Monday, June 30, 2008

Having a bit of a rant....Not funny, Sorry

To all those of you who have admired my stoicism in the face of adversity and thought me a better person for it, you are about to be disappointed. I am having an 'I hate Sudan' day. Not a down day, not a depressed day, not an irritable day. I am having the kind of day where everything around me suddenly and inexplicably becomes too much, and I am almost willing to climb out of my own skin just to get the hell away.

I think the reason for this is that I am planning a holiday. In September (that is exactly 9 weeks away, I double count every day) I am travelling back to the UK for a week or so, and then on to USA for 2 weeks. As I have been planning and fantisizing about this fantastic event, I have been dreaming of all the things I am going to enjoy while I am there. And this is where the problems start. Because suddenly I am reminded of how many things I currently miss.

I shall give a brief rundown, in no particular order:

  • Hot showers, or showers with water pressure. All showers here are cold (except in the USAID compound, which we have access to once a week on Sundays when they open the pool area and showers to a select invited few- trust American NGO's to have luxuries in Sudan... and to be stingy).
  • Being able to walk from my shower to the mess area and still be clean. I can just about make it to my room/tent while remaining clean, but by the time I get to the mess area I have a sheen of dust on me.
  • Having hair I can pull a brush through. I use the following products: Deep Moisturising Shampoo, Deep Moisturising Conditioner, Nourishing Hair mask, and then, after towel drying, Nourishing Leave-in Conditioner. Within an hour of my hair drying, the tips are frizzy, the rest is brittle and it tangles if I so much as touch it. I have long hair. Most of the way down my back. I think I might shave my head.
  • Roads. The 'roads' here are made from Murrum. Its a clay type sand with stones in it that makes a passable road surface when its dry and new. After even one bout of rain however, it is not only corrugated, but liable to develope rivers down the middle. Driving is a new adventure after every rainstorm.
  • A kitchen. Not just a room with a stove and a fridge and a work surface. I mean a REAL kitchen. With nice laminate or marble countertops, tile floors, an oven that works, untensils and, most importantly, food that I can guarantee isnt going to give me salmonella.
  • Staff. I dont mean having staff around. To be honest I would much rather wash my own clothes and do my own dishes and mow my own lawn, if only it meant that I could get out of bed in the morning and go to the bathroom without having to put clothes on in case the staff see me. Or walk round the property at night without having people watching me. What I miss is staff that understand what you are asking for. The service staff here just dont. Even if they speak English, they just dont. For example, there is a woman that cleans our rooms. I say to her every day that she must just leave my bed alone, as I like it the way I make it. Every day she comes in, shakes out the sheets which I have neatly laid, and then folds the whole lot up in the middle of the bed in a neat little square, surrounded by a expanse of undersheet. Eventually I gave up and told her not to clean my room, I was so irritated. However, when I decided that it needed a sweep (probably about an hour later) I went in search of a broom and was immediately swamped by staff who were intensely offended that I wanted to sweep my own room, because 'Madam shouldnt have to do the work.' I finally agreed to leave them to it and when I returned an hour later, the bedlinen was once again folded up neatly in the centre of the bed. Please note that these staff are Kenyan. Sudanese staff can generally be found under a tree sleeping. They have been at war for 20 years and the concept of 9-5 is truely foreign.
  • Food. As my finale, I think food is the thing I miss the most. I miss steak you can cut without resorting to a hacksaw, I miss chicken that you know wont kill you, I miss vegetables other than tomatoes, peppers and onions, I miss sauces, sushi, fresh fish, risotto, pies, desserts, chocolate, ice cream, fresh milk, filter coffee, pastries, carpaccio, fresh homemade tortellini, FOOD!

When I arrive on London, I am going to do the following in this order: Have a shower, wash my hair, go shopping using real roads to get there, make a real homemade, fresh meal, sleep in a bed made like a normal person makes their bed, and in the morning I am going to walk to the bathroom naked. Yes, naked. (Miss M, I know I will be staying with you, but I am sure you will understand the need, and that you will simply avert your eyes. You have seen it all before after all).

