Thursday, August 9, 2007


A sad sad story from a part of the world that really doesn't need this infighting to continue. I won't write my own views on this sad event- as you can see in the later links the issue has become very politicized by both sides and speculations are running wild. I will just let you read what others have been writing...

Friday, August 3, 2007


I have been missing... I know... This is because we have had no power in our compound for almost a month now! No solar power, no generators, no batteries- they all died at once! It was definitely time for me to get out of Sudan in order to be able to communicate with the outside world. I may or may not be going back to Sudan, but I have many more stories and photos of my time that are on their way so stay tuned. (I've added a photo of a peace celebration in Napac/ Kimatong that I went to until I can post my other stories)

But for now it was time for me to leave Sudan.

Here are the top five reasons (aside from lack of electricity) why it was time for a break:

1. Hearing land-mines being detonated doesn't make me jump out of my skin anymore. This not yet the case with gunshots. Upon hearing gunshots last week (these were celebration gunshots), I was the only one to cover my head with my hands and squeal - the Sudanese didn't even flinch. (not one of my finest moments)

2. I was served termites fried with onions for supper one night in Torit. It looks remarkably like brown rice on first glance which almost caused me to mistakenly take a big spoonful... Thank goodness I saw that it had a head and legs!

3. I was starting to forget what a hot shower, flush toilets, and paved roads were like. (all great inventions by the way, should not be taken for granted)

4. The rains have come again and my gumboots are not quite the novelty that they once were when I first got them.

5. The dead dog saga continues.... over 50 local Toposa chiefs showed up at our compound and demanded that we slaughter a white bull for compensation for burying the dog. The rains have come, but I'm sure they will be back and I don't want to be around for it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Our puppy died! He was bitten by a snake, poisoned, ate something bad (no one really knows...) On top of losing my favorite thing at the compound his body is now out in the bush somewhere in order to save the rains of Sudan...

He was buried in the backyard (according to Western tradition) and then later was dug up and thrown to the wild (due to local tradition. ) We offended the local culture by putting a dog in the ground! According to the Toposa burying a dog is a crime- if you bury a dog the rains will not come. So to save the rains of Sudan we had to dig up our dog... And now today it's raining and I wish it weren't. A tragedy in so many ways. He was only 5 months old and already had a broken tail and was hit by a car before this happened.
May you rest in peace!

The last wild place on earth

The land is fertile, rich in trees and plants, unpopulated, unspoilt, and with lots of rain. In theory it’s a perfect home for wild animals to live.

Recently while driving to Torit I saw a leopard crossing the road. The rarity of seeing a leopard even in countries with more developed animal protection standards like Kenya made me think that there might be lots of them in Sudan. Seeing the leopard led to a conversation in which I was told that many in the Acholi tribe believe that people can turn into animals like leopards, hyenas, and cheetas. Everyone in the village knows who these people are and that they turn into animals. This was coming from a very educated person who is still a believer in this ‘magic’. But, who am I to judge? - maybe I’ll get to his home town and see this for myself…

There are also elephants roaming the lands here. Recently there was an elephant who wandered into a town called Narus. It was immediately killed and I was told that it was eaten and the Ivory was divided up between the rich men of the area who make rings and bracelets to show their wealth. Sadly this is the fate of many animals who would probably like to migrate to the rich lands of Sudan if there were a little protection for them from their biggest enemies- man. There is a Sudan Wildlife Service within the government, only time will tell how well they manage. Maybe Sudan will become the next Safari destination someday??

Aside from the big game animals, the smaller animals in Sudan are also impressive. I’m no birder, but there are the strangest birds here that I have ever seen. Eagles are everywhere, frogs surround me, not to mention the insects (of the ones I have seen I can’t imagine that they have all been identified before.) On the drive today we hit a wild guinea fowl. They run wild here and are abundant on the roads. After I saw the flash of feathers on the windshield our driver promptly stopped, collected the bird from the side of the road, and threw it in the vehicle for dinner. I didn’t get to taste it, but I’ve heard that guinea fowl is tasty.

I want to be a pilot!

