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.
Turkey Day in The ‘Dan.
Last year, I spent Thanksgiving Day in Rumbek, reminiscing over a cold Bell Lager Thanksgivings past
When I was a Kids’ Table Thanksgiving Delegate, we always celebrated with friends. All of my extended family was overseas so we’d celebrate with a few British Expat families around the east coast, alternating houses year by year. We had dinners in State College, and Saratoga springs, and some at home. As we grew older, it became just the five of us, my brothers and I watching football and exchanging media in a mess of Macs, but all of us enjoying our wine and our meal,
Thanksgiving ’05 I was flying to Tokyo, but missed my flight out of SFO due reasons I’ll refrain from professing publicly, though they were fairly astonishing and amusing. Stuck at the airport, I scrolled through the phonebook I’d amassed since junior year of college and called a few folks I knew. I ended up spending it with some good friends in the area who also were not going back home, but instead going to a party. It was a blast, and I had a real easy time being the coolest random person at the party: “Wait, how exactly did you end up here?”
I don’t think I remember that vividly Thanksgiving ’04, even though it was the last one I celebrated properly with my family. At that time I had just started my job in Vegas, had just graduated college; I was in another world.
None of this is really sad, I guess. It’s just evolution, more than anything, it’s the transpection and crossfluence of life and making up words.
This year, El Berkerino and I had planned a spectacular menu. Asian pumpkin soup, bacon and herb stuffing, maple-mashed sweet potatoes, haricôt verts, mashed potatoes, a fresh thyme and white wine velouté, roast turkey, and honey glazed smoked ham with a housemade mustard.
Yeah, we made mustard: we ground up dried mustard seed with Italian white wine vinegar, salt, and sugar. All those years I watched my old man mix up Coleman’s powder actually came in handy. It was about the one thing in the kitchen he could make.
Dessert was apple pie with fresh whipped cream. We were supposed to have two apple and two pumpkin, but we just ended up with two apple. Meh, you gotta work with what you got up here.
The whipped cream on the other hand, was a real treat. It was hand carried by our CEO in small cooler with ice and hand whipped by yours truly on the night of the event, which was by all means an event.
Thanksgiving eve before we stayed up late drinking with DeltaForce, an amazingly cool army dude who’d spent the last couple years volunteering at Ground Zero, running his construction company, and bouncing in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s truly a hell of a human being, a great talker, and an even greater drinker. We talked about his property in Mexico, his eastern block wife, working as an expatriate in Sudan, and the nature of America and international living. And we talked food. Growing up in the south, DeltaForce loves food.
The next morning, El Berkerino and I were both wishing we’d stayed in the night before, but DeltaForce given his staff the day off, so things were pretty chill. We’d just gotten in a shipment of tomato juice and so we quietly prepared some bloody marys for him and two of his staff members. He also let me check out his iPhone.
It was cool.
Lunch was slow, just a couple sandwiches and a quesadilla or nachos here and there.
Then we spent the afternoon prepping for dinner, until Berk got pulled to go to another site.
And the waitress didn’t show up.
It was an absolute shitstorm getting it all out. The current chef—the fourth in as many months—though enthusiastic, is not a take control guy, and is still learning American food. I did the sauce, the stuffing, the roasts, and had to chide and refrain from smacking him upside the head because I knew his third-pans of sides and starches would not be nearly enough for the hungry people awaiting the feast.
The notion of Thanksgiving itself is a beautiful one. No presents, not pretense, no events, nothing but but good food and good people. Maybe some football if you’re in the right time zone. It may be, perhaps, the greatest holiday in the world. I mean, you don’t even have to go to church!
It’s very American, I suppose, the idea of a holiday based solely on food, but as I explained to a couple South Africans that evening:
Some people had buckles on their shoes, some had feathers on their head.
The Buckle-shoed folks nearly died, but didn’t.
Now we eat a lot and children trace their hand and turn it into a turkey.
No one knows what a cornucopia actually is.
End of Story.
