Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Next Chapter

Its amazing how relative experiences can be. I am back in Nairobi, in Kenya, which is 3rd world. There are potholes in the roads and they flood stupidly when it rains. There is no public transport, and the power stations regularly go down leaving you without power for hours, sometimes days. But, to me, its bliss. I am back in a real house, I have a kitchen, a proper bathroom, hot water, a fireplace, a car that isn’t 4x4 (although its confusing getting used to right hand drive and left hand roads again) and shops where I can buy fresh fruit, meats, sea food etc. It’s wonderful!

The one thing that hasn’t changed though, is staff. They are everywhere! In one of my blog posts, I had a rant and stated all the things I was going to do when I get back to civilisation. On of them was walk to the bathroom naked. Now, I am staying with my mother right now (feels like a massive step backwards, but I love her to bits and she cracks me up so its ok) and since she has seen it all before I fully intended to get up in the morning and walk to the bathroom without having to stop and put something on.

We have a cleaner but she is off sick until Friday. I woke up this morning curled under a duvet (I haven’t slept under a duvet in ages! Been too hot), stretched and wandered out of my room across the hall, and into the bathroom. As I was about to close the door I heard a silence. Not the type of silence one expects in an empty house, rather the type of silence when someone abruptly stops moving so as not to be noticed. I peeked my head (only my head, I was naked as the day I was born) out the door, and there, blushing furiously and trying desperately not to be noticed, is the cleaner, come back to work early. And behind her, through the window, the gardener. I have no idea if the gardener saw anything, but the cleaner hasn’t been able to look at me since. Poor thing.

So yeah, I am back in Nairobi for a month. I have some promising temporary work coming up, and then I am shooting off on my holiday at the end of August. Things are looking up. I think I will be back some day though. I haven't got East Africa out of my blood just yet… we shall see what the future holds.

However, if you are interested in the goings on in Sudan, and the bizarreness that is Juba, I recently discovered that one of my campmates also writes a blog. Amusingly, some of her posts almost directly correlate to mine as we have had similar experiences, but as she is still there, the stories aren’t about to end… Petunia in Paradise.

I am not about to stop though. There will be more of the adventures. I also have to mention that while I was writing this, the electricity went out and I have been sitting in a house with no hot water, no electricity, no TV and its bloody cold outside. I may as well be back in Sudan, for comfort sakes! Africa wins again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back to reality

You may have noticed that not only have my last few blog posts had nothing whatsoever to with Sudan, or me for that matter, but also that they are very close together in posting times. Usually there is a nice long break between posts because I am busy and don't have time to write.

There are reasons for these observations. Three reasons in fact.

1) I was fired
2) I have suddenly realised how much I am going to miss Sudan
3)I am still trying to process the above.

If you read the post named 'Its been a while...', well, that is basically why I was fired. I don't think its fair. Certainly not reason for instant dismissal. But there is nothing I can do about it here. Lovely Sudanese law. So I have chosen not to dwell on it, and to move on to the next thing. Not sure what that will be yet, but it should be fun finding my next adventure.

In the mean time, I am leaving Sudan and going back to Kenya next week, and I have suddenly realised how much I am going miss some things here.

The craziness, although exhausting, has been amusing. I have had some truly amazing experiences, and learned more about my continent than I ever thought I would (did I ever mention anywhere in here that I am South African? I don't think I have).

And I am going to really really miss the people. Not the locals. The people working here. I love the people I live with. The crazy young business man who never stops working except to party once a week; the dance and sex obsessed construction manager who will happily dance all by himself to a tune he loves; his girlfriend who works crazy hours for an NGO distributing condoms, mosquito nets and water treatments and has a wicked sense of humour; the new young pilot who keeps me company on long evenings and likes ALL the same music I do; the crazy ex military guys who come and go and have stories that make even me blush.

I am going to miss the hodge podge of people from all over the world I have met in Juba. My crazy French/Kenyan/American friend who spends weeks trying to fix my computer and wont even let me buy him lunch; the brazilian guys who couldnt be more stereotypical if they tried; the Irish that have to keep trying to convince people they arent terrorists, the Scandinavians that wont let you into their camp unless you speak a Scandinavian language. Basically Juba is a mix of Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits. I love them.

