Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Juba Jubilee

Greetings from Juba, South Sudan! It’s so hot and humid here after cool temperate Uganda. I’m sweating like a pig.

I’ve returned to the same tented camp as I stayed in before, “the Mango camp”. However, its 8 months later and things have changed.

I’ve got my own tent here – which is nice – and they also have internet connections now so I was able to Skype/chat my fellow advocate Sean in Brussels and Camilla in the US simultaneously. The line of army green tents (1-10) is still the same but for privacy reasons, I guess, they have put these ugly rattan screens in front of the ‘porch area’ on the front. They look ramshackle and like they are about to collapse in front of the tent. There are also a lot of bugs in my tent and the front flap won’t zip up correctly. As some of you may know, I do not like bugs. I’m afraid to kill them and I don’t want them to jump on me. I’d rather handle a lizard, a snake, and a mouse than some bugs. There are some HUMONGOUS grasshoppers in here. When I pulled down the mosquito net over my cot, one was inside! Yikes – I scooped him off the bed but I don’t know where he is now. Hopefully not in my suitcase amongst my underwear, waiting to jump out on me tomorrow morning. I also have a ‘head lamp’ style flashlight. It attaches to the top of my head on an elastic band like a coal miners lamp. I used it to go into the bathroom this evening and since it was the only light there, all the bugs swarmed in front of my eyes and face. Not ideal.

There’s been other changes too. Where in April, they had small wooden tables and chairs arrayed under the mango trees along the bank of the Nile, now they have white plastic tables and chairs under tents with electric lights and fans in them. Helps with the heat but the ambience is not the same. There’s a separate bar from the dining table and they play cheesy 80s music. There are a lot of white railings put up along the Nile bank and ‘car port’ type covers guiding the entrance. I liked it better when it seemed super rustic but I suppose that is the nostalgia talking. It’s easy to remember the mango trees and the moonlight and the nile and to forget the rivulets of sweat streaming down my back and the sticky heat.

A friend of mine in Uganda asked me if I would like to take a position there in her UN agency yesterday. While I’m tempted, I’m not sure if that is what I want to do. And I’m a lot not sure if I want to move to Africa. Today in the Kampala/Entebbe airport was a perfect example of why. We got to the “Royal Daisy Air” check in counter 2 hours in advance of our 1 hour flight, as requested. There was one person in front of us. So we lined up behind him. The sullen Ugandan woman at the counter next to “Royal Daisy Air” said something so softly, I could not hear her. I walked closer to hear what she said and she said “you have to stand in that line” (which was where I was before I walked over to hear what she had to say). Then we got to the front and handed over our passports, tickets, and South Sudan passes (a special type of Visa that the Southern Sudanese issue in lieu of the Northern Sudan’s visa). They wanted to charge us extra for our baggage weight (which was 15 pounds over the 30 pound limit for two people) – but instead of just telling us that, they made a whole song and dance about how we knew that there was a weight limit and pointed to a small box on the airplane ticket which we could not read which was supposed to have told us that. We got into a discussion about how noone had told us that and we couldn’t leave anything behind. Finally it became clear that we could just pay $20 and it would all be fine. Then they wanted to reject the $20 bill we gave them to pay for the overage because it wasn’t printed after 2004. Supposedly there was a huge counterfeiting scheme that took place with pre-2004 US bills so noone will take them anymore. But not actually – they will take them but for a lower exchange rate. Does that make sense? Not at all. So as to make sure we could move around southern Sudan, we had to pay $50 to exchange our 1996 and 2001 US currency $100 bills for 2004 US currency $100 bills. Nothing is simple here. NOTHING! And this is the most advanced country in Africa after South Africa! What in the hell would it be like to live in South Sudan?

In Uganda– there are paved roads and newspapers and radio stations and taxis and high rises. In southern Sudan, there are unpaved rutted flooded clay paths and you have to use satellite phones and our taxi forgot to pick us up from our meeting tonight so we had to hitch a ride from some Canadian guy. Oh – and I also wanted to tell you my favorite Ugandan news story from the paper this morning. It appears that there was a Canadian fellow with the last name of Hornsleth who moved to Uganda. He wanted to help Ugandans so he started buying pigs and would distribute them to poor Ugandans but only if they changed their name to Hornsleth. Now there are about 1000 people with that last name. And last week, many of them applied for visas to go to Canada and meet this guy (who was thrown out of the country, I think). So the government doesn’t want to give them visas because they all changed their names. So none with the last name of Hornsleth is now allowed to get a visa. Hurray for Africa!

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