Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just in Case x2

Just in case you were wondering, I've moved! Come visit me at the new Petunia in Paradise ( There's also a button on the right sidebar that will take you directly to the subscription page in case you're interested. Hope to see you there :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

War Predictions?

I saw the NYT op-ed piece about Sudan by Dave Eggers and John Pendergast a few days ago and have been thinking about it ever since. And, you guessed it, I have a bone to pick. The authors criticize the current administration for claiming a lack of leverage to prevent overt war from breaking out again between North and South Sudan (there is a referendum coming up in February 2011 to determine if the South wants to become its own country), claiming the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was "clear, simple and eminently enforceable" and that:

The peace in Sudan is one the United States “owns.” Developing a more robust package of carrots and sticks — rolled out multilaterally when possible, unilaterally if necessary — would strengthen America’s diplomatic hand, not weaken it.

Let's unpack this one step at a time, shall we? Firstly, clear, simple and eminently enforceable? Have the authors ever tried to read its 200+ pages? How were they going to enforce borders that were already disputed? How were elections to be held that anyone could actually believe were free and fair? I am so happy that the country got to the point of holding these elections, and that people were so hopeful about them.

Secondly, as for the carrots and their proverbial sticks, isn't claiming that the US can use the ICC as a carrot and/or stick as the moment requires a smidge bit presumptuous? Not to mention damaging to the ICC's already weak credibility. I mean, props to the ICC for issuing its first warrant for genocide to Bashir this past week, but I think this is a particularly ironic argument given that the USA did not ratify the Rome Statute and therefore not governed by the ICC.

The part that astounds me is how they can claim that the USA "owns" the peace in Sudan. Did the USA single-handedly end 40 years of war there? No. There were a consortium of countries and yes, the USA played a large role, but I guarantee you that if there was not the presence of more "neutral" countries besides the USA a CPA would never have been signed. The point of the article was clearly meant to raise awareness and to "rally the troops" aka the American public to garner public support for involvement in the region. And apparently the way you do that is to make Americans think that the USA is the most important country to the whole process. But does predicting war help anyone? No. No it does not.

Overall verdict: stick to fiction guys.


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Monday, July 5, 2010

Just in case...

Just in case you were wondering, if you were subscribed to this blog and want to keep getting updates via email, you'll have to re-subscribe at the new Petunia in Paradise address. There's a button on the right sidebar that will take you to the subscription page. Sorry I don't think I can transfer that stuff over! Hope to see you there :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hello, God? It's me, Petunia.

Hi everyone, how goes it? Is anyone still subscribed? If so, check out my new space here - same name, prettier layout methinks. I moved to better manage things, topics, etc. Since I've slowly been creeping out from the rock I have been hiding under, I hope to see you there!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Video images of Southern Sudan!

Hi everyone,

I know I haven't been keeping this blog going, mostly because I want to keep this space for the "Southern Sudan" time in my life, rather than as a catch all for everything that's going on. However, in case anyone is still out there reading once in awhile, I wanted to share these video clips from CNN's coverage of Southern Sudan found on this site: The reporters went to Juba to do a story on the voter registration (General elections in February 2010!), but ended up with stories about the North South divide, the Wildlife Conservation (elephants and antelope in Sudan!) and oil. The clips show a lot of the people and the towns where I lived and worked, which is fantastic to see, so I just had to make a post.

The story of Daniel Deng, a Sudanese-American who returned to Southern Sudan to help with voter registration in Juba, and the voter registration process in general, can be found here:

The next is a video about the efforts of wildlife conservation in Southern Sudan, is here:
I met a lot of the people who work for the Wildlife Conservation Society, including Paul Elkin who is interviewed on this clip, and the work they do is truly inspiring.

A look at controversial evidence of the oil industry polluting the drinking water and people's fears is here:

And finally, the effects of the North-South war on people's lives, some images of what a typical market looks like, and the threat of returning to war if independence is won:

It made me so happy to see these videos, it's not often that news agencies give a voice to Southern Sudanese beyond government officials, and show what towns really look like, so I just had to share!

I hope you enjoy :)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Into the Bush

Finally, after an exhaustingly long day traipsing all over the State of Jonglei monitoring distribution of mosquito nets, I was able to crawl under my mosquito net at the Freedom Hotel and collapse into bed. Sleep came quickly, deep, and long. Until first light when my subconscious started picking up something in the distance. I have been in Sudan long enough to know when I hear that noise that it is NOT fireworks, and apparently I was still not tricked in my half-asleep, half-awake state. Granted, I very, very rarely hear that noise. But no, these were definitely gunshots. Still not wanting to open my eyes I listened to the pattern. PA PA PA PA PA. Then after a few seconds’ pause, from a bit farther away, pa pa pa pa pa. Then even closer, PA PA PA PA PA.

At this point my mind shook off the rest of the sleep and I opened my eyes. Oh right! Today, May 16th, is SPLM day. “Into the Bush” day. Commemorating the day in 1983 when the South took up arms against the North by going into the bush (basically the wilderness) and fighting back. And how do we celebrate holidays in Sudan? By firing our weapons. Oh yes, on Christmas, New Years, and, apparently, SPLM Day, soldiers and civilians everywhere shoot their AK-47s off with glee with complete disregard to what happens to the bullets once they are fired up into the air. At 6:03am in Bor Town, the capital of Jonglei State and the home town of many of the SPLA leadership, it sounded like everyone was getting in on the action. The number of guns being fired increased, always in a call-and-response pattern.

My boss (the head of our office) as well as someone in the HR department from my organization's DC Headquarters was also on this trip, but staying at another hotel on the opposite side of town. Just to be sure, I sent them a text: “Please tell me this is because of SPLM day, right?” a few seconds later came the response, “Oh right. I hadn’t thought of that. Good I’m glad it sounds like it is really close over here.” I should mention that I was staying in a room in an actual building that the hotel had just opened the week before – usually hotels in the field are really just tents. My boss and the HR guy were staying in tents. Not somewhere you want to be when bullets are being shot up into the air!

Now this hotel had very good security – several guards on duty at all times. One of these guards happened to be stationed almost directly under my window (the building only had one story). I heard him audibly stretch, very loudly hock a loogey, spit, scrape his plastic chair across the concrete as he stood up, heard the metallic click of his AK-47 being cocked, and then he joined into the firing. Don’t worry it was away from the building of course! But damn, was that thing LOUD!!! There are basically no furnishings in the hotel building, just concrete, wrought iron window bars, and glass in the windows. The guard firing right next to the room made a very loud BOOM echoing around the room and it felt like everything rattled – nothing to absorb the noise.

At this point only about 5 minutes had gone by since the first gunshots. It dawned on me that what goes up must come down. I looked over at my window, realized my bed was directly under it on the other side of the room

(please refer to this incredibly high quality rendering of the floor plan to my room), decided that was not a very prudent place to stay should a stray bullet come through the window, and crawled out of bed over behind this weird outcropping that will one day house a bathroom (had not been installed yet – everyone still was sharing pit latrines) and made myself comfortable.

That’s when I realized I had to pee.

Seriously, that timing was SO BAD!

About 15 minutes passed, just sitting there, waiting. The gunfire began to taper off. It was then I realized that I had a video camera in my bag. We were doing a mini-documentary about the distribution, and the consultant we hired gave all the staff in the field digital camcorders to document some of what went on. So I crawled over around the outcropping, grabbed my bag, and turned on the camera. All you can see is the window, but you can definitely hear the gunfire. There is not much of it left, but still. Unfortunately I no longer have access to the footage, but I will definitely try to get a copy, at least for posterity.

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.