I think I confused them.
So, while tending to stuffing, sauces and stocks and painstakingly pulling thyme leaves off their stalks, I asked the waiter to arrange the dining room, explaining fully the intended layout, and even asked for confirmation of his understanding at each step.
I proceeded to continue with the stuffing adding varied amounts of rendered turkey fat and butter. I stepped away for a moment to receive a phone call about our weekly order that had never made it, and I returned to the stuffing moments too soon. I walked in the kitchen to find my assistant cook standing over the stuffing with a bottle of soy sauce and a pensive look on his face that seemed to say, “I think this brown stuff would make a excellent addition to such a strange bread concoction.”
“NOOOO!” I cried out in a deep voice as slow motion took over the scene. My Wolverines slipped as I tried to stop him and I ended up tackling him to the ground, breaking his collarbone and and simultaneously initiating a war with his entire extended family.
In actuality, I called his name sharply, stared gravely, shook my head, ‘no,’ nd he put the bottle down
An hour later, the stuffing was seasoned perfectly and I’d fixed the litre or so of sweet, cinnamony pumpkin soup the Chef had made into something with a little bit of garlic, ginger, chili, onion and in a quantity that would feed more than a nuclear family. The waiter, on the other hand, had done little more than wrap some plates in plastic wrap and smoke a cigarette.
After a good five minutes of following the waiter around at a brisk pace to ensure he moved faster and speaking quite forcefully and succinctly about everything that needed to be done, he actually got moving.
The smoked ham I’d put in at 11:00 to cook real slow was blackened to a crisp when the staff cook thought the oven wasn’t hot enough and dumped some more charcoal in. I pulled it and let it rest until service.
It was nearly 5:00.
Once again, the waiter must’ve missed something in my direction as he was was pulling beers and sodas out of the deep freeze as the guests were arriving.
“What does six o’clock sharp mean in your time?” asked TheColonel as he rolled up at 5:59.
“Uh, it means, uhh, hang out, have a drink, relax, have dinner in a few minutes?”
“I thought you said cocktails were at four?”
I inhaled audibly and glanced at my staff running around like mad trying to complete the commands I’d given them. For once, they actually had a sense of urgency. I scolded myself in my mind as their lack of efficiency was a direct reflection on their direct supervisor; in this case, me.
“Well, no one showed up at four, so we pushed it back a bit,” I weaseled out, wincing at my own words.
TheColonel did not look amused.
More guests arrived.
We had highly ranked soldiers from various countries’ armed forces sitting right next to mechanics and construction managers and logisticians. After about fifteen minutes, they were all starting to get antsy.
I was running around scared to shit about whether the turkey I’d roasted in a charcoal oven was properly done. I was pretty sure it was cooked enough, I just had no idea how to tell with no meat thermometer nor the knowledge of the actual temperature of the oven itself
The layout of The New Restaurant is not the best. It has the kitchen and main dining room at the same level with a fairly un-level and rocky patio on a lower level that’s barely accessible due to placement of steps and the railing around the dining room. Professor Robson would not have been happy with whoever had designed this place, and neither was I.
Since the lower level was unfit for seating, we had stationed the the grill and the charcoal oven there, in effect, right next to and below the dining room. I’m all for an open kitchen, but this set up was a bit ridiculous. However, we had no other choice. With neither proper ventilation nor sufficient plugs in the kitchen, we could only have gas burners and the fryer inside. With no semblance of level ground around the place, nor easy access to the kitchen, the uneven, but still concrete patio was the best place we could manage to have our oven.
I poked and prodded both birds all over and inspected the juices. 15 minutes more carry over, and the first one would be about perfect, so I pulled it, covered it, and instructed my cook to pop bird number two back in the oven. With the first turkey set and everything close to a state of readiness, I touched all the tables and informed the guests that dinner was served.
People hit the soup first, luckily extending the turkey’s rest time and allowing for the juices to lock into the meat. A moment of calm swathed over me as people enjoyed the soup until my waiter furiously scurried to get more bowls.
