Thursday, December 25, 2008

2008 recap/ 2009 resolutions

I've been thinking about the past year - what was good, what was bad, what was joyful, what was sorrowful, and although a lot has happened, I think I have a pretty good handle on how to take things in stride to carry on into 2009. Here is a recap of my year:

January 2008: New Years in DC and Katina & Renzo's wedding in Santiago, Chile! Had a fabulous time but the election violence in Kenya (and the fact that I couldn't get ahold of Simba) were looming. Ended up staying in the US an extra week because flying through Nairobi wasn't deemed completely stable yet, and routing through Ethiopia on my way back to Juba.

February: Went to Zambia for a technical conference on HIV Counseling and Testing, and ended up in the hospital for 3 days with Enterocolitis (bacterial infection in my large intestine) Moved out of my organization's guesthouse (which I shared with my boss and another roomate), and into a house with a new roomate. House was not quite finished, and on the dusty main road, so started my twice-daily sweeping battle with the dust.

March: Started out with a R&R to Pemba, Mozambique with Simba. Lovely, lovely place - motorcycle rides, warm beaches, home-cooked fish, cheap beer, speaking Portuguese - and the trip solidified our relationship. We were a couple before we left, but when we came back we became inseparable. Found out that while I was gone, there was an "alleged" security incident at the house, and therefore I was no longer allowed to live there. Moved into a hotel next to my office while another house was sorted out. Get sick with a stomach bug (3rd time in 6 months). Things REALLY started rolling with my programs at work, massive hiring, trainings, coordination, and fundraising.

April: Had a joint birthday party at Bedouin Bar with a fellow Juba-ite, and it was hailed as one of the best Juba has ever seen - the place was PACKED with hundreds of people, the music was fantastic, and I danced the night away in my Kikoy and Mets t-shirt. Took a boat trip on the Nile with a bunch of friends and a pet monkey, and one of my friends even managed to send me a homemade cake!

May: There started to be a string of armed robberies in Juba, targeting agency compounds. 2 days before I was supposed to move in to my new house, there were 2 attempted robberies on the same block. As a result I was no longer allowed to live in the area because of security concerns. I checked out of the hotel and into a tent at Acacia village, a camp site 9 km from the town center. Longer drive, but it was quiet, and I know I could be there long term until whatever "permanent housing solution" was decided for all the expats working with my organization. Moving 5 times in 8 months was just too much. Climbed up Jebel Kujur for the first time (with a view of the whole county) and celebrated at the top with wine and cheese. It was Gorgeous. Got sick - again. Had a fever of 104 and had to be hooked up to an IV overnight in a clinic. They never really found out what it was - malaria and typhoid tests came back negative, but the antibiotic and malaria treatment helped whatever it was. Go to Nairobi to go to the dentist and also go camping on Lake Naivasha with Simba.

June: The rest of my family came to Africa for the first first time. We met up in Tanzania and went on a very posh safari in the Serengeti and Zanzibar. Amazing time! Super Frenchie and JC come to Juba to work with us, and I am THRILLED to have some more good friends out here. Two more partners in crime in Juba. Adopted a kitten, who promptly divorced me. Boo. :(

July: Remaining tents are finished at Acacia, and the place fills up quickly. Rather than just 3 or 4 of us, there are suddenly 10. More people to kick back with in the evenings, and I feel I have a good, solid, non-judgmental support group at home. Stress at work kicks in at high gear. Targets aren't being met, even with our best efforts, and everyone is feeling the pressure. Nuroticism begins to set in. Am afflicted with Nairobi Eye - the beetle that leaves toxic "acid" behind when squished. This little bugger decides to do so on my face. Takes 10 days to heal.

August: Visit Beatrice and Keir in the UK! Went to London, Stonehenge, Exeter, Cornwall, and had so much Cream Tea that it made me sick. But in a good way :) Simba gets really sick. Turns out it is Hepatitis A and Malaria. He stays at home for 5 weeks.

September: Quiet month. Had a spectacular trip to Mundri. Spectacular as in very very muddy. My colleague delivered her first baby, Patience Samuel. She is very tiny, but beautiful!

October: My friend Jason passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. Heartbreaking but he was still fighting up until the very end. Juba County Commissioner issues an official order banning "Niggerly" behavior in Juba. Women are rounded up and arrested for wearing pants. Working overtime on communications materials, which just refused to go smoothly. Spent a lovely day at an island on the Nile with a bbq, playing cricket and some weird tag game involving a ball and running around. Moved out of the tent and into my brand new pad - air conditioning, hot water, woo hoo!!! Went to Nairobi for a conference and to the border with Uganda and Kenya for a work exchange trip. Got Malaria. Was treated. Got better.

November: Go on R&R on the south coast of Mombasa with Simba. Had an absolutely fabulous time. Had incident on the road with my colleague in which assault and broken headlights and money were involved. Ugh. Things at work were insane. Worked 7 days a week for 4 straight weeks and I was a nervous wreck.

December: World AIDS Day! Went wonderfully, it was a big success. Things went really well at work - we had an all-staff planning meeting, a marketing planning process workshop, and the programs met virtually all of their targets. Ended up the year in Paradise well.

And my resolutions for 2009? Relax more. Try to not take things at work personally (as in do not base my worth as a person on how things go at work) so I am not so manic with my moods based on work. Smile more. Drink less. Instead of stopping to smell the roses, stop to remember what roses smell like (there are no roses in Juba). Any resolutions beyond that would be putting too much pressure on myself. I do that enough as it is :)

Here's to a happy and healthy 2009!


Friday, December 19, 2008

New tactic with the LRA

Starting on December 14th, the governments of DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan launched a joint military offensive (Ugandan war planes, Southern Sudanese and DRC troops) aimed at forcing Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), to sign a peace agreement. Kony helped negotiate the agreement, and promised to sign seven times, but has not shown up at any of the four agreed-upon dates to sign.

Joseph Kony (left), leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, shakes hands with Riek Machar (center), Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan, in a May 2006 meeting at Yambio to discuss LRA activity in the region. Vincent Otti, Kony's deputy, stands on the right of Mr. Machar. The man in the red beret is a member of the UPDF (Ugandan Government's military). Source - Wikipedia accessed 19/12/08.

Joseph Kony is a particularly nasty person - under his leadership, the LRA has systematically abducted over 60,000 children since the late '80's, and Kony has anywhere from 27 to 50 wives (mostly abducted girls). In 2005, Kony and three of his senior commanders were indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, which include murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and rape. Despite all this, Kony declares himself a the "spokesperson" of God and a spirit medium, and that the LRA is fighting for the Ten Commandments.

The LRA believe they are protecting the Acholi people of northern Uganda from a government run by southerners. But, while in the late 1980's-2005 they focused on their campaigns in Northern Uganda, since 2005 they have been operating in DRC, CAR, and Southern Sudan.
Since I arrived in Southern Sudan a little more than a year ago, there have been countless attacks by the LRA in Central and Western Equitoria. Same tactics - abducting children and raping women. This happens mainly on the border, but reports of raids on villages (mainly for food and supplies) farther in the interior are also sporadically reported. Roads connecting Juba, Yei, Lainya, Torit and Nimule have been shut down (the Ugandan border), as have roads between Maridi, Yambio, and Tambura (DRC and CAR borders). Our programmatic operations and those of countless other agencies have been affected and costs of the mandatory armed escorts for travel along those roads around times of insecturity have soared.

