Saturday, September 12, 2009

Since I've been gone

Life goes on in Sudan, much as it did before I arrived. Roosters start crowing at 6am to accompany the scratchy sound of homemade reed brooms sweeping across the dust outside compounds. Builds discipline and an appreciation for cleanliness in all the girls whose chore it is. My boss starts her morning run at 6:30, after already being awake for 2 hours working away on her laptop and sending emails. The emails often start at 4am and don't end until 11pm. A squadron from the nearby SPLA barracks starts their morning jog which goes up the main road past the camp where we live. Residents can hear their singing and chanting in Dinka through the tent flaps where I more often than not wished away the dawn and hoped for just one more hour of sleep. The line for the shower starts to grow longer, people waiting their turn in towels and plastic flip flops, toothbrushes and shampoo in hand. The camp truly comes alive at 7, with residents tromping their way to breakfast. South Africans in sturdy boots and khaki speaking in a mix of Afrikaans and English. Kenyans joking in Swahili, sitting off on a table by themselves. Eggs, bacon, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, porridge, baked beans and toast. The NGO workers grabbing a Diet Coke and some toast before walking out in flip flops to the fleet of land cruisers which will carry them away to their desk jobs.

Do I miss this all? Definitely. Am I glad to be here, and not there? Absolutely. It's a strange dichotomy that I haven't quite figured out yet. Simba and I were talking the other day about how we don't know if we'll ever "get over" Sudan. Yes it was tough and yes we were ready to leave, but where else would we be able to watch men, women, children, goats, motorbikes and land cruisers, all stripped naked, all being washed in the river? To drive out past the town barrier to discover a broken bridge and therefore a perfect picnic spot to watch the sunset? Decide to drive a tractor to a party because the car wouldn't start? See the joy in women's faces when we go to their village to tell them about how to prevent malaria? Be able to lie together on a blanket under the stars, so so many stars you can't see anywhere in a city? Work 70 or 80 hours during the week but completely let go during the weekends - drinking slushies in the pool or dancing under a thatched roof?

We met up for dinner with 6 other former Juba-ites who were in town on holiday. So strange to see everyone again in a completely different context. I'm not quite sure how, but we managed to talk about everything except Sudan for the most part of the meal. Because things are not in such a good place right now. Corruption and mismanagement of the government budget are so bad that it will take until 2012 for the government to honor the contracts they have signed for this year. Jonglei state is still awash in violence, with the armed groups now claiming militia status. The latest info is that there are 1,200 armed and organized men carrying out the attacks. That is two batallions worth.

And a little closer to home, at a barbeque at one of the UN agency compounds, a friend of ours, U, was leaving Juba and her husband flew in to help her pack, to move out, and to see where she had been living and working for the past year. The gathering ended but a drunk man (from a country that will remain nameless but rhymes with "Prussia") insisted on staying the night at the compound. He was told he had to leave by our friend A, but obviously he did not like that answer because he punched A right in the face. U's husband got up to try to deal with the drunk guy, but was punched in the chest. He fell down and never got back up. He died, right there. From the punch in the chest. Does this really happen? Ever? U went back to her country (in Eastern Europe), and the assailant got deported back to his country. No one in Sudan can officially charge or touch him because he worked for the UN, and no legal action will be taken against him because honestly no one cares back in his country. U is now taking things day by day. It's been about a month since this happened, and she is obviously still devastated. Learning to live on her own. She has never paid a bill in her life - she met her husband in college, he took care of everything until she finished grad school, and then she started working in international development where the agencies pay for everything. My god I don't know what I would do.

There is no rhyme or reason to any of this, and it seems like things are going to pieces. People ask me "how is it over there in Sudan" and half the time I don't even know what to answer. I think the only hope the country has right now is the referendum coming up in 2011 where at least the government has a chance to be legitimized and can "insha'allah" take responsibility and pull together. But once the element of a common "enemy" is removed, will the hundreds of tribes be able to rally together under one flag, or will they turn back against each other as has happened since the dawn of time?


Apologies for the far from upbeat post, but that's where I am at the moment. Every year around September 11th I get more introspective, reliving that day, and remembering that in many places around the world that is the norm of life, rather than the exception. It was so good to see people from a different time and place that is still so familiar, but yet so far away now. The idea that I will never see or do any of the things in the first part of the post again still has not yet sunk in. But I am sure that no matter where I am I can create a sense of adventure, a sense of romance and fun because you can't have hope without first glimpsing dispair and you can't appreciate the good without the bad.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hello and Goodbye

Hello out there to everyone who reads these posts! First I have to apologize for the long and abrupt absence from Petunia in Paradise with no warning, and thank you to those of you who have contacted me to make sure I am still ok. I was truly touched that you cared enough to check up on me!

I am still alive and kicking but with a rather major change: I am no longer in Paradise. I left at the end of July and after spending 2 weeks in Kenya with Simba's family and our friends, we both flew to the US. Although I suppose it is possible that I will return to Southern Sudan at some point in my life, I will not be going back anytime in the near future.

When I left Sudan I didn't know what to write. I could not sit down and rationally write what was going through my mind or what went on because it was too much and changed daily. With most of the Petunia in Paradise posts I wrote them over a period of several days or weeks rather than all at once, but once gone I was moving too fast to make the posts I was writing relevant. I started the goodbye post a dozen times and have not yet made it to the end. So this will have to do for now.

I have not yet decided what I am going to do with this blog, or blogging. Once I arrived back in the US I realized a big reason why I spent a chunk of my free time online reading and writing blogs was not only to keep the people I know and love in the loop of what is going on with my life, but as a form of escape. It let me de-stress at the end of the day, and diving into other people's blogging worlds was a form of avoiding my own problems. Don't get me wrong, I have been fortunate to read some great writing out there and met a lot of people who I am very privileged to know. And I will keep reading and writing in the future! But it just feels strange now spending as much time online because I feel that I don't need it anymore. I don't need blogs as a crutch to pass the time to get through my day. I can freely be happy with my own thoughts and live life to the fullest instead of just existing or counting down time until my next R&R. So that's where I've been for the past couple months, detaching the chain connecting me to my laptop.

At the end of September I will be moving to London to start a Master's Degree program in Control of Infectious Diseases. Simba is here with me in the US, and is also applying for a visa and to University programs. Hopefully his visa will be processed as quickly as mine and we can both be in the same place. We received a very generous offer from an acquaintance to house-sit her house in London rent free for the year we will be there, and another generous offer from Beatrice to stay with her and her Husband until we can move into that house in October. The stars were more than aligned with those arrangements!

Do you want me to keep this going, even though I will not be in a place as off-the-beaten-path as Sudan? Should I change the blog name? After all, if Southern Sudan was Paradise, would London then be...Purgatory? Petunia in Purgatory?

I am so thrilled that I now have this account of my experience in Southern Sudan; I do have a few more things written from my time in Sudan, and will post those shortly, but if my posts were infrequent before they will probably be even more so now.

Thanks again to all the readers out there, and hope to hear from you all soon.

Peace, Petunia