I think that after that I will be ready for the holiday.

Actually I forget one last thing. I am going to pour myself a glass of tapwater, and drink the whole damn thing, and LAUGH in the face of Typhoid and Bilharzia!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Traffic Jam - Juba style

You would be amazed at how long it takes for 400 head of cattle to walk down the road...
I spent the time waiting working out how much my offered 'bride price' would actually be worth. Here in Juba one cow is worth US$1000. So, if I accept a price of 150 cows, thats US$150,000.
Now that IS tempting! Maybe I can have the ceremony, get the cows and make a dash for the border? No.... they are moving too slowly. Damn. Have to come up with another option...

Anyway, about this photo, please note the electricity wires in the background.....These have been here since colonial days. A whole power system was installed, people trained, and then the whole lot handed over to the Sudanese. Within a couple of months 3 of the 4 substations had blown. So now the only places that have electricity are the hospital and the electricity department building. The rest of Juba sometimes gets power for about 2 hours every few days.

Oh, and this isnt the dodgy area of town. This is one of the good parts :-)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The joys of staying in a tent.... next to other tents

I hadn't thought to blog this because I thought that parental reading could lead to mild embarrassment (I THINK they have the link to this site) , then it occured to me that they are grown ups too. So.....

Remember how I said I live in a tent? With fabric for walls? THIS is what can happen.

There are 10 tents in a row. 2 down from me is a couple, I shall call them John and Jane. In between us is a guy that I shall call Joe. He is a typical cockney in all senses. Brash, heavily accented and absolutely hilarious. He always has a quick comment, generally lewd, that makes everyone just crack up.

On this one occassion John and Jane were enjoying each others company, sexually, LOUDLY. I knew, lying in my bed, that everyone could hear them. I was two tents down and it sounded like they were on my doorstep. It wasnt like I was going to get up and go say politely, 'scuse me, guys? Can you, like, keep it down a bit?'

So I just hoped they would hurry up. It was just at a particularly loud point in this event, that suddenly, from the next tent, a booming cockney voice that could probably be heard in Khartoum shouts out: 'Oi! If you are going to be so loud about it, at least invite me in!'

The entire row of tents erupted into hysterical laughter. Everyone just cackled, and we could all hear each other cackling, and it just went on and on and on. It was just one of those moments.

To their credit, I dont think it even stopped them!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I found the red tape!

I knew there must be some somewhere! They couldnt all be guarded by sleeping AK47 wielding crazies! But wait, let start at the beginning of my day....

I started my day intent on taking lots of pics to put on here but was rapidly disabused of that notion when I entered the military compound and my camera was removed. They have never done that before, but I guess posting pictures of a military installation on a blog is not really secure! I SOOOOOO wanted to show you though. I shall describe it. There is, outside town, a massive big white wall with barbwire on top. You drive up to it thinking... oooh, fancy (by Sudan standards, you understand). It goes on for a couple of km's but eventually you enter through a lovely big gate, and...... nothing. Seriously, nothing. There are some prefab buildings in the distance and some tents and thats about it. So, ok. Fine, drive to a prefab building, walk into what looks like a teenagers bedroom (without the bed) and you get to meet Mr VIP.

On this occasion, however, I had to wait as they were all eating. I sat in the corridor/place between prefabs, and was rapidly approached by two men in unifrom. They began with the usual pleasantries. Where are you from, do you have children, I have 500... and then finally one of them sat down next to me and says, 'Madam can I ask you a favour?' I was a little suspicious but said yes anyway.

'Madam, I need school fees for my children. Will you pay them for me?

Just like that. I said no, that I didnt have any money in this country.

'But madam, you are Kawaja (white person), I know you have money. Why wont you help Sudan? My children need an education so that Sudan can grow. Why can you not do this?'

Luckily, at this point I was summoned to the office.