Part of my job is scanning the UN/NGO security reports for trouble around Tambura county, where we have one staff member based and a peer education program running. One of the payams (equivalent to a town) the peer educators normally go to on the border with DRC and CAR, named Source Yubu, was attacked this past year, and the Payam Administrator, who did not run and hide but tried to negotiate with the rebels, was shot and killed. He was our biggest ally - he was HIV positive and talked openly about his status and experience with his people. Not one person did more to tackle stigma and discrimination, and promote understanding and compassion, than he did.

So how do I feel about the change in tactic of the international community, from peace talks and negotiations to military offensives? I have mixed feelings. Joseph Kony was not going to willingly come out of the jungle to sign an agreement and turn himself over with all of the ICC, that's for sure. And armed conflict always claims civilian lives. Neither way is perfect.

So which is the lesser of the two evils? Trying to end the LRA's guerrilla warfare with peaceful means and negotiations while the LRA kills more people and destabilizes the region, or try to force Kony and the LRA out with force while killing the child soldiers abducted from their families who are now LRA combatants, and forcing thousands of cilivians around the areas where the LRA have their bases out of their homes? What do you think?


Petunia is back in the US of A for 4 weeks of rest, rest, and more rest. There are a few entries I am working on, but for the most part, Petunia in Paradise will most likely go on hiatus until Petunia returns to Paradise, unless you want to hear me moaning on and on about how cold it is, how much snow is on the ground, and the fact that i would love to just sleep for the next 6 months straight. Not as interesting as tales from Paradise :)

To keep you occupied, here are some interesting tidbits about Petunia in Paradise:

According to Typealyzer, my blog's Myers-Briggs personality type is:

"ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters."

Interesting, because I am an INTP - very close!
"According to the Blog Readability Test, my blog's reading level is:

blog readability test

According to Genderanalyzer,
" is written by a woman (63%)."
Only 63%??? Is that because all the talk about violence? Hmmm...

oFaust thinks: has a slight similarity with the works of Frank Baum (who wrote The Wizzard of Oz!!!!)
So there you go. All you Petunia in Paradise readers are at a college reading level, but are really reading Children's stories written by a woman Mechanic. See you in 2009!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Images from Juba World AIDS Day 2008

Evelyn, Chairperson of Juba People Living with HIV/AIDS

Brand new offices!

L to R: UNAIDS Representative, Governor Central Equitoria State, Chairperson Southern Sudan AIDS Commission (SSAC), Northern Sudan Minister of Health, Western Equitoria State Minister of Health, Deputy Chairperson SSAC, ?, UNAIDS Representative, Chairperson Association People Living with HIV (APLWHA) dNorthern Sudan.

Police Band - innauguration of new SSAC and APLWHA offices

Jebel Kujur in the background...

One of the hired buses carrying the APLWHA crashed on the way to their office inauguration - so sad! Luckily no one was seriously injured...

Raising the flags...

Poni and Ukele (2 of my staff)

My Ugandan banana ladies!

Parade coming up the main tarmac road near the Ministries

United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) contingent in the parade


One of the Community Organizations we work with - didn't know they would be so morbid!!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Questions by Petunia

It's the blog version of the email chain letter!

It's interactive and very simple. To get it started, here are the five answers to the questions I have been asked by Avitable. If you want to participate, just read the instructions at the bottom!

1. How is my blog (Avitable) not banned in a conservative area like the Sudan?
Well, you see, here in Southern Sudan we are not ruled by Sharia law like Darfur or North Sudan, the majority of the population is not Muslim, and there are no restrictions on the internet. Yipee!!! I could watch porn all day long if I wanted. However, I do make it a point to not read your blog at work, seeing that my Sudanese colleagues would probably lose all respect they might have had for me for seeing the word "pussies" on my screen. Although I do sometimes mention similar subjects in my blog...

2. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a blogger?
Trying to strike a balance between a) making sure I write about how I am doing personally as well as things that happens in every day life to connect with friends and family in a way I would not otherwise be able to do over the phone or mass emails (I like the fact that this is MY space and not an email going out to 30 people), and b) not completely giving away my personal/work identity on the internet. I'm paranoid, plus I want to be able to write freely and not have it be associated with the organization I work with.

3. How does a Petunia keep from wilting in the hot sun?
SPF 55, my friend. It's either that or go with the Angelina Jolie-aid-worker-chic look with lots of flowing linen apparel and floppy hats. Which, let's face it, I can't pull off. Plus, linen gets really really wrinkled. I'm more of a cargo pants and chacos type of gal.

4. What was the reaction in the Sudan to Obama's election?
I was actually going to write a whole blog post about this to follow up on my pre-election post, and it just slipped off of my radar. So here are some observations:

I was actually in Kenya during the presidential elections, where everyone went CRAZY - people were crying in the streets, the President declared the Thursday after the election to be a federal holiday - "Obama Day" where people just partied. Actually, Uganda had 2 days off, and the Democratic Republic of Congo had 5, that's right 5, days off for a federal holiday in Obama's name. Obama is called a "son of Africa." Southern Sudan declared a one day federal holiday "in solidarity with Kenya" - not the US, mind you!- which I found quite amusing.

There are TONS of Obama hats, Obama tshirts, and even an Obama restaurant that have popped up in Juba. My favorite tshirt is one that was being sold by the Indian-run supermarket that had a picture of Obama and a caption that said "Barack Obama. The World's Greatest Black Hope." Um, seriously??? That's absolutely awful. But how could I not buy it?

To sum up how people feel, here is the status message on Skype of a Kenyan colleague of mine which is still up a month later: "1st black US president, makes you wonder why you cant aim for the stars."

5. How can you survive without television?
I actually don't like television. When I watch it everything else around me ceases to exist and I am sucked into the vortex of the moving pictures on the little screen. People can talk to me and I won't hear them. If I'm in a restaurant and there's a tv on, I have to intentionally sit with my back to the tv so I don't morph into an antisocial zombie.

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan. Never have been, really. Could be the result of growing up in a parental-induced cave which shielded me from anything pop-culture related besides Sesame Street, the Beatles, and some Bruce Springsteen and U2. I've never had a tv in my room in my life, and don't plan on it. In fact, the camp that I live at provided a tv in my room (with no tv service, but they thought that if they put a tv in my room it was showing that they were making progress. HA!!!) but I asked them to take it away again. It just sits there, a big grey mass, and messes up the vibe of my place. Yes, I am partially a hippie.

That's all folks!

Want to be part of it? Follow these instructions:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

I'll interview anyone who comments and wants to participate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thankful List #2

It seems so STRANGE that it has been a whole year since my last Thanksgiving Thankful List post - thinking back on the mindset I was in back then vs. where I am now, even before I make my list I know it is going to be quite a bit different. Lately I've been homesick, missing good solid people and places, so to snap out of that funk, this year's list is going to be about what I'm thankful for in Southern Sudan.