I am going to miss the adventure of a windstorm in a tent, and a rain storm on the drive home. Avoiding the goats in the road, and boat trips on the Nile. Dinner in the open air, and a cold shower after a sweaty day, by moonlight because there is no roof on the ablution block. The fact that on a clear night you can see the most amazing stars because the only lights nearby are oil lanterns.

Dont get me wrong, I am glad to leave, and I am looking forward to the luxuries in life again. But, I am going to miss Sudan. I have found a little piece of me here.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I love my friends

This was sent to me by Miss M. I LOVE my friends....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

They grow them bigger here.

I am not easily scared. I have few phobias. Very few in fact. I like snakes, I dont mind spiders, I love heights (although I always have an odd urge to throw myself off high things... not suicidal, just a weird urge). Basically I can be fairly rational in the face of scary things.

However, I have one major flaw in the phobia department. I am absolutely, one hundred percent terrified of praying mantis. There is no reason behind it really. I just absolutely hate the little buggers. Are they good luck to have in the home? Do I care? Not in the least. If one tried to come into my home I would take the deodorant and the lighter and flame the little bastard to ashes.

Which is well and good unless you live in a canvas tent. My zip on my tent broke. Naturally. So I was sitting up one night late talking to someone wonderful on skype till about 2am, finally said goodbye, and was just about to turn out the light... and a praying mantis flies into the tent. And lands on the lamp next to my head. NEXT TO MY HEAD!!!!!!

I stifled a scream, and ran/fell/stumbled accross the tent to the furthest corner I could. And stared at it. Now what? The mantis was sitting quite calmly on the light, enjoying the fact that unlike the laterns outside, this light wont kill it. I wish I had a lantern in my room. But no. There it sat, staring back, calmly rubbing its horrible little front feet together.

I reviewed my options:
Home made deodorant flamethrower? ..... no, canvas tent.
Someone else to come get it for me? .........Its 2am. They might kill me instead of the mantis.
Maybe a shoe thrown expertly accross the room? Wait, I am a girl. I cant throw. My wrists always get in the way for some reason...


I actually started crying. I dont cry... much. I can turn them on or off, but generally I dont cry unless its tactical. But this time I started crying out of sheer frustration. My palms were so sweaty with fear that my hands could just about rival my eyes for liquid leakage.

I decided to try master my fear and grabbed a bowl that I kept in the tent for the kittens water, emptied it, and slowly moved towards hells creature. It was now sitting on the side of the tent. I gathered my thoughts, took a deep breathe, let out a little wimper and pounced on the thing with the bowl.


I hadnt thought about the fact that canvas walls arent solid by definition. The little fucker slid out from under the bowl and flew accros the room, brushing my hand as it went. Have you ever done that dance? That 'theres something on me I am sure of it but I cant work out where' dance? I did it for a full 3 minutes. Only to see it had landed on my mirror. This time I didnt stop to think, I just pounced. GOT IT!! Wohooo! Slid a piece of cardboard underneath and took it outside and left it under the bowl. It took me a full hour to get to sleep.

The next day I was flushed with triumph. I had overcome fear and survived without mantis induced death. Until I walked to the canteen for lunch. There, sitting on the fencing, was the biggest praying mantis I have ever seen. It was longer from head to tail than my hand.

I took a picture on a very high zoom setting so that people couldn't tell me I was lying about the size, and then walked all the way round the camp to get to the canteen from the other side.

When I leave here, I am never, ever coming back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Sudan Situation

I have been getting an awful lot of questions about the situation in Sudan, and I have realized that I never really explained it. So here is the most boring post you will read, unless you are interested in politics of course.

Right, to start with you have to understand that Sudan is the second biggest country in Africa. Only Algeria is bigger and then not by much. When the colonials were dividing up land a while back they basically just sat down and drew lines on a map. This may make sense to monarchs playing a game of 'Risk', but when it comes to African tribes this is somewhat like putting the school bully and the school nerd in one project group; violence will follow. Within Sudan they managed to include both the African tribes (the South) and the Arab tribes (the North) in one country. Not only that, but the part of the country that has the worlds largest unexploited oil reserves happens to be in the South, with the Africans. And everyone wants it. Now there are all sorts of interesting tribal justifications about the war between North and South, but the basic fact of the matter is that they both wanted control of the oil. Well, obviously religion comes into it too. When doesn't it?

