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.