Friday, June 22, 2012

Back in the saddle

I'm writing today from Juba, South Sudan. I'm not sure what this brings me to in my "countries visited" count, but I'm pretty sure I'm now up into the 40s.

I was a bit anxious about coming here at first, with the news of recent clashes near the border and growing tensions with the North, but I've actually found it to be very quiet and calm. The only moment that made me a bit nervous was one day when I was sitting in the car in a busy trading center, and the driver wandered off to go to the market. The car ended up being surrounded by skinny, adolescent streetkids, some of whom were openly sniffing glue, which broke my heart. They peered into the car, wondering what their chances of snatching a purse might be, until the driver returned and chased them off.

I spent 9 days in our compound in a fairly remote region in the North of the country. Most of the esnior-level staff live in the same compound as the office, and it's amazing the investments that have gone into making the living arrangements comfortable enough to entice people to stay a couple years. There was reasonably fast internet, flushing toilets, and ceiling fans in the tukuls (huts, but really more like little thatched cottages) that even ran through the night.

Now, if only they could have gotten rid of the bugs and 100-degree temperatures, it would have been great.

Oh, and speaking of the bugs. I mean, the BUGS. Oy vey. I sometimes wonder how I managed to get myself into a career where exposure to enormous, creepy, insects is just a hazard of the job. There were beetles the size of my hand, quick little spiders that jumped, and flying termites that would land in your hair. I actually cut myself with my own fingernail trying to get a flying cockroach out of my hair one night. [shudder]. Using the bathroom was an exercise in efficiency, getting in and out before something could move and freak me out.

The Sudanese staff, on the other hand, were not bothered by the bugs - in fact, they were very excited about the emergence of the termites, and one night they collected buckets of them to make little crispy, fried, bug snacks.

I also had the misfortune pleasure of being introduced to the African version of American Idol, with contestants from across East Africa. I may have permanent ear damage. But on one lucky evening, they decided to put on a movie instead of the singing show, a Nigerian soap opera, or football. And let me just tell you that Jurassic Park is an awesome movie to start with, but until you've watched it with a room full of South Sudanese who have never seen the film before, you have not truly experienced it. Priceless.