So, a rebel group formed in the South. The SPLA/M (The Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army/Movement). They fought for freedom from the rule of the North. I am not completely clear if they hoped to take over the whole country or if they just wanted the South to be independent. However, eventually international agencies got involved and on 9th Juanuary 2005 they signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). South Sudan is to have its own government (located in Juba) and the SPLA was to undergo training by anyone and everyone willing, so that they could become a true military branch of the Government, rather than remain a rebel group.

All well and good. The problem is that Khartoum (capital of the North) still has control over an awful lot of the goings on in the country. For example, the police force is from Khartoum. You can imagine how much the SPLA and the police love each other cant you? Darfur (also North) is still a major problem as well, as its still a holdout for loads of rebel groups. To be fair they probably spend more time fighting each other than anyone else, but the point is they are still fighting. Whats interesting about the whole process is that essentially what the CPA allows is the training of a rebel group, so they can fight better. Anyone else worried about this?

So the current situation is an interesting one. The President of the country is currently at risk of being charged with 'war crimes'. Now, I am all for arresting and putting in jail (or in some cases just killing) the type of person that not only goes to war, but decides to throw in a healthy dose of genocide aswell. However, when we are looking at the president of a country that has peace for the first time in 22 years, do you think its worth it?

Besides, the Sudanese Government is basically puttings its fingers in its ears and going 'la-la-la-la-la-la' at high volume. They have issued a statement that they do not recognise the ICC (International Criminal Court) and have actually refused to hand over 2 people who have warrents out for their arrest. Would you believe that one of the guys who is charged with 'Crimes against humanity' is the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs? I do just love this country.

Anyway, what this means to me living here... nothing at the moment. Juba has been independant of the conflict for a long time. However, should the ICC decide to arrest the president (the descision is going to take 6 weeks), things will rapidly become more interesting. The UN, for one, will suddenly be very unwelcome. They account for hundreds, possibly thousands of people living in Juba, not to mention the funding for half the NGO's.

For now though, I am safe, and the conflict is all in in Khartoum, Darfur and Abyei so I am fine where I am. 6weeks time will be interesting though...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Its been a while

Ok, so after much disgust from various parties about my complete lack of posts in the last week, I have finally succumbed to the pressure and sat my ass down to write something.

However, I just don't know quite what to mention. I am running out of sense of humour recently, I have to admit. I mean, its been your usual Juba week. Should I relate a moment from the party I went to? Or should I talk about the fact that the road to my house is completely washing away with each rain storm? Or maybe the massive market that has suddenly appeared from nowhere near my site, and has the place crawling with drunken people walking into the road? Hmmmm.

Work I think. We have a new client. Our new client is a reputable NGO that works all over South Sudan. Whats great about the contract is that if they like our guarding services, they are going to use us in the national sites, so thats about 100 guards. Do you have any idea how much money that is??? And I get bonuses for every guard I place. 100 bonuses....... *sigh* Now, our gaurds are good guys. We have had a couple of complaints about sleeping on duty but thats kinda par for the course, so I was confident. We placed some of the new guys and a few of the old faithfuls on each site, and left them to it.

Two days after the contract starts I get a text message from the Director of the NGO. 'Your guard has disappeared. Plese find a replacement immediately'. Fuck. Racing around for 30minutes gets me a guard willing to work for the day, and delivered to the site. When I arrive on site I go see the director, and tell her that the replacement has arrived. She tells me that the guard (who at this location is a woman...according to her ID) has returned and told her she was on a lunch break..... huh? So I call the security manager, and he says he has spoken to her and that she had to go to a meeting, and couldnt find anyone to replace her and had left. I went to go and speak to her myself and she tells ME that her sister was in hospital in dire emergency and needed someone to be at her side. I like the escalation there, dont you? Anyway, turns out she was visiting a boyfriend. One of my staff from my old restaurant saw her. Shes fired. Bye bye!

I thought I had it all settled. The NGO were happy about the quick response. Fine.

