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.