I smacked myself in the forehead and hurried to assist him
A few minutes later I was inspecting bird number two in the waning daylight with my SureFire E2D. The juices were not clear enough. Visions of a salmonella outbreak infected my mind and lodged themselves there like a trichinosis cyst. A voice thundered in my ear and I looked up to see DaddyLongLegs, a gigantic, jovial, and generally jolly guy from Texas, enjoying a cigarette and the bustle of the evening
“Did the little button pop up yet?” he asked with a warm southern accent and an even warmer grin on his face.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my wrist and managed a laugh. This guy is awesome. He’ll answer, a ‘how’re you’ with a ‘fine as cat hair’ and had told me my pulled pork sandwiches were good enough ‘to make [one] wanna smack [one’s] momma.’
We chatted a little bit, and I told him about my stuffing, which he called ‘dressing.’
‘Well, I tell ya,” he interrupted himself with a spluttering laugh, “if I have some good dressing and summadat giblet gravy, I’m a happy man. I don’t need no turkey.”
“I know, dude. Turkey’s alright. . .but when the stuffing and gravy is proper, that’s the best part.”
“Yes indeed. Though, I gotta say though that ham you got out there looks daaaaamn good.”
I explained how I made the mustard and the glaze and he made a DeNiro face and nodded in approval. I didn’t tell him how I trimmed of the black, charred, cracklin, and reglazed it just before service. I was talking rapidly and looking over his shoulder at the dining room, indicating subtely my need to depart, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Now, there’s one other thing,” DaddyLongLegs leaned forward, “I hear that you make one fine bloody mary.”
“Well, I thought they were pretty good,” I replied.
“Who in holy hell drinks a bloody mary with Thanksgiving dinner? I am not making that shit!” cried the InMo as he stormed off to look for scotch.
“I heard they were downright amazing,” DaddyLongLegs said, “and I’ll have one on Sunday. But how are you on dirty martinis?”
I sigh under my breath, smiled, and asked him if he minded if the olives had pits. He shrugged and stroked his mustache a little.
The line for the buffet was extending, the turkey, the ham were being carved, so I did a quick walk-by.
Both looked phenomenal.
The chef and the cook were all smiles as they got to be out in front, chatting with guests and hacking away at dead animal carcasses. On the way into the kitchen, DeltaForce showed up and doubled the martini order. I rushed into the corner of the kitchen we had designated as the bar. I got a jar of olives and dumped them into a bowl. Using the jar as a shaker I dropped in a couple ice cubes, a dash of white wine for lack of vermouth, a 16-count of Smirnoff blue, and strained the greenish liquid into wine glasses. I skewered two olives on each toothpick, dropped them in and ran the drinks out.
Oh, calamity of calamities, why did I make them with vodka, cause DeltaForce and DaddyLongLegs had an affinity for gin. I did a once over on the dining room and set out to try and re-make the martinis.
The carving station was set up, people were lining up and enjoying their meals and all I had to do was keep everyone happy. I ran out the two new martinis with gin to DaddyLongLegs and DeltaForce with apologies for the vodka, and ran back to chew out the waiter for not having enough spoons on the line.
While in the kitchen, I heard my name called out loudly.
Well, it was something close enough to my name.
“What now?!” cried the InMo in unfettered exasperation.
Evening had fallen in and the setting sun made the dusty haze above Juba seem like blanket enclosing it, giving the hectic town an almost calmed and relaxed air about it; as if the over crowded mutatu buses and bumpy roads were silenced and lazy for the time being. The purple sky cast black the solitary mountain in the distance and the lights from camps and compounds dotted sparse the landscape. Leaning out the double doors of the kitchen, I scanned the dining room and my eyes adjusted to the candle-lit contrast of the kitchen’s fluorescent refulgence.
Smiles were flickered alight by burning wicks and laughter and chatter from the thirty-plus guest overshadowed the Australian rock playing from the Chinese stereo. My name was bellowed again and I turned my head to the source of sound and saw DaddyLongLegs and DeltaForce.
