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.