I had three people I had to meet today. VIP 1, 2, and 3. Mainly it was courtesy calls, the equivalent of jumping up and down with my hands in the air saying, 'HELLOOOO! Remember me? Yeah, thats right, me with the proposal!' Of course, what I actually said was, 'Hi there, I just thought I would stop by and bring greetings from my boss in UK. He sends his regards and says he will be back soon.' Courtesy is very important here. You cant start a conversation without enquiring about the health of VIP's self, family, cattle and general state of mind. After going through this with VIP 1, he asks me take a seat, offers me water (lifeblood I tell you, in this heat), and then asks, 'So, Madam, are you married?' Now, when I first got here it was too difficult to fabricate a fictitious husband as that would lead to questions of children, and why a healthy girl, almost past her prime (I am 25, but thats old to these people) doesnt have any. So I created a Fiance. I also wear a band on my wedding finger. This, apperently does not work.

VIP 1: Are you married, madam?
Me: No, but I am engaged.
VIP 1: Aaah, so you are still available!
Me: No, I love my fiance very much
VIP 1: Ah, but you are not married yet, there is still time for me to make my offer!
Me: No really, I love my fiance and will have no one else.
VIP 1: Yes but what does he have to offer you? I can offer 150 heads of cattle for your family. Does your father approve?

Holy shit, I am stuck in the dark ages. I finally get out of the conversation by cunningly changing topic and then moving to the office of VIP 2.

Me: Hello sir how is your wife, uncle, 10 children, 3000 cattle, neighbours dog, local shop owner etc etc etc.
VIP 2: Ah I see you are not with Mr Boss today? So, are you married?
And again:
Me: Hello sir (place correct self given rank here), how are... blah blah blah... (I very nearly said 'blah blah blah', I was so bored by this point)
VIP 3: Aaaaaa, Madam. So tell me, are you married?
I have seldom felt so pleased to leave place.
Anyway, next stop was VIP Location no 2 to discuss another proposal. Luckily, this man simply said he had recieved the proposal, passed it on to the correct person, and that it was best I went to go and see him at the Ministry. YAY! Coherent conversation!
Off to the ministry. By this time it was about 4pm, and I was looking forward to getting home and having a beer. I arrived at the ministry, found the correct office and guess what?? There are two armed and AWAKE guards outside his door! I was directed to another office with a man seated behind the table who seemed friendly enough. After the pleasantries I explained who I was and he said he would go to the office and speak to Mr MAJOR VIP.
I waited about 2 hours. I was accoumpanied in the office by another woman waiting who looked like she had spent her whole life sucking lemons, and due to recent events, had decided to graduate to limes. Finally, after a lifetime in which all my lifebearing eggs actually had got past their prime, I was told by Mr Go-between that Mr MAJOR VIP hadn't had time to go through the proposal, but I should come back in a few days. I have finally found the red tape! There is, indeed, some left fluttering about out there! Despite my annoyance, general bad mood, and exhaustion I was cheared by the fact that I now had some incling of what Amy goes through, and that I could sympathise.
I was about to leave when Mr Go-between stoped me and said:
'So, madam, are you married?'

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finally, some pics....

So to all you out there who cant believe that what I say is indeed the truth I have some photos to show you!

I havent got an aweful lot of them, but just a few to keep you going for now. Tomorrow I have to go visiting people, so I shall give you some photos to laugh at hysterically. They will be of various 'Government Buildings'.

For now: My tent, my humble abode. The back wall is actually a door that leads to the en suite, but I didnt think you would want to look at pictures of toilets. They all look the same really...

The row of tents......The problem with canvas is that you can hear everything through it. Including the snoring of the person next to you, or any other nocturnal activities...

This is my office from the outside. I am on the bottom, and good old MTN has moved in above. We can hear every step they take as they walk back and forth upstairs, but hey, if they get up and running I may have a hope of a decent signal.....

My office from the inside: You wouldnt think it would look so decent would you? Its like playing with meccano; you can create anything you want to with containers. Please note the 'no smoking' sign above my desk. My boss thinks its funny and he put it there on my first day to ward off any hope I had of having a 'smoking' office...

This is the road I drive to work and back every day. Today it was oddly lacking goats....

The reason I moved outside town: This is my view in the morning from my tent:

Nowhere inside Juba can you get such a beautiful view. To be fair, in 4 months time when the rains come to an end this view will be of dry, barren, brown land. So I shall enjoy the green while I can...