I know in some previous posts I have complained about flights in Sudan and how each time you step on the plane you pray that you will land safely. But, after my return trip from Juba which involved stops in two other states of Sudan it made me grateful for flights so that I could see so much of the country. Flying on a small plane (mostly 9 seaters) you fly really low so it's like a scenic flight and if you wanted to you could reach out and touch the pilot. Seeing them fly really made me want to learn to be a pilot!
The first stop after Juba was Nimule, right on the border of Uganda. As we approach the whole landscape changes and becomes green and lush. The rivers are full and look like they flow all the time. The green hills are dotted with perfectly round tukuls. We land on the runway (really just a small dirt clearing) and almost crash into a group of men huddled together under plastic sheeting held up by wooden posts sitting on the end of the runway. I am busy staring at them a while before I even realize that they are soldiers and that they have large guns pointing up into the sky to shoot down airplanes- pointed in the sky right where we came from. I'm don't have time to explore who they are and why they want to shoot down planes before we have to take off. (All I know is that this is the heart of the Lord's Resistance Army and there has been some serious insecurity here because of them). Our next stop is KajoKeji, also on the border with Uganda. This is in Central Equatoria and I'm excited to get to see another part of Sudan. The plane stops so many times it's really more like a bus service than a flight. Considering the lack of roads to all of these places, flying is still the only way to get around here. Finally we reach Kapoeta. We think... As we reach something which looks like a town the pilot turns around and asks if anyone if is from Kapoeta and if the place we are about to land really is Kapoeta. I'd never been asked for directions to a runway by a pilot before! Thankfully at the end of our runway is a crashed plane which was never taken away, so it's easy to see that you are at the right place. So I told the pilot he was right and we proceeded to land.
If only I had my camera on this trip to share some photos of my tour around Sudan... But I can share photos of the crashed plane at the end of the runway instead.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dinars, Pounds, Shillings, US Dollars?

A country with a confused currency system is likely to be unstable and underdeveloped.

Thinking about the money here just gives me a headache! Here is what I have come to understand about the currency following many long and painful conversations with shopkeepers...

- There used to be an old Sudanese pound. The exchange rate (to USD) used to be about 2000 to 1.
- Then they changed to Sudanese Dinar. The exchange rate is about 200 to 1.
- Now they introduced a new Sudanese pound which is at the ex change rate of about 2 to 1.

The Sudanese Dinar and the New Sudanese pound are both currently in circulation, and on top of that people still give you prices in old Sudanese pounds with millions of zeros to completely confuse you.

Right now people are waiting in line to trade in their Sudanese Dinars for the new Sudanese Pounds in order to only have one currency, but who knows how long that will take?
And of course money is a political thing... The old Dinar has Islamic symbols as the water mark while the new Sudanese Pound is deliberately neutral (with an eagle).

When you are close to the border with Kenya everyone wants Kenyan shillings, and when you are close to the border with Uganda they want Ugandan shillings. It's probably the same when you approach the Ethiopian border but I haven't made it there yet.

And here in South Sudan, US Dollars expire! Who knew that there was an expiration date on money, like on milk? Ok, they are probably right, dollars more than a few years old are easier to counterfeit, but it makes me laugh when they tell you that you have "expired money" and refuse it.

Essentially in order to be able to make purchases in this part of Sudan you should have Sudanese Dinars, Sudanese Pounds, Kenyan Shillings, Ugandan Shillings, non expired US Dollars, ( and a calculator!) with you at all times.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rest and Relaxation

Most jobs in the world don’t get something called Rest and Relaxation (R&R), but in the international aid and development world this is something everyone gets and needs…Aside from getting time off we get something which tells you exactly how to spend your time- resting and relaxing! (Luckily I was forced to rest and relax when I went to the Kenyan coast and spent four days inside due to the nonstop rain, mostly spent eating and sleeping.)

Here are some other things that you only get at a job in the international aid field:

  • Emergency evacuation lists of who should get to leave in case of an emergency (how do you decide?!?)
  • Acronyms - from the names of different organizations to names of programs- it’s a whole other language
  • Security trainings, weekly security meetings, daily security updates, security levels from 1-5 - you get the picture…
  • You can go to work in gumboots/ wellies when it rains, and this is considered professional dress.
  • You share your office space with chickens, goats, and numerous insects and lizards.
    We all know how to speak in radio code and have radio names.
  • The only way to get around is the white land cruisers with the organization name on the door or motorcycle.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Law and Order

Law and order in Sudan is nonexistent! In other countries if there is a car accident- it’s called an accident. There is insurance, police, courts, etc, etc. In Southern Sudan there is a 'take justice into your own hands approach', especially when it comes to the army. This makes it worse because they all have guns, are bored, underpaid and still trying to fight the war. Following an accident there is no justice for the victims or perpetrators. Someone else who is around remains responsible and anyone foolish enough to get in the way faces a sort of mob justice.
Two nights ago 5 soldiers showed up at our compound after beating up one of the drivers of a vehicle that we sent out in the field. They had gotten information about the plate number of the vehicle and decided to beat up the wrong guy based on this information. They were actually looking for a different vehicle that was also parked at our compound (how it got here is a long story…). They coincidentally happened to find it here and decided that since the driver had run away that they should take the owner of the car or the car itself. Of course based on no evidence except that they had guns and said so. In the dark night I had to tell five tall shadowy men with guns to leave our compound and to take the vehicle with them and sort it out in the morning. I heard that the punishment was for the owner of the car to pay $1000 for the hospital bills of the injured soldier.
The day after this I got another lesson on the lack of discipline and order among the army. There was a shooting in town when a soldier lost it and shot his friend and another person and in return he was shot himself. The army barrack is in the middle of town so those affected by internal fights are likely to be civilians. Even following the peace agreement, the rule of the gun is still the strongest rule of the land. No need to worry mom - things are fine and I am safe, I just needed to vent about my frustrations of living in such a violent gun ridden place.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Family reunification