1. Air conditioning. As of this month, I have air con in both my home and my office. I am thankful for not having to spend another dry season sweating at my desk, or waking up in the middle of the night with my sheets soaked through due to the 110 degree heat (and no, i'm not exaggerating about the temperature).
2. My Family. I can't say enough, so sometimes it's better to say little. I love you and thank you for putting up with having a daughter in Sudan.
3. Simba. He makes everything better and gives me hope that there is more to life than the narrow minded focus of my work.
4. Music. Since my ipod and external hard drive was stolen last January, I haven't had any more music than the 200 songs on my work computer. But having a piano and a guitar makes me appreciate when I get to hear GOOD music all the more. Not just crap Britney Spears and Rhianna at bars.
5. Technical Assistance. I have been able to convince regional experts (3!) to come to Southern Sudan to help with things that I either cannot do or do not have time to do myself - trainings, research surveys, and marketing. I love specialists. But I also love not being one - for me, it's much better to know a little bit about a lot of things than a lot about one thing.

The list could go on, but these are the ones that are the most prominent.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Harvey Milk

Apologies, the quote at the end of my previous post was by HARVEY Milk, not Henry Milk.


Interestingly enough, I got the quote from a picture of the Milwauke, WI Prop 8 protests - one of the protesters was holding a poster with that quote on it, but attributed to the wrong author.

Thanks to Cyd for the correction :)

And for my penance, here is the Wikipedia entry on Harvey Milk:

"Harvey Bernard Milk
(May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) was an American politician and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk was born and raised in New York where he acknowledged his homosexuality as an adolescent, but chose to pursue sexual relationships with secrecy and discretion well into his adult years. His experience in the counterculture of the 1960s caused him to shed many of his conservative views about individual freedom and the expression of sexuality.

Milk moved to San Francisco in 1972 and opened a camera store. Although he had been restless, holding an assortment of jobs and moving house frequently, he settled in the Castro District, a neighborhood that was experiencing a mass immigration of gay men and lesbians. He was compelled to run for city supervisor in 1973, though he encountered resistance from the existing gay political establishment. His campaign was compared to theater; he was brash, outspoken, animated, and outrageous, earning media attention and votes, although not enough to be elected. He campaigned again in the next two supervisor elections, dubbing himself the "Mayor of Castro Street". Voters responded enough to warrant his running for the California State Assembly as well. Taking advantage of his growing popularity, he led the gay political movement in fierce battles against anti-gay initiatives. Milk was elected city supervisor in 1977 after San Francisco reorganized its election procedures to choose representatives from neighborhoods rather than through city-wide ballots.

Milk served almost eleven months as city supervisor and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance in San Francisco. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned and wanted his job back. Both Milk's election and the events following his assassination demonstrated the liberalization of the population and political conflicts between the city government and a conservative police force.

Milk has become an icon in San Francisco and "a martyr for gay rights", according to University of San Francisco professor Peter Novak.[1] While established political organizers in the city insisted gays work with liberal politicians and use restraint in reaching their objectives, Milk outspokenly encouraged gays to use their growing power in the city and support each other. His goal was to give hope to disenfranchised gays around the country. In 2002, he was called "the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States".[2] Writer John Cloud remarked on his influence, "After he defied the governing class of San Francisco in 1977 to become a member of its board of supervisors, many people—straight and gay—had to adjust to a new reality he embodied: that a gay person could live an honest life and succeed."[3]

Monday, November 17, 2008

When those "situations" become personal

As we turned the bend on the way into work, my boss pulled the car over and said, "Get out and act calm." I swiveled in my seat and saw my colleague outside her vehicle arguing with a man who was visibly angry and yelling at her. Not one to be shy, she was standing up to him and yelling right back. A policeman from the opposite side of the intersection walked over to try to address the situation, and I got out of the car and walked over with my peacemaker face on. The policeman manged to get the two of them to move their collided vehicles away from the middle of the road, the passengers in the matatus silently got down from the vehicle to surrounded me, my colleague, the driver, the policeman, and a bystander who spoke English, and the negotiations began.

Standing outside by the side of a Juba road in the rain on a Monday morning trying to negotiate with a drunken matatu driver on how much money we would pay him for his broken light after he ran into my colleague's vehicle was not how I wanted to start my week.

However, my boss obviously wanted me to deal with the situation, not this other woman, so for the second time since I've been here I was the one to negotiate with matatu drivers on behalf of other woman colleagues who were unwilling or unable to do so.

Three times the market rate for the cost of parts and labor for the broken light? Come on, two times? Doesn't matter that we had our mechanic on the phone with the policeman telling him how much everything costs on the market, the policeman just shrugged his shoulders, said, "It's raining, give him what he asks for."

After 30 minutes we accepted, "fine, here's your money," and I got the translator to translate him a lecture about him being a "very bad person" (I'm so eloquent, aren't I?). But then my boss and the colleague said "what about him hitting her?" What? When did this happen? Turns out when the two vehicles collided and the matatu driver left the car, he opened the car door of my colleague, grabbed her arm out and started hitting her arms and chest. Because I did not see that part of the incident I had no idea, but was obviously approaching the negotiations in entirely the wrong way. This new element was addressed with the policeman, who again shrugged his shoulders pointing skyward at the falling ran, and proceeded to walk away.

Given some of the proscribed gender roles in Southern Sudan, including the attitude that "If you pay cows for a woman, then of course you can beat her. If you want to give me your daughter for free, maybe we can talk." it's not surprising that we were treated this way.

Here in Southern Sudan, even though there are many different tribes, marriage customs are very similar. Generally men get married when they can afford to buy enough cows to give to the bride's family - a reverse dowry of sorts - which means they are usually in their late 20's when they marry for the first time. Men can have anywhere from 1 to 4 wives, although I've met men that have 10. Whole families help the man out (uncles, father, grandfather, etc) with the 20 to 150 cows depending on the wealth of the family and the community. Cows cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a head depending on the size of the cow. Generally, the larger and more crooked the horns, the better. The man pays for the wedding celebrations too. Women (often girls really) are anywhere from 15-20 when they get married, even if they are educated in other East African countries. Babies come immediately after marriage, and men can even "return" a woman to her family if she is unable to have children. This has a lot to do with society as a whole - I know women that have directly asked their husbands to marry a co-wife so they can share the burden of chores and raising children with another woman.

If it seems to you that women here are treated as commodities to be bought and sold, you're not the only one, and it is quite difficult to be here seeing it first hand.

Driving away from the incident, feeling sick inside, my stomach turned into a bottomless pit of guilt. What could I, should I, have done differently? The answer is nothing. There is nothing I could have said or done which would change how the policeman or the matatu driver viewed the situation. All they saw was a woman, and a broken headlight, and a target on which what? To take out their frustration of having peace but not yet prosperity? To take advantage of an opportunity to make a quick and easy profit? To assert their "manliness"? To be fair there really is no way to know whether the incident was a result of them taking advantage of women or whether it was them taking advantage of khawajas (white people). Maybe a combination of both.