Until Tuesday... I was at home chatting away online at about 9pm. I get a call. 'Miss P, your guard is drunk and had to be sent home. Please send a replacement'. Fuck. So I call the security manager on duty. No answer. I radio him. No answer. This guy is on duty for a security company in a dangerous city in a war torn country and he turns off his phone and his radio. About an hour later I get a call saying that the replacement has arrived. How the fuck that happened I have no idea because I didnt get hold of anyone. Someone just showed up. Wasn't gonna tell her that though. However, he was found asleep. An hour after arriving he was asleep. At 11pm at night. So fast asleep that she had to shake him to wake him. Luckily he pulled himself together enough to not appear drunk (which I have no doubt he was). Finally all is settled for the night, so I woke up the next day hoping I had sorted it out. I get a phone call at 7am. 'Miss P, your guard has arrived at work again. Yes, the one that was drunk last night. Yes, he is still drunk. And yes, he thinks he is working the day shift!' I wanted to cry.

I finally managed to get all the staff sorted out. I gave the security manager a serious screaming at (I say screaming at but rather it was a serious talking to. I seldom scream at staff, except at chefs for some reason. Maybe because they scream at me first..). Naturally he had an elaborate excuse as to why he couldnt possibly have his phone or radio on him. This is the third time I have had a disciplinary with the man. I have spent the last 6 days wondering how to fire the idiot, because he is fairly well connected to important people. But guess what? In true Sudanese style he simply hasnt shown up to work in 3 days. He got paid on Friday....and disappeared. *sigh*

So my boss arrived back yesterday to a contract gone horribly wrong, a manager that has run away, an an office that has staff files all over the place in an effort to work out who is who and where they are (I know its very un PC, but the only way I can tell these guys apart sometimes is the tribal scarring on their foreheads). Ah well, its just another day in paradise. Oddly I am having a wonderful day. I think I actually like stress. That or I am going native. I think thats more likely.....

Monday, July 7, 2008

4th of July in Juba..... bizarre

OK, I have to start this post by apologizing to any Americans who read it. Not everything I write is complimentary. If it makes you feel better though, I can happily slag off my home country for a good 500 words in my next blog. Trust me, its easy. There is a lot to slag. You know, our next president is a rapist after all.

Anyway, moving on. It was the 4th of July. Grand old Independence Day. So naturally, everyone and their dog in Juba wanted to have a party, and everyone was trying to market theirs as the 'most authentic American'. As part of the quartet of the hardest partiers in Juba, everyone was trying to get me and my housemates to go to theirs (can I call them housemates if they only live on the same site that I do? We have different tents and we share a mess area, but thats it. So what do I call them? Suggestions please). For some reason, when me and my housemates go out, Juba follows. I think its because we like to dance so much, and people who dance, drink. People who drink not only spend more money(hence the invites from businesses) but tend to remember the night as being more fun, often erroneously (hence the invites from people).

As a result of this, we were inundated with invites to various different parties. One person was having a party at their camp, with DJ and dancing, another bar was having a party with a free buffet of suckling pigs, southern fried chicken (dont ask how that goes on a bbq, but they did it), potato salad etc. Another person was doing a full spread of grits, mac and cheese, pulled pork (what the hell is that anyway?) and other bits and pieces you hear about in movies.

Naturally, we opted for the free buffet. Wouldnt you? And the party was HUGE. We were dancing on the bar till the early hours. This was not the highlight of my weekend though. The highlight was on Sunday, when the director of USAID here (United States Agency for International Development) invited us to his house in the USAID compound for the afternoon. Now, I have mentioned that they are the only compound in Juba with a pool. What I didnt realize was what their houses are like. Seriously. Like a house you would find anywhere in the world. Cream carpets, big comfy sofas, flat screen TV, full kitchen (airconditioned), private patio garden with garden furniture.... actually, come to think of it, its probably a nicer house than any I have personally lived in anywhere! I was blown away. Do you have any idea the expense involved in shipping this stuff all the way from the States? Yes, not from the same continent, the States. Across an ocean and a massive continent comes the cooker and the sofas and the dining room table and the four poster beds, and the tiled bathroom with the special water filter so you can drink the water you shower in if you wish. The sheer enormous cost blew me away, almost as much as being able to walk around a house barefoot again..

I thought it was amazing, and I said as much to the housemate of our host. Her reply was to look at me sideways. 'Are you serious?' Of course I am serious you freak, this house is fantastic (I thought). She then went on to explain to me that placements in Juba are only for one year, as opposed to placements everywhere else in the world which are 2 years. The reason for this is the hardship. Its the only place where USAID employees are expected to share a house (*shock and horror*) and where they dont have a separate office compound, only the one compound with everything in one place. I tried to look sympathetic, while quietly thinking of my hot tent, complete lack of living area, no TV and a lazy fan that works when the generator works.