I walked briskly towards them to find what they needed, but before I took two steps they raised their glasses to me. I stopped in the middle of the dining room and nodded at them both in a silent reception to their thanks. They quickly set their glasses down, and both began to applaud slowly and loudly. I smiled (probably somewhat sheepishly) at their unabashed and egregious appreciation and I bowed my head in thanks and acknowledgment. I turned back towards the kitchen.
I had only taken a few steps when I realized the entire room had broken out in applause. I turned around, honoured, humbled, and elated at such a brazen giving of thanks. I basked for less than a second as a few, ‘yeah!”s followed by my name were called out. I motioned with hospitality points—open hands, thumbs tucked tight aside the palm—to my cooks at the carving station and my waiter on the floor, like Broadway actor giving credit to his stagehands and lighting crew, bowing once more.
I turned on my heels, straight into the kitchen. I grabbed a beer from the coolbox, walked out the back door, breathed deeply through my nostrils and looked up at the stars, reveling in the cool night breeze and a job well done.
So in three days, I changed gears, packed up my shit, and The Girl and I headed to The ‘Dan. Having just got situated, we had to act so fast, the time of change had yet to set in and inadvertently did not say goodbye to most of the wonderful people we’d met in Karen.
The Company hired her to take over for Buckshot, running the camp for a Major International Aid Organization. She was happy to get back to work and set her prospects in Nairobi on hold to make some holiday cash. The company signed her to a short contract, and secured us the time to go to the states for Christmas.
That’s right everyone, I’ll be stateside in three weeks.
I’ve been back at The New Restaurant almost since my return to Juba. Some personnel got shifted, priorities changed, and there I was, back where I was distracted with food rather than logistics, inventory, and databases.
It’s been fun. El Berkerino and I have been rocking the place steadily. We’ve helped secure a contract with a Large International Para-Military Contractor And Consultancy, and things are going swimmingly. We added a number of new menu items and honed the concept to the primary market: roughneck guys from south of the Mason-Dixon line. If in a future interview, anyone asks me ‘my greatest challenge’ I’d say without a doubt, preparing BBQ and Cajun cuisine for a bunch of good ol’ boys with only a two burner gas range, a charcoal oven, and limited ingredients.
Thing is, the guys here are awesome. They’ve been all over the world, have places in the Philippines, young international wives, and have a rosy outlook on the world. They’re some of the best customers one could have and have become somewhat of a family in a short time.
The other bonus is that The Girl’s camp is right down the road.
The past couple weeks here have been unlike any of my other tours; I’m not just enjoying the work and the scene.
I’m living it up.
I returned to Nairobi with our biggest camp and distribution center successfully running near real-time actualization.
Now it was time to sort out automated ordering.
It was convenient timing. The Girl moved to Kenya in September when I was supposed to be there, but got held up with The New Restaurant.
So I was back.
And it was good
She had found a little place near the Karen Blixen Giraffe Center. IanJames and his wife had been instrumental in her happiness there. Just as they did with me, they brought her into their circle of friends, making rapidly the new country into a new home. We kinda owe them our lives in Kenya; without them, we wouldn’t be as happy there as we are. Thanks. We owe you more than can be repaid.
While the little place on Lamwia was nice, it was sorta off the beaten path. Sadly but luckily, Butcher was moving out. Butcher, a friend of IanJames, was a pilot for Kenya Airways. He was truly one of the coolest people I’d met in Karen, and believe me, there are a lot of cool people.
Now, I can take it and dish it out—and I get a lot of it for my East Coast accent—but I’ll throw it right back to all the Brits and Kenyan Cowboys. But Butcher never gave me shit. He was just down for a good time.
Butcher had a sweet two bed, two bath duplex within walking distance from a Karen Nakumatt and a couple bars and restaurants, right down the lane from IanJames and 10 minutes up Ngong from the company offices.