In the end, the policeman and driver paid for their mistake but not by our design. The colleague driving the car involved in the accident was here in Juba working for the Minister of Labour. She didn't want to say anything to the Minister, but a friend of hers did a few days later when her bruises started showing, and he proceeded to find out what happened, and find the people involved. The policeman was fired, and the matatu driver was arrested. God only knows what happens inside Sudanese prisons.

What are those two men thinking about now, looking back at things? Do they respect the fact that the law (written or not) saw them in the wrong? Will they become more bitter and act even worse if a similar incident happens again in the future? I'm not sure. But I do know that we all have a long, long way to go.

And next time, you'd better believe I will spend all day if I have to filing an official report with the police, no matter how futile the effort may seem at first.

"Hope will never be silent" ~Harvey Milk

Breaking Security Update

Breaking Security Update: "Crocodiles entered an UN agency warehouse in Wau and destroyed some food items. Wildlife officers and local police attended to get rid of the beasts."

This is probably breaking some sort of UN confidentiality clause, but I've been chuckling about this for awhile now and I don't care, this is too good not to share! I love that this is the kind of thing that gets sent out on our weekly security updates!!! Unfortunately I'm sure this incident did not end well for the crocs (I'm imagining some handbags and shoes made by Sudanese women's groups showing up on your next pair of Manolo Blahniks), but can't you just see it - dozens of people trying to corral these crocodiles and stop them from eating the WFP sorghum and beans? NOM NOM NOM...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Series 3 Landie

Got back from yet another R&R on the coast of Kenya with Simba. The vacation was lovely but once again beset with adventure. We were going to drive the 6-8 hours down to the coast from Nairobi in a borrowed series 3 Land Rover (this thing is literally 65 years old which we named Nuks. As you can see, there is no roof or windows except for the canvas tarp, no 5th gear, it is painted matte black, and is just a BEAST. When we finally got out of Nairobi and passed the 50km of crappy roads on the detour from the still-under-construction-main road, and finally hit the smooth tarmac, something in the engine went BANG. We pulled over - the water pump had broken, causing the fan to come un-welded from the pump and slash the coils of the radiator. Fun times! The water had leaked out all over the road and there was no way we were going to be able to fix this thing without a new radiator coil, new water pump, and a welding machine which is a 2 day job. Here is a pic of the tow truck owner looking at the engine.

Simba tried to flag down a truck to give him a lift back to the transit town so he could sort out a tow truck, but after about 5 trucks, no one stopped for him. I tried next figuring they would stop for a white chick, and lo and behold, the first truck I waved down slammed on its brakes for me! I read my book "A Passage to India" by E.M. Forester (LOVELY book - apparently there is a Merchant Ivory movie based on the book, and I'm going to try to see it over the holidays) in the front seat of the Landie while Simba went to the town to sort out a tow truck, and 45 mins later another Land Rover pickup which had been converted into a tow truck came to rescue us. This vehicle was almost as old as our was! Here is a pic of us being towed back to Nairobi.

Eager to get to the coast, we decided to still try to drive down, so Simba called the father of his assistant in Juba (who is also from Nairobi) who owns a rental car business, and he managed to deliver a car to Simba's house and we were off once again, made it to the coast, and spent a week relaxing. We stayed in a cottage with gorgeous sunrise views of the Indian Ocean and a kitchen which allowed us to cook prawns, calamari, and fish bought fresh from local fisherman in the mornings. One morning we cleaned and marinated a fish and put it in the fridge while we went down to the beach. When we got back, we found that the several families of Evil Ninja Cats who hover around the place scrounging for food (as can be seen in the front of the following pic) had BROKEN IN to the cottage, OPENED the fridge, and ATE ALL THE FISH!!! NOOOOO!!!! Other than that Diani Beach was fantastic and I could absolutely live in this place. If only I had even an spark of a chance of having a job that would be satisfying for more than a few months and good for my career... anyway I am back in Sudantastic Juba and will be once again working my butt off until the holidays.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thank you

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who emailed me and sent me support after my post 2 weeks ago - it really meant a lot. I send you hugs from afar and virtual bags of Halloween candy :)

This Friday is a costume party on a "beach" bar on the banks of the Nile. They have sand and fake palm trees and everything. As Halloween is one of my favorite holidays (I never quite left my dress-up box behind...) this should be fantastic! Plus it was at the Halloween party last year (that one was an all-night pool party at USAID) when I agreed to go out with Simba, so I suppose it's technically our one year anniversary (holy CRAP!)!

I've been absolutely buried under work lately - we're quite behind on producing some communications materials which is my responsibility, so I'm trying to push those through, and we have a HUGE proposal due on Friday which would more than double my department's funding, so I'm glued to my computer with budgets and workplans and excel formulas dancing across my eyes.

To keep you entertained until I post again (hopefully on Saturday, depending on how wrecked I am after Friday night), here are a couple pictures of my friends jumping off the bank into the Nile we had from a sunday bbq on an island, and some links to read. The situation in eastern DRC is getting much worse, and here are a couple recent articles explaining the situation. How's that for a juxtaposition: expats acting like children in Sudan, people fleeing fighting in the DRC. The priorities in this life are, well, hypocritical sometimes, but everyone finds a way to justify it.

Ciao ciao,

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

pirates of the indian ocean

Naughty naughty, Southern Sudan and Kenya! It is looking more and more likely that the cargo of Ukrainian military equipment seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia headed for Mombasa, Kenya were ultimately bound for Southern Sudan. I mean, I don't blame Southern Sudan for trying to build up their defenses ahead of the 2011 referendum where the North may not let the South actually form its own country, at least not with the oil-producing regions in dispute, but it's just comical how the Gov't of Southern Sudan and the Kenyan Government have been handling the whole situation. They both are saying the cargo is just for Kenya's military, the Ukraine is keeping quiet, but the freight manifest has the initials GOSS (short for Government of Southern Sudan) on the contract number. President Bashir is not going to be happy about this one!

And how strange is it that pirates still exist? I mean, I'm sure they're not the "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" kind of pirates, but more the "give me your money/cargo or i will launch a grenade at your ship" kind of pirates, but it still seems extremely odd to me that it is possible to take a ship hostage in this day and age. How are these guys not caught??? I just want a picture of a skull and crossbones hung above a RPG...

one step forward, 2 steps back

Remember the apparently "fluke" incident with women being arrested for wearing trousers in Yei? Well, the same has now come to Juba, even being picked up by Reuters and the New York Times. And what sparked this latest rampage? County Local Order No. 4/2008 issued by the Juba County Commissioner "Banning of 'Niggers' Behaviours & Activities in the Town." This Public Order motivated Police to mount an arretst campaign against women and girls wearing trousers in streets and public places. These women were collected from streets, outside worship centers/churches, and public markets, and hauled up into police trucks. Girls were humiliated and taken into custody. This included civilians, UN employees, etc. Luckily people intervened and everyone was released with no charge.