Yes, this is where the taxpayers dollars go. For the money that is spent on transport, shipping and logistics just for the furniture and kitchen appliances of one house, you could probably set up 3 sexual health and information clinics in a rural and desperately needy area. For the value of the compensation pay they get for the 'hardship' of living in one compound, you could sink a borehole and provide clean water for a community of several hundred people. But remember, it is so very important that the employees are comfortable at all times.

I was proud to go back to my tent and know that everything in it came from Nairobi, and therefore carried less carbon footprint and provided more work and income for people in a developing country that need the business and income more than almost anywhere else in the world. For surely that would be part of the idea of an 'Agency for International Development'?

On the other hand, I spent all day in that house, watching TV and cooking in the kitchen (Mac & Cheese, whilst wearing cut off jeans and listening to Billy Ray Cyrus - no kidding, not my choice) and swimming in the pool and having a hot shower before I went home in the evening. I dont think I have felt that clean, or that relaxed, since I moved to Juba. God Bless America!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

.......and they change into animals at night!

I have had an interesting few days. By interesting I mean stressful, but I choose to say interesting because it means that when I reread this I am less likely to pull my hair out at the root.

Banks in Sudan work like this: Money (as in cash) comes in from the branch in Khartoum. It gets withdrawn here by people who have done transfers or banked checks, and then it either goes to private people, or it goes straight across the road to the money exchange business and goes elsewhere in the world. Money is NEVER deposited into the bank here. This means that every month, money has to come from Khartoum. Khartoum is North Sudan. They dont like Juba, because Juba is South Sudan, and technically the head of a 'rebel' government. So money doesnt always arrive on time. Its like international passive aggression. You stole my country, so you cant have any money, so there!

This month, Khartoum is feeling a little sullen because two planes from Juba crashed on their shiny new airstrip. So we didnt get any cash. This means that none of the businesses could withdraw any cash, which means that I cant get paid by my clients, which means I cant pay my staff. In fact, one client was lucky enough to be the last person in the bank to withdraw cash, but he was paid 5000sp (sudanese pounds) in 5pound notes. So I got paid in 5 pound notes. I am now Queen Paper Cut, from counting repeatedly.

Anyway, I happened to have some US Dollars left so I paid one of the staff in dollars. After I paid him he was discussing with the security manager (who is also Sudanese) where he could exchange his money. I overheard the following conversation:

Security Manager (SM): Well you can go the place in town with the green roof. They always give a good rate.

Staff: No. The Ugandans are there, they are Hyenas

SM: Oh yes I forgot. But you are wrong. They are not hyenas, they are snakes.

Staff: Ooooooh. Where else can I go?

SM: well there is that guy there on custom road. He is Ethiopian.

Staff: Will go there.

I puzzled over this for a few moments. I tried and I tried but I could not work it out. Finally I turned to them and asked them what on earth they were talking about. Snakes and Hyenas?

The SM turned to me and said, 'Oh its the animal they turn into at night' and went back to his conversation.

Again, I had to stop for a moment.

Me:Wait wait wait, what do you mean 'turn into'?

SM:(talking to me like I am a child) The Ugandans, they have a medicine. They turn into animals at night. Thats why you can't trust a Ugandan.

Me: (thinking that I will play along and see where this conversation can possibly go) So why does them turning into animals mean you cant trust them?

SM: Well, the power it gives them means that they can make you see what they want you to see. So if you exchange money, they can make you see all the money, and when you walk away you will find you are holding blank paper.

Me: Has anyone ever had this happen to them?

Staff: Yes, madam, it happened to my father. He exchaged money in Kampala (capital of Uganda) and when he got home he found that only the front and back piece of every bundle was real money and the rest was paper.

Me: I dont want to insult anyone, but is it possible that he was just cheated and he didnt check the bundles before he left the exchange?

Staff and SM: No.

Do you feel absolutely dumbfounded? I am floored. I mean, surely logic would dictate a review of the facts? In fact, they are right there to see! No, they are Hyenas at night and this gives them the power to make you see what they want. What amazes me is that there is probably a particularly bent money dealer in Kampala (who maybe travelled to Juba at some point for an outing) who has engendered a whole new breed of folklore. I hope he is proud.

I would love to have this power. Strangely, it only works with large bundles of money....