A few nights ago I was having dinner with a government official and we were discussing the state of his political party and the future of South Sudan. We were discussing his background and where he was during the civil war. He told of how he was forced into the army at 13 and how his village was razed to the ground. I was fascinated by his perseverance and his optimism for the future of South Sudan. He then told me of a trip to the United States a few years ago.
He was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his son was receiving medical treatment at a local hospital. One night, he and his wife decided to walk over to McDonald’s for dinner. They were approached by a black woman who had seen them walking around Baton Rouge earlier in the week. The woman inquired into where they were from because “they didn’t look like they were from Louisiana.” He informed her that he and his wife were visiting from Sudan (at the time, South Sudan was still part of Sudan). She informed the couple that she had never heard of such a place and asked where Sudan was located. When he told her it was in Africa, she hesitated for a moment and then asked, “So you are telling me there is a country run by black people?” She was amazed that in Africa, the black people are in charge of their own affairs. Being from the South, I laughed at this story but then he asked about Americans’ knowledge of geography, especially the African continent.
America’s isolated location in the world has allowed us to become an example of stability. However, that isolation has also contributed to our lack of knowledge and understanding of what is happening throughout the world. National Geographic conducted a geography surveyed of 18-to-24 year-old Americans a few years back and discovered that only 37 percent could find Iraq on a map. Since 2003, the situation in Iraq has been discussed non-stop in the American media and in current event programs.
I am always amazed with how much people outside the United States know about our government, culture and current events. I recognize that a lot of that knowledge comes from Hollywood and current events. This past weekend, I was presenting at a workshop with students and young adults about political parties and comparing the system in the U.S. to South Sudan. The students were able to guess that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President (after I gave them the hint that Lincoln is credited with freeing the slaves), recognized Karl Rove in a photo with George W. Bush (I told them that Karl Rove got his start as a university student working for the College Republicans) and could give me a play by play analysis of the 2012 Presidential election. I was a little taken aback by their knowledge…
At the end of the event, one of the students asked what examples South Sudan could take from America to become a stable and strong country. I told him first, the country must be patient, because the American Democracy is still a work in progress. America is still correcting the wrongs of past generations. In addition, I told him that South Sudan needs a constitution that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, grants citizens life, liberty and the protection of property. It is extremely important that a country protects its citizens and their property. Finally, I told him that South Sudan needs institutions that allow citizens to settle disputes in a civil way and not through violence. In some parts of this country, there is lawlessness because South Sudan does not have the institutions in place to deal with violence and crimes. A trained military and police force would help move this country closer to a more civil society.
Here are a few pictures from the workshop.
Photography in Juba (and South Sudan) is not viewed the same as it is viewed in other parts of the world (especially along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.). While taking photos with permission is permissible, the government frowns upon taking pictures of government institutions but it is hard to determine government buildings from non-government buildings. So, in an effort not to have my camera taken from me, I have decided to only use my iPone to capture scenes of Juba and to also use it discretely. Here are a few snapshots from around town…
A slum-like village has sprung up in the cemetery leading into the Afex camp. We pass by this site everyday as we leave and return to the camp.
A view from my office…Land Cruisers – the car of Africa (and the developing world).
I often pray for patience…patience to see things through to fruition or patience with tourist who often overwhelm Washington, DC’s subways and sidewalks or patience with friends and family members. I truly believe that God teaches us patience through various experiences in our lives – maybe it’s being stuck in traffic or queuing in a very long and slow moving line OR living in a culture where the social norms are drastically different than what you have grown accustom to expect. While I have only been in South Sudan for a week, I am learning to have patience in all situations. Meetings causally begin 20 to 40 minutes after the start time and it’s not automatically assumed when you enter a restaurant that you will need a table or a menu. Those things come at your request. And the friendly, chipper waiter/waitress that meets you at your table in the US is nonexistent in South Sudan.
Patience is important when you are experiencing a new culture and the ability to leave your social norms at home will allow you to have a greater appreciation for your new environment. I like to think of myself as a patience person and living in South Sudan will only help me grow in that matter.
