Dancing Across South Sudan!
It is hard to imagine but last week marked a month in South Sudan. I was hoping to post this on last Thursday, my one month anniversary but I was actually outside of Juba, enjoying the pleasant weather of Yei (pronounced Yay) – minus a consistent internet connection. Yei is located in the same state as Juba, Central Equatorial but located about 120 km southwest of Juba, near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. I have been told that Yei is about 28 km from the DRC border. You also realize living in Juba that outside the capitol city, life is a bit more difficult. Electricity in this country is mostly produced through generators and most businesses outside the capitol city turn off the generators overnight. It can be quite difficult navigating a strange room in the darkness of Africa.
Reaching Yei is not for the faint of heart or those likely to experience motion sickness. Although only about 86 miles from the capital city of Juba, the drive is a grueling five hour adventure along a rugged gravel path. The South Sudanese call it dancing – the movement you make as you ride along the washed out roads of South Sudan. As we were dancing along the road to Yei, a sign caught my attention. It was a triangle shaped road signed trimmed in read. The sign simply said, “Bumps Ahead.” I chuckled because I was thinking, what is classified as bumps because the stretch of road that we were traveling was extremely rugged and uncomfortable.
It is easy in situations like these to put on my American blinders and began to judge my environment. But when you think about it, the people of South Sudan are a hardy people. If you told me that I was selected to attend a political training but I would have to travel for five hours along a washed road in the Alabama countryside, I would say no thank you! But over 50 people packed the conference hall in Yei and traveled from four of the six counties in Central Equatorial State. Living in South Sudan has made me appreciate the how essential transportation is to the economy and the standard of living. It also made me think about the similarities that South Sudan share with the early American revolutionaries that designed and built the American democracy. I was recently in a meeting and an international official was complaining about the slow process in South Sudan. A fellow colleague asked the official, ‘what did you expect, a country full of George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons walking around.’ South Sudan stands only two years from independence and if you know American history, the British surrendered in 1781 and America did not get their current government structure until 1787. During that time, the new American colonies tried the Articles of Confederation before moving on to the present day constitution. It is also important to remember that the United States had a strained relationship with the British and returned to war in 1812. The situation is different in South Sudan but new emerging democracies face threats from various directions – including from the governments that they decided to leave and unruly neighbors.