Bushwhack, perhaps the most rough and tumble man on the face of the earth lived nearby and so did Sapphire, with whom The Girl had become pretty good friends.
Butcher offered the place to us. We moved in a couple days after he moved out. It was bittersweet for everyone, but we were all jovial about the new beginnings.
The Girl and I got the place set up a little bit, bought plates and silverware and crap, but it still needs some personal touches.
We were just settling in to our new lives. I was working long days, and on the weekend we hung out with everyone. While working, the two of us would have quite dinners together, I’d play a lot of guitar, and we’d go to bed early. The Girl’s job prospects looked good and I was looking forward to bouncing back and forth between Nairobi and Juba over the next couple months.
It was as close to a normal life as I’d ever known.
I had been back for about 6 days, and I had about three more weeks planned at headquarters to get some more groundwork in place. There I am, chugging along, sending out new directives, policy and procedure memos, getting ramped up for vehicle spare codes and the end of month, when bam, the CEO calls me into his office.
He and I had had some great talks the past couple days, he was championing by changes, and we were doing. We talked about design and me working with Director of New Business on proposals and profiles.
But that day he called me in, he said, ‘We need you to cover for Buckshot.”
I ’bout flipped my lid.
I managed to retain my composure for most of it, nodding silently, possibly scowling. I mumbled something and left.
I stewed in my frustration for a little before returning back to the executives.
No one looked up as I entered.
“Before I cover for another manager on their leave, I need mine sorted out.”
“Fair enough,” replied The Big Boss.
“December 13th, just like I’ve said in numerous emails.”
“. . .I promised my mom I’d be home for Christmas this year.”
“You a momma’s boy?” chided the Director of Operations, looking at me from above the rim of his glasses.
I paused, collecting my cool.
“I wouldn’t say that. I like to deliver on commitments.”
“Never mind him, We can get you back at that time.”
Half joking the DoO adds, “Well, it’s only the married managers who get to go home for the holidays. All the single guys gotta stay in the field. Unless you can get married, in the next few weeks.”
“DoO, you know I’m not single. My girlfriend just moved here, but we’d like to be back in the states for. . .”
“You’re girlfriend is here?” cried the CEO, “Here in Nairobi?”
“Uh, yeah I think I mentioned this—”
“Does she want to work in Sudan? Is she in Hospitality?”
“Hmm, funny how that was worded,” pondered the InMo.
“Well, we’d talked about this, but then DoO and I chatted one night over dinner at Tamarind. He said it wasn’t a good idea.”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t recall that.”
“It was me, you, Lex Luthor, and LouieLouie. I had the duck sachets and the prawns. You got a T-bone.”
“Oh that night,” remembered the DoO.
“Can we talk to her?” pressed the CEO?
In the next three days, everything was turned upside down; a lot of things were about to happen in a little bit of time.
The light through a mosquito net is phantasmal; spliced into striation by the meshed window of the tent, the shadows don’t move, nor does the light, but the effulgent imprint left by invading electrons stays static as the net sways. The bright bars confine the reposer further from the pallid mesh contrast to night.
don’t like the confines of a mosquito net, especially when it is not sized properly to fit the bed. I don’t even use on most of the time here in The ‘Dan, but I had moved into a tent where one was necessary. Through a series of decisions in which I had no part, events so transpired to throw me back at the helm of The New Restaurant for the week following my concert exposition. The crescendoing buzz of a beast as it nears one’s ear is a inimical lullaby, and in my new home, it the net was necessary to ward of the impending drone of approaching creatures.
Despite my nightly troubles, it was refreshing being back at the project I started, but it was not as good changing gears so fast that they began to grind.I acquired some movies from El Berkerino’s hard drive, and managed to not fry my laptop. At the same time I brushed up on my cooking skills and came up with a a way to make perfectly acceptable tortilla chips in the ‘Dan, and managed to have some fun in the kitchen.
The weekend came and went as I opened for breakfast but still closed at dinner. It was an intense week, and I was glad to get back to the camp to return to my work.