And WHAT in GOD'S NAME prompted this order labeling behavior "niggerly"? What is that? And who are these people who are "now known as 'Niggers' in Juba County"? It's not like they give examples in the circular. I have NEVER heard this term being used here, and neither has anyone else (expat or Sudanese) that I've spoken with - but now it's become a joke, especially among Sudanese. From what we can tell, in this context, "niggers" are the Kenyans/Ugandans or Sudanese who have returned from those places who frequent bars and prostitutes, and, apparently, wear trousers. What it looks like is the Commissioner wanted to crack down on the drinking and other "immoral" behavior that is adverseley influencing the citizens of Juba, and this was his solution. From my perspective, I have never in my life heard people using this horrible term so freely and it freaks me out every time. Incredulous.

After these incidents the Juba County Commissioner has been sacked, and replaced by the Central Equitoria State Minister of Health (who I LOVE). But seriously. This serves as a reminder that even though we are in the South, this is still Sudan with a government in its infancy and a society that is still trying to navigate the effects of opening up the country after being effectively cut off from the outside for half a century.

Monday, October 13, 2008

things that affect your brain

Has it really been a month since I've written? It's quite insane how time flies. My blog is suffering as a result of one of my personality traits - when all is well I am very social, call and write people often, and generally reach out quite a bit. When things go wrong, or I am upset or depressed, I retreat into my own shell and tend to disappear for a bit.

My freshman year in college I had a friend named Liz. She was one of the wonderful women I met in the phase in my life where I attended frat parties in my PJs and drank cokes without any rum (was on my university's varsity soccer team and decided not to drink during the season). These boys were fantastic - they loved me all the more for my PJs and stocked up on cokes for me in their minifridges. Liz was always the most "grown up" of all of us - she held dinner parties for her friends and looked like she belonged on the red carpet even at a semi-formal dance. Some broke up with their boyfriends, some went to study abroad, and some, like Liz, morphed into a completely different person, taking on the likes, dislikes, and all characteristics of her new boyfriend. Basically, many of us grew apart. Fast forward to 4 years later - Liz was diagnosed with brain cancer. She went through surgery and treatment, beat it once, it went into remission, but then came back stronger. Liz was fading fast and I was getting updates from friends. One of whom which was her former roomate, but they had a falling out, and never really patched things up. I listened to her agonize over whether or not to send her a letter, and what it should say. What do you write to an estranged friend who is dying? In the end, Liz passed away before the letter was sent. We were all devastated. She was 24 years old.

On September 23, 2008, my friend Jason died after his own 4 year fight with brain cancer. I've never seen anyone fight for his life like he did. You can read about his life and amazing character on his blog, Team Jason. Towards the end, Jason was still incredibly upbeat, very focused on beating the cancer, and through his blog I BELIEVED he would win. His last post was just days before he died, and while very honest about the setbacks in his treatment, his attitude didn't miss a beat. Jason was the definition of an inspiration to all who knew him, and I know his memory lives on. This is the last picture that was taken of Jason, days before he passed away (as appears on his blog). Still smiling and positive as always!

Please consider making donations in Jason’s honor to the Wellness Community of St. Louis at 1058 Old Des Peres Road St. Louis MO 63131. This organization helped Jason immensely during his 4 year battle.

This time, it was me who was left with an unsent letter. I had an unfinished email to Jason I started the week before but kept putting off saying "I'll send it when I have enough time to write a proper email." But, of course, that time never came and I am left with guilt. We were not estranged in any way, but it still hurt that I never got to say all the things I wanted. As time goes on I realize more and more that it is an extremely rare thing to be able to properly say goodbye to someone and to say everything that needs to be said. A very rare thing indeed. My mother never got to say goodbye to her father, who also died of cancer, and that is something I think about a lot, how painful that must have been. But what can you do except vow to seize the moment and tell people who matter to you that you love them? I am going to try, that's for sure.

Is it strange that I have had 2 of my friends, both under the age of 26, die from the same kind of brain cancer in the past 3 years? Last time I went to get my eyes checked the opthamologist offered me some sort of a test that looks at your eye and can somehow tell if you have a brain tumor (don't ask me how this works), albeit with the statement "you're young so you probably don't have to worry about this and the test is optional." You'd better believe I got that test right quick.

Which brings us back to Sudan. I came down with malaria this past week, and althought (thankfully) it was not cerebral malaria, one of the symptoms among many including high fevers, chills, joint pain, and achiness, are headaches. Mine have kept going even though I finished my medication on Saturday. All this means is that I need to drink more water, but with each nightly throb (usually when the headaches arrive) it reminds me of all the strange and incomprehensible things that go on up there, and how lucky I am.

Is that strange and morbid?

Sorry, it's been that kind of month.

Soon to come: happier posts about my new diggs, new friends, and some upcoming travel!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gotta love the rainy season

Here are some pics from my recent trip to Mundri. More specifically, the road between Mundri and Juba after it had rained overnight. Fun fun! As you can see the roads are seriously messed up. At one point our vehicle had to be pulled out of the mud by a crane (!!!) Plus there was gorgeous scenery along the way. And we bought some freshly-collected honey.

The trip itself went ok, it was just for two days so nothing too hard core. I went there with one of our donors to assess the VCT services provided by another organization to see if we can potentially support their work to expand services. What was there on the ground was appalling. Worse than Tambura. This org claimed to run 4 VCT sites, but upon further inquiry we found that one site was closed because they had no counselor to work there, one was closed because the roof had blown off the structure back in March 2008, and a third site was actually funded and run by another organization - this org just does supervision to the counselor. So they really only have functional operations in one place. Not to mention that they brought us to the site that was run by the other org as one of "their" sites. There were test kits which had expired in 2007, a sharps container that did not contain disinfectant, no confidential filing system, and it goes on and on and on. And that site was even closed because the counselor was away for the past 3 weeks for training! Their compound was literally built on top of an anthill so there were ants EVERYWHERE (outside, in the mess area, etc), their generator had blown up so there was no electricity, both their vehicles were grounded pending repairs, and all 4 of their motorbikes were also not functioning. Plus the entire 2 days we were there I didn't see them actually doing any work. It's like they just sit around and let their clinics run themselves. If you ever hear me complaining about Juba again, just remind me of the fact that I work for an organization that is able to get things done, whether it is running programs or fixing vehicles, I don't live on an anthill, and I work for a boss who actually provides support to the org instead of sitting around doing nothing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Woman Should Have by Maya Angelou

A friend of mine posted this poem by Maya Angelou on Facebook, and I was reminded how true all these things are, but was also reminded of the few that I don't have because of where I am living at the moment. But I can dream and make plans for what comes next! So this is for all my ladies out there :)

A Woman Should Have
by Maya Angelou

enough money within her control to move out
and rent a place of her own,
even if she never wants to or needs to...

something perfect to wear if the employer,
or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour...

a youth she's content to leave behind....

a past juicy enough that she's looking forward to
retelling it in her old age....

a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra...

one friend who always makes her laugh... and one who lets her cry...

a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family...

eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems,
and a recipe for a meal,
that will make her guests feel honored...

a feeling of control over her destiny...

how to fall in love without losing herself..

how to quit a job,
break up with a lover,
and confront a friend without;
ruining the friendship...

when to try harder... and WHEN TO WALK AWAY...

that she can't change the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents..

that her childhood may not have been perfect...but it's over...

what she would and wouldn't do for love or more...

how to live alone... even if she doesn't like it...

whom she can trust,
whom she can't,
and why she shouldn't take it personally...

where to go...
be it to her best friend's kitchen table.
or a charming Inn in the woods...
when her soul needs soothing...