And then, just for a giggle, I thought I would add a picture of our local graveyard and the sign accompanying it. This graveyard is in use. Its in front of the entrance to the bar I used to work, so we tried to clear up the area a little and we were arrested! For interfering with the graves!

Anyway, thats a taster of whats to come. I cant wait to show you the ministry buildings. Whats wonderful is how proud they are of them. Anyway, ta-ta for now...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sudan Blues

Despite the constant entretainment of living in a country where absolutely everything is ludicrous, I do have my down days. Today was one them. I woke up feeling a little less than ok. In any other country I would have called a friend and had a bit of a winge about the state of affairs, but phones dont really work here. In fact, I live right next to a signal tower for a shiny new network, and yet every time I try to call I get a 'no signal' message! One can, most of the time, get throught to someone else within Juba, but getting in touch with anyone outside Juba? No.

So here I was, feeling shitty, unable to call anyone. The friends I have here are good friends, but more the sort that you hang out with and have fun, not the ones you can sit and have a good bitch about life with.

I decided to immerse myself in work instead. Luckily I had a very busy day. Part of which involved meetings with various important personages in various important parts of the Government. I cant really be more specific (damn that non-disclosure contract) so I will leave it at that. But I noticed something unusual about every one of them. They offered me their phone numbers. And no, I am not talking about 'my people can call your people' kind of phone numbers (mainly cause these people dont have 'people'), I mean their actual personal phone numbers. Can you imagine if everyone who happened to meet with the mayor of London (for example, and I can use this example because, as far as I know, they dont have a mayor here) was given his personal phone number? There would be havoc. However, the process here to see someone important, is this:
Go to the office (or prefab, or container or whatever he is currently using as an office) and knock on the door.
Yes, its that simple. There is inevitably someone sitting outside the door holding his AK47, but most often his hands are crossed over the muzzle with the butt wedged on the floor, and his head is on his hands and he is asleep. God knows what would happen if he jerked in his sleep and accidentally pulled the trigger. However, walk past the death wishing 'security' and you get to sit with Mr Important, and start discussing some important new proposal or something, and everyone else has the same idea. They knock on the door and walk in. Does Mr Important get annoyed? No. He talks to them too. So there you are sitting with your proposal that may as well have TOP SECRET written accross the front, and random people keep walking in and having discussions, while covertly looking over your shoulder at the paperwork that has been splayed across the table. This is fairly standard behaviour across the board of important people. Would anyone like to hazzard a guess at why the rebels were able to get into Darfur at exactly the time when they were least expected last month? I have a few theories....

Anyway, meetings done, I headed home. Sorry, I meant office. Did I say home? Ooops. Freud. So I spent a productive afternoon playing with my phone trying to contact the security guards who are on standbye, only to discover that they dont actually have a phone at all, but rather gave me their fathers sisters husbands uncles phone number (cause they all live in the same house) and that they arent home. I gave up and headed home.

And then it started to rain.

In Sudan, it doesnt just rain. You know how in Egypt the Nile floods every year? Its because it rains in Sudan. And, dear God, can it rain. I have a whole new understanding of the possible reality of the biblical plagues. It rains and rains and rains, the whole place floods, and then the frogs come out. In thousands. You cant walk down a sodden path without standing on one. You kinda have to slide your feet, so you dont squash them. And then there are the bugs. I am not going to go into the bugs. It will take too long.

I eventually got back to my tent, plugged my laptop in, and it STARTED! No freezer neccessary! Wohoo! And for some reason that simple little thing lifted my spirits. Who needs friends on call when you have a computer that starts without a freezer? All is right with the world again. For today. Tomorrow it might cut out the middle man and just rain frogs. You never know.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Just one thing

I have only one thing to say today that I think sums up my life;

I had to put my laptop in the freezer to start it today.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I can drive a hovver craft!

I can drive a hovver craft. Did any of you know this? Well I can. Dont worry if you didnt know. Neither did I.

