' I ask, pointing accusingly at the plate.
'Madam, THAT is the banana split', says the chef, and then watches in consternation as I crumple to the floor in hysteria.

For sitting forlornly in the middle of the plate is nothing but a banana cut in half.
Thats what you get for trusting initiative.