What she can and can't accomplish in a day...
a month...and a year...


Beatrice, the queen of email chain letter quizzes, has expanded into other mediums and has this quiz up on her blog , so I am doing the same!

… thoroughly enjoying lazing around my tent today but since I am on the computer it can also be said that I am doing work.
I WANT… to leave Sudan with my sanity intact
I HAVE … nothing to lose by living my life the way I dream
I KEEP … thinking today is Sunday instead of Saturday. I have no idea why.
I HATE … malicious people. Does that then make me malicious? Shit.
I FEAR … ending up a bitter, overweight, middle aged aid worker with no family and no life except work. Have run into several and I really don't want to be like that.
I HEAR … voices in my head. Just kidding. Sort of. ;)
I DON’T THINK … one of my programs is going to work unless our donor steps up and realizes that in Juba, peer educators are not going to work forever without getting paid. It's the biggest frustration that we are not allowed to give community based organizations and peer educators the support they need.
I REGRET … nothing. As Beatrice said, life is too damn short.
I LOVE … Simba
I AM NOT … the kind of person who can sit back and take things as they come. I need to be proactive about everything. Some people may say that I have "control issues," but why split hairs :)
I DANCE … every chance I get! Last night was a particularly good session - we had a party at our site. Tunes were good, crowd was good, drinks were good, and there was a huge storm so we danced outside in the rain. Fantastic.
I SING … for myself, not for others. Think of the Harry Chapin song with the lyrics "For music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy, and it made him feel so good, and he sang from his heart, and he sang from his soul; he did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole."
I NEVER …again want to go 7 months without seeing my family. That is too long for me.
I RARELY … watch movies nowadays. Don't know why, but the idea of sitting in bed, watching movies on my laptop is for some reason unappealing.
I CRY WHEN I WATCH … the movie Beaches. It's lame, but I don't care. When I was 12 or so I watched that move over and over again and cried every time. I also cry when I watch shows about weddings, like the one on TLC called "Wedding Story."
I AM NOT ALWAYS … sure of myself. Self doubt creeps in and takes ahold sometimes.
I HATE THAT … I am in Sudan and don't have my finger on the pulse of what is really going on with the US Presidential election and I feel like I have no control over any of it.
I’M CONFUSED ABOUT … how on earth people believe they have the right to determine how other people live their life - who they marry, whether to have children, etc. It completely baffles me. There is so much wrong with the world, why do you need to be so concerned with what other people do in the privacy of their own home that is not hurting you and does not really affect you in any way? Sigh.
I NEED … lots and lots of hugs on a regular basis. Really just any kind of physical human contact.
I SHOULD … treat myself more kindly and not beat myself up for not being perfect. Although I do come pretty damn close! j/k

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Welcome to Patience Samuel!

At about 5am on August 17th, my colleague Poni gave birth to her first child, named Patience Samuel. Isn't she cute??? I believe she was about a month premature, because she was very tiny (they did not weigh her at birth, but these pictures were taken when she was 14 days old so she couldn't have been more than 6lbs when she was born) and Poni was not that big when she delivered.

Both Poni and her baby are both health and happy, but unfortunately the delivery did not go entirely well.What Poni told me was that she went into labour at about 10pm on Saturday night, when she went to Juba Teaching Hospital accompanied by her sister. She was in a room in labour for about 7 hours, mostly unattended, when the hospital staff brought her into the delivery room. Then they told her it was her time, and they started the pushing process, and cut her vagina open to assist in the delivery. She had 6 stitches put in, one of which was still in when I went to visit her 2 weeks after the birth.

Now, I know next to nothing about pregnancy, childbirth, etc, but cutting someone open, when they are to deliver a tinier-than-average baby, after only 7 hours (isn't the average something like 8 hours?)? To begin with, I had never heard of women being cut open to begin with, but even so, that seems incredulous to me. Again, I wasn't there, but Poni said even the midwife who came to her house to look after her and take out her stiches said that they should not have cut her open like that.

What it looks like to me is that it was a Saturday night/Sunday morning, the hospital was not fully staffed, and the medical personnel just wanted to hurry things along instead of letting the birth happen naturally. Gotta love that Juba Teaching Hospital is the main referral hospital in the country and this is the kind of care that is rendered there.

Are there any reasons in the above scenario where cutting would have been justified? I know many of you readers have had children or are in the health care profession, so I would appreciate some feedback.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ode to the Blogs

Why do I spend so much time online? Simba can't quite figure this one out, to him the internet is used only to check email for work and to maybe spend 5 minutes every couple days on Facebook. But I definitely spend a good chunk of my day on the computer - during the day it's to do work, but in the evenings I also spend a couple hours in front of the screen. I have come to the conclusion that it is mostly because it makes me feel connected to friends and family that I can't actually see or keep in touch with in any meaningful manner. Because I live in Sudan, explaining what my life is like and what I'm thinking and feeling is very very difficult because there is no way I can accurately put words to my situation. I try on this blog with pictures and stories, and I try through skype and phone conversations with people, but I am often left with not much to say. People want to know where I live, what I eat, who I hang out with, how my job is going, and that's easy to communicate, but the larger issues of what I feel and how living here will (inevitably) change me (I'm sure it already has)? Now that is a challenge.

Through writing a blog, you get to read other people's blogs, and there are some out there that are pretty darn good - better at I am anyway in putting to words their experiences. Here are a few that I read, in no particular order:

Written by my dear friend Beatrice, who is living in Santiago, Chile with her Chilean Hubby and writes resturant reviews, comments about her life in Chile, and all things in between

The Wind in your Vagina:
This blog will stay one of my all-time favorites. Don't be scared off by the name. A self-identified "Daddy Blog", this GORGEOUS writing comes from a Dad who writes about raising kids, his past demons, with a health dose of existential ramblings (including *conversations* with his dead friends and comments about music thrown in. Oh, and also discussions about why people refuse to refer to parts of the human anatomy by their "official" names.

Diary of a Mad DC Cabbie
Helps me keep tabs on what is going on in my former home, Washignton, DC, (things both in and out of the news) as told by someone who knows his shit and is not afraid to speak his mind or call people out. Plus the stories about his cab fares are great.

Life's an Adventure:
In August 2006 my Mom and I had the privilege of attending a Women-only Writing and Rafting trip in Colorado, facilitated by writer Page Lambert. Page has a book called In Search of Kinship which is a beautiful account of her years raising her son and daughter on a ranch in Wyoming. Page captures life in the West of the United States with such color, warmth, and sereneness. I highly recommend reading it.