Reading back over my posts the last few weeks I realize that things were looking quite grim and I was feeling a bit low.
Today, things are looking up for several reasons:

First - the cook has recovered, no one else has been evacuated, and I'm still feeling quite healthy.
Second- I got out of Kapoeta and into the field, I visited the market, bought some beads, and ran into a friend in Torit.
Third- I saw the real impact of the peace agreement on families in South Sudan today:

Most if not all of my Sudanese colleagues have lived as refugees at some point in time. I've spoken about their time during the war and many have been living apart from close family members since the war started until today. During the war family structures fell apart and children were raised alone, with another family member, distant relatives, or strangers. (For example many of the 'lost boys' that were resettled to America that fled the country as unaccompanied children) Some Sudanese that I work with have been outside of Sudan for a long time and this is their first time returning and living in the country that they were born in.

One colleague fled to Uganda as a child where he was raised by his grandmother. The rest of his family was displaced to many different locations and no there was no contact with his immediate family from the mid- 80's until 2002 -not even a letter...

Today I met his elder sisters. This was the first time for me, and also the first time for him. He had not seen his sisters in 19 years and they randomly found each other in Torit today. 19 years! The last time they saw each other they were infants they were introduced to each other again by someone who knew both of them. The reunion was so touching- imagine meeting family that you don't really know because you were separated by war for most of your life. His sister had photos of the family and news from his mother that he also had not seen since he was an infant.

A happy day to see that families can finally be reunited after all of these years apart and only now because peace has come to South Sudan and people can move more freely than before within their own country.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Brucellosis and other strange disesase

This morning I learned that I cook who had to be evacuated doesn't just have a bad headache like he told me. He has Typhoid and brucellosis!

This is what the Center for Disease Control says about Typhoid:

"Salmonella Typhi lives only in humans. Persons with typhoid fever carry the bacteria in their bloodstream and intestinal tract. In addition, a small number of persons, called carriers , recover from typhoid fever but continue to carry the bacteria. Both ill persons and carriers shed S. Typhi in their feces (stool). "

You can get typhoid fever if you eat food or drink beverages that have been handled by a person who is shedding S. Typhi or if sewage contaminated with S. Typhi bacteria gets into the water you use for drinking or washing food. Therefore, typhoid fever is more common in areas of the world where handwashing is less frequent and water is likely to be contaminated with sewage.

Once S. Typhi bacteria are eaten or drunk, they multiply and spread into the bloodstream. The body reacts with fever and other signs and symptoms."

Then, I had to find out what this weird disease brucellosis is which I had never heard of before today:

"Humans are generally infected in one of three ways: eating or drinking something that is contaminated with Brucella, breathing in the organism (inhalation), or having the bacteria enter the body through skin wounds. The most common way to be infected is by eating or drinking contaminated milk products. When sheep, goats, cows, or camels are infected, their milk is contaminated with the bacteria."

That's great, he has two diseases that are spread through food and he is the one preparing our food! Let's all pray that this doesn't start an outbreak in our camp and that my immune system can handle it. Now not only do I have to worry about the mosquito bites giving me malaria I also have to worry about the food I eat giving me typhoid and brucellosis- and God knows what else is floating around here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Some statistics from my day today:

Number of marriage proposals: 5

Highest number of cows promised to me: 500

Number of people who spat on me as a sign of respect!: 1

Approximate age of drunken child we almost hit on way home: 8 or 9 years old

Number of alligators/ lizards/ newts (depending on who you ask) that I saw: 1
(whatever it was it was pretty cool!)

Number of women whose voices are being heard in the Toposa community: 0!!

Number of Saturdays that I have not spent working in all of 2007: about 2-3 (today is not one of those days)

Number of cold beers in our brand new fridge: 10! (Finally!)

Number of generators still not working: 2

Number of mosquito bites on my ankles: Too many to count…

Friday, May 11, 2007


I woke up this morning feeling hopeless. I’m not sure why today, but for some reason I am overwhelmed by the difficulties ahead for Sudan especially the way my work is going. When I think of everything that the country has gone through and the difficulties still ahead it makes me feel like I am wasting my time and lots of money here.

