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.

1 comment:

M.Lane said...


You won't and shouldn't get over Sudan. It is part of your lifebook and a part of who you now are.

If you don't write that book I will track you down and make you let me write it for you!! What a story to be told!

As for your poor friend and her husband, how awfully sad for her. But yet rather glorious for him. When I had a heart attack at home I thought....."if only I had a better way to go than this"...and he got to leave in an honorable and chivalric way. Not many can say that nowadays.

You can't get over some sorts of loss but my experience has been that the loss gilds you in some way for your own future.

Bonne chance.