Attack of the Redneck Mommy:
Tanis, who writes from Canada, tells it like it is about most things in life: the death of one of her children, whatever is on her mind, and lots about boobs. I love this one.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lack of Coordination

Sometimes I just want to scream. There is a certain organization working here (let's call them Org A) who runs over a dozen VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing for HIV) sites. Keeping in mind that care and support services to people who are HIV+ are extremely limited currently in Southern Sudan, this area happens to have an ART center (anti-retroviral therapy - drugs which slow down HIV's effect on a person's immune system). However, there had been no paediatric HIV programs anywhere in the area, or so they thought. At an HIV Partners Meeting a couple weeks ago, another organization (let's call them Org B) stated in a presentation that they were running a PMTCT program (this stands for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV) at the same facility (a private hospital) where Org A was providing VCT services. The true definition of a PMTCT program is one that tests pregnant woman for HIV (called ANC testing) as well as the administration of Nevirapine, the drug that when administered in a single dose to both mother and child, reduces the rate of HIV transmission by almost 50%. Up until this point, the common knowledge was that there was no one administering Nevirapine in Southern Sudan, so all the pregnant women who test positive for HIV had to be referred to Uganda.

So the representation from Org A was quite surprised to hear that Org B was claiming to be running a true PMTCT program, in the same site as one of their own programs nonetheless. So after some inquiries on the part of Org A, it turns out that Org B was indeed administering Nevirapine, about 9 doses per month. The problem is, Org A didn't know about this, the heads of the org running the private hospital didn't know about this, the ART center in the area didn't know about this, the County AIDS Department didn't know about this, and the Ministry of Health at the County, State and National level didn't know about this. NO ONE did.

Any explanation I can think of for why Org B was not making this known does not hold water. If they were afraid the demand would be greater than their supply, then they should be screaming at donors and the Ministry of Health for more supplies. Org A told me that they would be able to find money for the drugs, it's just that they have no personnel trained on its administration. If that was the case, they could have bought the drugs for Org B. Had they known.

So what has happened is that dozens of HIV+ women each month were being referred to Uganda (when not many of these women even have ID cards let alone a passport) when the life-saving service they need is available in their same county and has been FOR A WHOLE YEAR.


There is enough that is difficult about working in Southern Sudan, but there is no excuse for this lack of coordination and partnership, especially from an organization who is always present at partners meetings, etc. It makes me ill.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It is the condition of most people in this world to go where they don't belong
Sorry, I couldn't help it. Btw, LOVE the random rant by the old guy in the middle.

Just got back to Juba today after a week of Cornish Headlands and Devon Cream Tea. With more than a few Bulmer's Ciders thrown in for good measure. England was fantastic, and just what I needed for a break. With Beatrice and her Beau we wandered around London and South West England where among other things we visited Tintagel, the claimed birthplace of King Arthur (people, read Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley NOW!!!) and got my art fix (as well as positively OD'd on Cream Tea. MMMMMMM). Every time I go to an art museum I immediately head for the impressionists and post-impressionists. Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Seurat, Pissaro, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet. I realized while imagining I could see the wind blow through Van Gogh's Cyprus trees in room 41 (or was it 43?) of the National Gallery that the company of these paintings makes me feel at home. There's no other way to describe it - the reason why I feel anxious if I take too much time in between visits, the reason why I immediately feel relaxed and exhale a sigh of relief when among their thick strokes of paint. No matter if these works of art hang in New York, St. Louis, London, Tokyo, or Paris, I feel the same way.

There is a quote from Thoreau that impressed a former colleague of mine that says "It is the condition of most people in this world to go where they don't belong." I feel as if I belong in places where I can experience art, history, beauty, and enjoy the sea, green hills, and a drink with friends in a pub otherwise filled with strangers. However, I don't "belong" in the 1860's, 70's and 80's when these movements flourished (along with the music and literature - I adore playing works by Debussy on the piano and two of my favorite authors are Baudelaire and Virginia Woolf) any more than I "belong" in Sudan at the moment.

The halfway mark of my time in Sudan is looming just ahead, 2 weeks away, and I feel it acutely. Sometimes I can be objective about my whole experience, but in the weeks leading up to my most recent R&R I kept thinking "I can't believe I have been here a year, and I don't know how I am going to get through the next one!" It also didn't help that Simba was sick and until today I have only seen him for 2 days in the last 5 weeks. I miss him when we're not together, he soothes my anxious mind and at the same time makes me feel like I have what it takes to take on the world. Plus it's hard to stay stressed when I am with someone about whom I can't help grinning just at the thought of.

What to do next it on my mind more and more, as is the feeling that I "should" start making plans and concrete goals for the next step in my career so I can start working towards them. But still, everything feels unsettled back here in Juba and I am not quite ready to leave - my department's program are trucking along, but there are still many elements to be fixed, the incredible opportunity from a donor to re-examine our entire approach to our work and build a cohesive and (hopefully) sustainable program for HIV prevention, and research to be done to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs. I am still in my tent, but slated to move into a more permanent place - same site, but a stone cottage with A/C, a kitchenette, hot water shower, and even a tv. It sounds unreal at this point compared to my current diggs, but insha'allah will happen sometime in September. It's a bit difficult to start planning this far in advance and still "be here, now" so I will inevitably put it off until later.

Until that as-yet-undetermined time, as a result of my break I have a new lease on life in Sudan, which should last me until my next R&R in late October: I bought loads of fancy-schmancy bath products (like conditioners and body washes) and a hair dryer, have a resolve to wear more makeup (to change things up a bit - have only worn makeup literally 3 times total in the past year, including New Years in DC!), and dyed my hair with blonde highlights. No, it's not the heinous abomination that you're thinking, just a few chunks UNDERNEATH the top layer that peek through the middle. It looks good, I promise, Beatrice can vouch. I'm not having a mid-post crisis, just trying to take better care of myself to make the second year in Sudan easier than the first. This has been the biggest roller coaster year of my life, and I want to slow the pace of year 2 down a bit to maybe that of a fun house - things won't be as they seem, and I will get tussled around a bit, but it won't throw me completely upside down leaving me disoriented and exhausted. Well, at least I can dream :)


Saturday, August 16, 2008


My heart goes out to the friends, family and colleagues of the four International Rescue Committee (IRC) employees who were killed during an ambush attack on their convoy earlier this week in Afghanistan.

In he last paragraph of the article above, the Canadian Prime Minister (nationality of several of the victims) called the attack "cowardly." That's exactly what it was. What kind of a coward do you have to be to spray a vehicle carrying 3 unarmed people with bullets? The Associated Press has a video interviewing the one driver that survived (I can't find it again, if anyone can let me know and I'll post the link), and all he kept exclaiming was "They were unarmed! They were unarmed! They were just here to help us, they weren't from here, they were unarmed!" I guess from his (an Afghan) perspective, it's one thing to kill someone, but quite another to figuratively (or maybe literally) shoot someone in the back.