Let me start at the beginning. Sudan needs money. Obviously. The Sudanese Government however, cant charge the expats here for much as almost all of them are working for NGO's and Aid agencies, and have tax exemptions. But it irks them to see all these rich white people driving around in their lovely cars. And then they hit on a jackpot. The cars.
'Surely there is something we can do with these cars?' they said to themselves.

This is what they did. Firstly, because GOSS (government of Southern Sudan) is all new and shiny after they have been declared free from the North, they decided they wanted their very own number plates. So every car in Juba had to have the number plates changed to official GOSS ones. This cost each owner about $700. Now here is where the jackpot comes in. Unlike in developed countries where you get 6 months to a year to change your plate, they gave everyone two weeks. Yes, two. And it takes approximately 1 month to get anything done in Sudan. So, now they can fine everyone. Excellent. This worked beautifully, but everyone eventually got themselves sorted.

The ministers all sat back and looked in satisfaction at the money generated by their little ploy. Ah, but if only they could find an excuse to do it again.....

Wait a second. Excuse? What do they need an excuse for? Are they not the shiny new government that has the power to do whatever they want? Yes! Indeed!

So 6 months down the line (this now being about 3 weeks ago) they decided that GOSS number plates werent good enough. No, they want one for each state of Southern Sudan. So the law changed. 2 weeks notice. Another $700 per car.

I was driving down the road, minding my own business when I was flagged down and told that I had the wrong number plate. Fine, dont bother arguing. How much is the fine? 40 sudanese pounds. OK I can live with that. Except that the reciept he gave me said 30sp. But you know what? I dont really care. Corruption is rife and I couldnt be bothered to take my life in my hands while I go back and complain to the rather aggressive traffic cop. I thought that would be the end to it. However, as I drove further down the road I was flagged down yet again. By this point I was getting a bit annoyed. I showed the guy my reciept for the fine I had JUST paid, and he looked distinctly disgruntled. He then spent several minutes walking round the car looking for something else to fine me on. Suddenly he remembered the new law passed yesterday, and I was asked for my licence. Gladly, I handed over my UK license card, which he proceeded to look at with fascination.
'This is not a licence', he says to me. 'Only Sudanese license is real license. You must get Sudanese licence. 40 pounds. Now.'
Fine. Just fine. Here is your 40 pounds you mad stupid idiot (I thought to myself).

Anyway, I paid the fine and then went back to the office to try to get my real Sudanese license sorted out. Apparently I need to take all my documents to the traffic department, which I did. When I arrived at the desk they gave me a form to fill out. They asked to see my visa, which I gave them. I looked through the form and it asks you to tick off which type of vehicle you want your licence to be for. I asked the guy behind the desk if he needed to see my licence. 'No madam, just tick the right one.'
A sly grin slid across my face as I ticked EVERYTHING. The guy didnt blink, just stamped all the correct things and handed me back my official Sudanese licence.

I am licenced to drive the following:
  • Motorcycles less than 4 wheels and not more than 400kg laden
  • Motor cars and dual purpose vehicles not exceeding 3500kg and no more than 7 passengers
  • Medium goods vehicles and heavy tractors
  • Heavy Goods vehicles
  • Light omnibuses seating more than 7 and not exceeding 20 passengers
  • Medium omnibuses seating more than 20 and not exceeding 60 passengers
  • Heavy omnibusses seating more than 60 passengers
  • Combination of vehicles
  • Pedestrian controlled vehicles
  • Engineering plant
  • Hoover Vehicles

I have several questions here. Firstly, have you ever known a motorbike to carry a load of anything near 400kg? Secondly, what is a 'combination of vehicles?' Thirdly, what the hell is a 'pedestrian controlled vehicle'? Doesn't controlling a vehicle in and of itself negate the term pedestrian?

Lastly, what is a 'hoover vehicle'? I have decided to believe it is a hovver craft, of which there is ONE in the whole of Juba, and its privately owned and used on the river. Now at least I can steal it, and should I get stopped, I can prove that I am legally allowed to operate it.

Here's to hovver craft and pedestrian controlled vehicles. May I discover and drive them soon!