I’ve always said about Sudan, “I’ve seen a lot of guns, but I’ve never heard one.”
My first day back at the river, I heard my first gunshot.
An intoxicated SPLM soldier was outside out camp and fired a gun in the air. People ducked under their desks and our guards called the military police, but he got away.
That weekend, the town was on a lockdown all day, while the SPLA scoured town. Rumours went around like wildfire. The common consensus was that some big-wig from somewhere was coming through. It turned out they were confiscating guns from local people to prevent violence in the city.
Regardless of the fact there were less armed civilians, I was a bit wary of the men in uniform who patrolled all the dirt causeways with scuffed and worn Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders.
Well, I was a little more wary for a day or so.
The Rugby World Cup was in full swing the last few months. To be honest, I had no idea up until now there was such a tournament. But with the NFL games on at odd hours, and by beloved Eagles gluttons for punishment this season. I really got into it.
I found out, watching the English pound Le Bleu that, ‘asseyez-vous, grenouille’ is not something to yell at a gentleman whilst watching a world cup rugby match.
I always thought Froggie was as playful as Yank, Canuck, Pom, Limey, or Kraut.
Wikipedia has a great list.
Good thing England won, cause all the posh, gin-lapping nose-laughers (that means you, BDB) I’ve met are just fine being referred to as ‘Fog Breathers.”
The BDB had a little going away party the next week as we watched France get flogged (again) by Argentina. Blue sambuca was broken out in honour of his imminent permanent departure. Honestly, we were just happy to see the sonuvabitch leave.
It was Buckshot’s idea to get El Berkerino down for the party. He hadn’t been out with us in a while, and he and I met the BDB about a year ago. It was somewhat of a shocking realization that we’d known the Daniel-Craig-idolater and had all been in the land of dust and heat for that long.
On the way back to the outside of town to drop off El Berkerino, a shadowy figure loomed into the headlights. Our driver slowed down and we realized what we were looking at A soldier.
He had his ancient looking automatic rifle pointed right at us.
He looked a little unsteady.
He started yelling at us in Arabic, the gun wavering in our general direction as he walked around the car.
We dropped some names, tried to make nice, but this solder and his gun were too precarious for us to be comfortable.
He makes his way around the back of the car, to Berk’s open window were he sits, scowling shaking his head and smoking. As he lifted the smoldering stick to his mouth the soldiers fulvous eyes reflected the copper ember.
Now, let me just say that not six months ago, Raleigh, Buckshot, and myself included would have been pretty worried and crap. Not Berk.
He’s a Juba legend.
We were all just pissed about the delay the soused soldier would cause.
Think about how you feel when you hit a traffic jam or get a flat tire. That how we felt about an intoxicated man pointing an automatic rifle in our faces.
The soldier mumbled something.
Then he took one of his hands off his Kalashnikov and gingerly snatched the smoke from the fingers El Berkerino, The solder then popped the smoke in his mouth and put his hand back on the gun
“Hey man,” Berk said perturbedly reaching for the smoke as the soldier turned away.
The soldier pointed his gun to the sky and stepped back, breathing El Berkerino’s smoke through his nostrils like a sleeping dragon.
“Don’t worry about it, bro,” I said as I saluted the guard while we drove off.
During the days back at the River, I was working at the bar to avoid the politics of the office tent. Our camp happens to be on the point of a small trickle from town and the great White Nile. This spot happens to be the swimming pool and bathtub for, seemingly, all of northern Juba. The local government made us put up a fence to have a bar there to prevent peeping toms.
I’ve been out on the river to check on the pump, and felt uncomfortable with the scene that’s going on as people bathe. Most of our groundskeepers like to wolf their lunch in 5 minutes, and spend the rest of their hour break dozing among the roots of the mango trees. Strangely enough, I found many of them to be ‘snoozing’ on the tree that faced the local baths.
But that day my staff were not concerned with the bathers in various states of undress.