There are several current and former IRC employees here in Sudan (one of whom is a good friend of mine), and because most people in our line of work move around quite frequently from year to year (my organization is the only one I've found to require 2 and 3 year contracts!), and it's hard to keep track of everyone, this news sparked a flurry of facebook, email, and chat messages saying "Where are you? Who is in Afghanistan now?" I'm sure that when the news was announced, before they reported the identity of the people, everyone's mouth went dry and got a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Not to mention the poor families of the IRC employees in the Afghanistan office! Word on the street is that IRC had difficulty contacting the families, so all of them must have been watching the news and freaking out because who knows when the phone rings if it is your child/sibling/parent on the other line or someone from IRC HQ telling you that your worst fears are realized?

The video clip in the BCC article shows the coffins being brought from the authorities back to the IRC office. Can you imagine offloading your colleague's coffin into your fenced, guarded compound? Or, God forbid, one of your staff? I think that is my worst nightmare, having one of my staff killed while traveling for work. Expats are one thing, we choose to do the work we do in sometimes unstable places, and (hopefully) for the most part realize the risks involved. There are many reasons people from countries like the US, Europe and Australia do this kind of work, but let's not pretend it is purely altruistic. It isn't "just" to help people. We like living in random corners of the globe and the often difficult work we do, and while people definitely have some sort of a calling to make the world a better place, it's not purely about "service." But national staff is a different story.

I'd like to think that everyone who works for me is truly committed in helping to build their country and improve the health status of people, and I can say for the most part that is true (I have some FANTASTIC and committed people working for me) but what I've noticed here in Sudan is that in most areas NGO jobs are the only jobs that exist. There is little to no private sector other than trading, and in Juba we live in a false economy of international NGO, UN, and private sector people who are catered to by services owned and run by Kenyans and Ugandans who import their staff from Kenya and Uganda as well. This drives up prices and makes the cost of living insane - you cannot find a hotel room for less than $120 per night (and that is a prefab container. tents in town go for $150 a night), and you can't have dinner for less than $20. But I digress.

In most cases NGOs are just another employer, a way to support your family. Yes, health care and education and economic development are important to people, but those things in the end come second to finding a job and feeding your family. I have the choice of going into any profession I choose and in the US be able to find all sorts of jobs that don't involve living in a tent in an area where landmines are still being uncovered and the UN imposes a curfew. People here don't have that choice - NGOs are the only available option.

So the driver that worked with IRC in Afghanistan was probably just trying to feed his family and wouldn't say no to driving along a stretch of arguably unstable road. And for that, he lost his life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Thought I would give some updates on my most recent blog posts. In no particular order:

1. After all the tension over the ICC announcement, it is back to business as usual here in Juba. The UN and US Embassy have restored pre-announcement security levels (although Darfur is still level IV), and everyone acknowledges that the news of whether or not Bashir is actually indicted will not come for some months. So you can all stop worrying :)

2. In response to the whole ban on women wearing pants fiasco in Yei, the issue was taken up by a UN Agency at the higher level with the Government and found to be a local order initiated by the County Councillors in Yei. Police have been asked by Higher Government Authorities to withdraw that order immediately. And here is a picture of me with the same County Commissioner (far left in the brown suit) who gave the order. This was taken at the event presenting certificates to our trainees marking the beginning of services to people living with HIV. So he wants to be seen as supportive of PLWHA, as long as women don't wear pants. I would like to point out that I am wearing pants in this picture. Ha! The following are some more pics from Nimule and Tambura including: me trying to get satelite phone reception standing on the back of one of our vehicles, and my FAVORITE picture of the trip of this woman eating an apple.

3. Simba is doing better, although is still sick. But his wanker boss tried to get him to come back to Juba for a week to train his fill-in because his boss felt like taking an impromptu holiday in the UK. Simba refused, because, um, HE'S STILL SICK, but agreed to come for one day (in Friday, out Saturday) as long as the company paid for my plane ticket to come back with him to Nairobi for 2 days. Booyah! Civilization, here I come! It is completely the opposite of cost effective for them, but whatever. I'm not complaining.

4. My face is doing much better - the burns have gone down significantly, and now it just looks like I am recovering from a rather unfortunate bout of post-pubescent acne. Not that I ever had any during that time. Seriously! I was pretty lucky.

5. A few weeks ago, I had a gchat conversation with Beatrice and Beatrice, and happened to casually mention that I had eaten flying ants for lunch. Since it was the start of the rainy season it was the time
when the flying termites/ants come out. These are also considered a delicacy. Beatrice proceeded to flip out, with comments like "Petunia. We have EVOLVED. You don't need to eat INSECTS." I was highly amused by this whole conversation (unfortunately I didn't have the program set to save the conversations, so I can't post it in its entirety here). But here is a picture of a plate of these tasty creatures (which happen to taste like duck pate, by the way).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Petunia's Sudan Sickness #4462

Just when I thought I had escaped further sickness for a long while, I have a run in with a a seasonal bug called the Nairobi Fly, also known as the Acid Fly. If this red and black fly lands on your skin and you squash it to kill it, an acid-like substance secretes from its body and causes severe burns in that location. If it stays on your hands and you touch another part of your body it spreads. Here's the Wikipedia post for more info along with pics of the Nairobi Fly and an example of what it does to you:

"The name Nairobi fly is applied to two species of beetle which live in East Africa, Paederus crebinpunctatus and Paederus sabaeus [1]. They are species of the rove beetle genus Paederus, and are black and red in colour, and about 6–10 mm long [2]. They live in rotting leaves where they lay their eggs. The beetles neither sting nor bite, but their haemolymph contains pederin, a potent toxin which causes blistering. The toxin is released when the beetle is crushed against the skin. People are advised to brush or blow the insect off their skin to prevent irritation [1]. Heavy rains, sometimes brought on by El Niño events, provide the conditions for the Nairobi fly to thrive.Outbreaks have occurred in 1998 [1] and 2007 [3]."

And where has this wonderful little creature chosen to land on me? ON MY FACE!!!!!!!!!!! So I have these patches of swelling, blistering burns on my face, one right next to my left eye, a bigger one on my chin just below the right side of my mouth, and a few smaller ones on my left cheek. It hurts to open my mouth really wide or to smile (because it causes the skin around my eyes to crinkle). There's nothing I can treat this with because if you put ointment or anything on it it spreads. But they tell me to put "bicarbonate" (aka baking soda) on it to neutralize the acid. But a friend just told me to use toothpaste instead because I don't know where I would even start looking for baking soda. So I'm sitting here in my tent writing this blog post with toothpaste on my face. Just thought I'd give you all that mental image :)

Speaking of sicknesses, Simba was also sick once again (couldn't keep down any food for a week) and they made him fly to Nairobi to get it checked out. Turns out he has Malaria AND Hepatitis A. There seems to be never-ending concoctions of nasty things to get here. So Simba will be in Nairobi for a whole month. Hep A is the one that is transmitted through contaminated food/water, and it affects your liver. His eyes were a bit yellow when he left. He has to drink 5 litres of water a day, and not eat any fatty foods or drink alcohol for 3 months. Talk about a weight loss plan. I thought my India weight loss plan was pretty good, but this one is going to be nuts!

In order to stay well and healthy you need to drink lots of water, eat lots of fruits and veggies, take your multi vitami daily, and DON'T MOVE TO SUDAN :)