Juba’s like the wild west. It’s hot and dusty and everyone has guns. No. More like more like the wild west when the gold rush hit and shanty towns became bustling metropolises overnight, and I happen to be one of the nicest hotels in town.
in 2011, the north and south will have to decide whether the south becomes free. If that decision is reached amicably, Juba is going to be the party of the century. But I don’t think I’m gonna be here to find out. Who know’s happening in 2008 let alone the next 4 years.
When I first arrived here over a year ago, I think I knew all four white women in town. There was our bar, Civicon, and Mango. DaVinci opened up soon. Then POW. Jimmy carter showed up here and the pot keeps boiling over. To see this place, to be part of it’s transformation is quite amazing.
I remember one day, all of a sudden children were everywhere, plodding along the sides of roads. Up until this time, were only romping around tukuls, butt-naked yelling, ‘Whitey!’ at me in their native tongue. It was sometime when I was taking the long drive to the New Restaurant that I really noticed them all.
When I was running our camp, I was threatened with deportation and arrest and a large gatling gun on the back of a truck spray painted with camouflage. Someone form some ministry that wasn’t immigration tried to make off with my passport. I tried to stop him and he tried to force me into his vehicle.
It didn’t work out so well since I have such a low center of gravity.
Regardless, there was going to be big mess because of all this. BUt the prevailing attitude towards government intervention was, ‘ask for ID. Ask for it in writing. They’ll never come back.’ but now they were getting organized, and the government actually is fairly legit right now. They want desperately to be recognized as officials, because they wanted respect. But now the officials command it by who they are, not by how many men with guns might be involved.
The place is changing and new faces are around every time I come back. and the city is expanding. Just today, I was doing some rounds and I came across an area where the old bank used to be. There were new structures, and the road is being paved and the cell phone tower is up, and it really hits you: This is the birth of a city, of a nation, of a place that is embracing every aspect of freedom and peace that we’re experienced out whole lives. The Dust and the stench and the livestock is the same shit that people put up with when New York City was just getting off the ground. How lucky am I to experience that? How lucky am I that I am a part of the progress of this city? My waiters and store men are part of the very first middle class the region has ever seen.
It just goes, day in day out. Sometimes the smallest thing goes wrong and I get frustrated and angry and I can’t understand the stupidity of myself and my employees and I just want to get on a plane and leave and give a big middle finger to the whole of South Sudan cause this shit is never gonna work. The very next day, things can be great, someone thanks me or breaks out in applause and I can step back and look in wonder at what’s happening before me, and I can be in awe of what I’m doing and seeing.
That I don’t know what type of day it will be when I wake up is part of what keeps me going. That and going home to something.
But now I’m going home for real. Here’s the schedule:
Dec 17th- Fly to Qatar
Dec 18th- Fly to Michigan
Dec 23rd- Fly to Bama
Dec 29th- Drive to Graceland
Dec 30th- Drive to NOLA
Jan 2nd- Drive to Bama
Jan 4th- Abby goes back to MI
Jan 5th- I fly to LA
Jan 9th- Fly to NYC
Jan 12th- Abby Flies to NYC
Jan 15th- Fly to Qatar
Jan 16th- Fly to Nairobi
I hope I get to see everyone.
The first time I felt homesick was about 4 months into my ordeal, December ’06. I had just gotten malaria and wanted nothing more than to be in a cool room in a warm bed and to be better. Malaria was like the worst hangover in the world. You’re sweating, but you’ve got the chills. You want to vomit, but have nothing up which to chuck. I’m not even gonna mention the headache. I wanted painkillers or sleeping pills or anything to make me feel better.
It’s not fun to be sick here, and in accordance with Murphy’s Law, sickness is more prevalent here. I don’t think it’s pleasant to go see a medical professional anywhere in the world, and in Juba it’s no different. However, detailing the woes of third world digestive issues to the lady with whom you cheered for the Barbarians against the ‘Boks the week before is about as uncomfortable as it gets. Except for getting there—which is even worse—as the bumps on the road seem only to exacerbate one’s symptoms, one can only focus on observing life outside the bubble of the truck to take the focus of the discomfort.
The smells are most unpleasant. It’s always a gamble driving by the graveyard, if a breeze is coming off the river, an unbearable pong undulates through the air and assaults one’s olfactory system. The smell is a lot of excrement, both man and beast, and probably a little decomposition.
But more than anything I think it is trash. Unidentifiable burlap sacks, plastic shopping bags, empty bottles both glass and plastic, scrap metal, aluminum beer cans and tins that formally held various sustenance. Trash lines nearly every street and a path and dusty trail in town, it lines the drainage ditches and streams, with each rain floating down the Nile to become Khartoum’s problem.
Sometimes the wind will change direction and a silent, revolting ,black snow falls. Fragile wisps of curled ash twist through air, over the course of a few hours will covering table cloths, and blowing along the ground with the orange dust, collecting in drainage ditches until the next rain.
Boys ride Chinese motorcycles heads back, eyes squinted through the dust at breakneck paces. Urchins sell dilluted diesel fuel out of old water bottles at rickety handmade stands, and speakers blast music at levels too high for the speaker cones resulting in unbearable levels of distortion.
Police in their purple camouflage carry worn kalashnikovs and traffic police wearing their stark white uniforms in contrast to the dusty background blow their whistles at the youth zipping through the roundabouts.
Giant UN LandCruisers with monstrous radio aerials storm across the bumps weaving among the goats and every now and then a herd of cattle will stop traffic, their heads heavy with massive horns as a young man nicks their ankles with stick.
And through all this, it can get tiresome: all this just to get some medication.
Tex and I have had many discussions about the expatriate life here. “You work hard here, you make your contribution, you make your difference,” he lamented once when he wasn’t proselytizing the virtues of Betrand Russel. “But what do you go home to? An empty tent, or container—maybe an actual room if you’re lucky—or you drink at the bar with the same people every night.”
He’s right. It can be a fairly lonely existence here. For the last month I joked around, ‘it’s a seller’s market: had to import,” but that’s the truth.
Sure, the tent isn’t as nice as our duplex in Karen, but I’ve been lucky: I’ve had something to go home to.