Tex wanted to buy some cigarettes, but the bartender had disappeared. Not unusual at ten o’clock AM for the bartender. I grabbed Tex his smokes and we spit out ‘Superbad’ quotes and discuss the inherent qualities of humanity when I see my bartender peeking through the bamboo of the government ordinated face.
It’s not usually the women who like to spy on the bathers, so I was perplexed. Two guards are also had their gazes transfixed. I took a look myself and a crowd had gathered.
There was a body on the ground.
At first I was worried. Everyone knows everyone in the town. I didn’t want to offend anyone.
“Do you know the boy?” I asked the bartender placing my hand on her shoulder.
“No,” she replied as she shook her head never lifting her gaze from the tragedy across the rivulet.
“Then get back to work.”
She turned to me and smiled, shrugged and parted the bamboo to get a better a look.
From all areas, cooks, cleaners, plumber, builders, guards, and department heads, flocked like flies to an open wound, even before the screams of women pierced the calm air of the morning.
I’m not the boss at the camp anymore, but I took it upon myself to shoo them away. It wasn’t reverence or grief or even shock or horror, but instead it was as if everyone was enjoying it.
I remember vividly waiting for a ride when I lived in Burbank, hearing the screech, looking up, and almost seeing two cars collide. Part of me desperately wanted to to see the carnage.
Part of me felt shitty for wanting to see it.
Schadenfreude, I think, is an innately human emotion. We all like it. It’s why we watch horror movies and soap operas. It’s why we only hear about the good things at the end of the evening news.
It’s why we listen to Emo.
However, to see my employees chattering under the wails and moans of women bereaving the deceased child, to behold my staff smiling in morose delectation in the palpable pall of death diid not seem human.
It felt wrong.
And I was having trouble continuing my work through the wails and cries of the women mourning the boys untimely demise. And more and more employees from all over the camp came to see the commotion.
I put aside my fears of cross cultural misunderstandings, pulled security guards from anearby post and told them to make sure no one came to watch. Then threatened to fire anyone if I caught them enjoying the tragedy.
It was a strange mix of emotions.
I felt as if I needed to be more concerned about and his family, but was more concerned about the employees.
It turned out the boy had dove into river at a point too shallow.
Life moved on.
We hosted a party for the World cup Final at d’nile on saturday with Springbok shot for the South Africans and G&Ts for the English. It was an epic evening. We did Springbok shots, Amarula cream and Mint liqueur, for the South Africans and G&Ts for the Brits.
In a seamless transition from sports to party, we switched the sound and started the jams.
So many people were around it was ridiculous. Controlling the music in such a situation is not an easy task. Everyone wants something different. I mean EVERYONE. I banned that ‘Hips don’t Lie’ song entirely. I introduced RJD2 to the crowd and people were going wild.
But then, I nearly had a violent interlude with some employees. The guys who helped me set up the sound, really wanted to play ‘soul’ or ‘rumba.’ I said, this was not a party for us, but for out clients.
I left the table to get a beer, and the growl of the 1/4 inch plug being moved filled the air mid-song. I had already been yelling during the match and this wasn’t any different.
It became a yelling match.
It became that I was racist, and didn’t want to play African music.
Since we had all worked together to make the party happen we should all be able to enjoy it.
Exasperated I call out out, “Do you think I enjoy playing, ‘Jenny From the Block’ and Justin fucking Timberlake?”
They didn’t buy it. And yes, do like a couple JT songs.
They argued and argued, and I eventually just prevented them from getting near the stage. I told them to get it to me on a memory stick, and we would play it from the laptop plugged in already. I just put on some Nelly Furtado to be followed by a little, ‘California Love,” and the guys were back with more people who wanted ‘soul.’
After more quibbling, I said firmly, “This is not a democracy!” and I turned my back to them.
I realized then that I had turned into my father.
I DJed till nearly four AM until I started to pass out.
Two days later, I flew back to Nairobi.
I had a lot of work to do.