A few years ago I was visiting friends in Rwanda and we decided to take a camping/safari/rafting trip through Uganda. It was a pretty amazing experience sleeping along the river banks as the hippos moaned and groaned below and seeing lions resting in the savannah. However, our trip back to Rwanda on one of the cross country buses tested my patience and desire to experience new cultures. While the six of us wanted to be on the same bus, we were unable to buy tickets in advance because the operator told us that the bus was sold out and he would not know if there were available seats until the bus arrived in Kampala (the capital of Uganda). Afraid that we would be stuck in Kampala another day, we booked tickets on two separate buses. I was paired with one of my friend’s roommates who was use to Africa’s rugged travel accommodations. The bus was expected in from Nairobi, Kenya at 10pm and we were supposed to arrive in Kigali, Rwanda at 6am. The bus did not arrive in Kampala until 1am and once we started the boarding process we noticed the ticket agent had over sold the bus and I initially did not have a seat. I was exhausted, sleepy and hungry. I was also saddled with three bags and in no mood to handle the situation. Luckily, there were two Dutch women on the bus who also didn’t have seats and they complained loudly and in the end people were forced out of their seats to make room for us. As I look back, maybe I should have been ashamed that people were forced to sit in the aisle on the bus trip but at that time, that small measure was the least the driver could do to placate my frustration. I was hoping to get some sleep on the bus but if you are familiar with the roads in East Africa, you know that potholes are used to limit speeders. The 12 hours bus ride consisted of the bus driver speeding forward only to slam on breaks to navigate the potholes. Each time I would dose off the bus would come to a screeching halt. When we arrived in Kigali at 1:30pm that afternoon, my cup was overflowing with anger. When I finally got to my friend’s house, I needed to rest. I laid across the bed at 3:30pm to take a short nap. I didn’t wake up until 9:00am the next morning. Not only did I need sleep, I needed to allow my anger to pass.
But I learned a valuable lesson during that nightmare bus ride across Uganda. It was important to check my American attitude at the country border and embrace the culture that I was experiencing. And that’s my goal while living in South Sudan. Although I recognize that there will be times when I will get annoyed and frustrated but I will embrace what is around me and go with the flow. Someone the other day used the phrase, “let go and let God…” and that is exactly what I will do, let go and not try to control the situation. That phrase makes complete sense in South Sudan…
My colleagues surprised me with a cake to celebrate my birthday on Friday. It was a very nice gesture.
Well today is my 34th Birthday and today also marks the end of my first work week in Juba. I don’t think I would have imagined that I would spend my 34th birthday sitting along the River Nile in Africa’s youngest republic (actually, the world’s newest nation). I live at a camp along the River Nile called AFEX. It is one of several AFEX camps in Juba where a lot of expats live during their stay in Juba. It’s a small community that is actually much more transited than Washington, D.C. The camp consists of several NGO offices and the living quarters for the employees and consultants of those NGOs. I have a two minute walk from my bungalow to my office and a one minute walk to the bar/restaurant where meals are served. I have the commute most Washingtonians would die for! Here are a few photos from my new home…
Going into this new adventure, I was expecting the worst. I had never been to Juba (or South Sudan) and was only able to form my opinion by chatting with others. While the city and country has a long way to go towards infrastructure and development, Juba has a unique quality about it. If you have traveled in East Africa before, you will find many similarities. I told my driver today that so far, I like South Sudan, his response “South Sudan is an infant country.” People here are very optimistic about their future. There is a lot of potential here but at the same time, there are a lot of factors that could hinder South Sudan’s future.
I arrived in Juba, South Sudan on Monday afternoon after an overnight layover in Dubai. The hotel in Dubai was located inside the terminal before you exit through Customs and Immigration. So sadly, I never left the airport but I got to roam the airport and shop at all the Duty Free shops! Here is a view of Dubai from high in the Sky…the second of the man made Palm Tree Islands.
This was my hotel inside the Dubai International Airport. The futuristic windows are the Hotel and the center concourse is the Duty Free Shopping.
And this was my dinner…Big Mac Dubai Style!