Maybe that is always the difficulty of development work- having a sustainable real impact without wasting resources. The government of the South is still in a nascent state and is unable to do many of the things that they a government should do and then NGOs end up doing it. Government employees are not receiving their salaries, the system is over-inflated with too many employees, and there are allegations of corruption going around. I understand that thework that the local government has to do to rebuilt the country is enormous! Imagine trying to rebuild a legal system, army and police system, property rights, access to health care, water, education, solve tribal conflicts, etc, etc with very limited resources and surrounded by people with guns who have more power than you do. In trying to help them do their job we end up fighting with the local authorities because they are working towards their political interests rather than the interests of the people.

I think this hopelessness came about because of my own personal frustrations with how things work in Sudan and how difficult it is to get anything done! You have to explain something at least 10 times before anything gets done. I'm learning that there is a lack of communication all around with Sudanese and a lack of trust of anyone. Sudanese love to talk but aren't much for putting words into action.
I know there is this sense of hopelessness in general here and people are ready to give up so easily. Take the example of this conversation today:

Me: "We have had a problem with transportation and one of the trucks got stuck in the mud and can't bring participants.
Boss: "Well, it's obvious that the conference is a failure then. We should just cancel it all!"
Me: "Ok, what do you tell the 100 people waiting for us right now? And the three months of work put into this?"
Boss: "Let's just hand it off to the government."

I think I could soon start to adopt the Sudanese giving up attitude...

All of this is compounded by these other frustrations:
- All the shops are closed down in town because of the incident a few days ago, you can feel the tension as you go through town.
- Our fridge is broken (no cold beers), our generator is broken, our printer is broken, and basically every vehicle we have has something wrong with it.
- Our cook is sick and was evacuated today. I'm dying for some good food!
- Mosquitoes are out in full force and are driving me crazy!
- I just want to feel clean and pretty for once! And not sweaty!

On a happier note, I got some photos of children to make me smile today. (but on a more hopeless note, they are all severely malnourished...) I guess I have to focus on the small victories in Sudan or I might lose all hope.

Monday, May 7, 2007

IDPs and Refugees

This morning I was told that yesterday there was an incident of fighting involving several gunshots fired in Kapoeta. This incident took place between returnees to the area and the original inhabitants that never left during the war. Recently there has been some tension and it was just a matter of time until it came to this level. Some returnees came back to Kapoeta and were not welcomed mostly because they weren’t from the same tribe as the native inhabitants here, leading to the situation that happened yesterday.

The issues as I see them are this:
1. The civil war in Sudan created nearly four million internally displaced people (IDPs) and some 480,000 refugees. Sudan has the highest number of IDPs in the world! These are people who fled their homes during the war but didn't cross any international borders. They don't have the same rights under international law as a Refugee (or someone who fled and crossed an international border). This means that there was no agency such as UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) helping them out as it was outside of their mandate. Sudan is still full of people living as IDPs in all areas of the country. Now IDPs want to return to their homes and no one is helping them, no one is welcoming them, and when they arrive security problems arise.

2. When refugees fled Sudan they arrived in camps in places like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and some even made it to the US. Some in the refugee camps had a better life there than those who stayed behind in Sudan. They had access to food rations, free housing, sometimes to an education, and also being in the camps there was a chance of resettlement to a developed country. Now peace has come to South Sudan and it's hard to leave the things in the refugee camps to come back to Sudan where a lot of the things they got used to in the refugee camps are not there (no schools, no free food handouts, etc). Refugees are returning to Sudan, but also keeping their home in the camps across the border so that they can access these services. People are simply moving to the towns close to the borders and not going back to their hometowns further inside the country.

If the Sudanese cannot get their refugee and IDP issue worked out, I actually don’t see much hope for a lasting peace as populations of people keep moving, causing insecurity and reigniting old tribal tensions that were there during the war.

So what can be done about the unimaginable number of refugees and internally displaced people that are returning expecting a warm welcome upon being back in their country and instead finding hostility aimed at them? Sometimes I think that there should be an organization to deal only with IDPs, refugees, and the population movements in Sudan because the amount of work involved in moving that many people safely is tremendous.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Standards of living

My friend recently called me “about the bravest girl on the planet”, (Thanks Christian!) because I’m living in a place which has one of the lowest standards of living in Sudan, (and Sudan standards are pretty low to begin with). It got me thinking that many people at home may be wondering what my standard of living is like working for an NGO in Sudan.

The place I live is beside a river (which is usually dry, until it rains) so it’s really green and full of trees. It’s actually quite beautiful and peaceful here. The stars at night are incredible! You can never imagine the sky could look like that until you are out in the middle of nowhere with no electricity for miles. (This is something that everyone should experience sometime in their lives.)

The best thing in our compound is our puppy!! It took a while for some Sudanese to get used to having a dog as a pet, but after a while he’s become like part of the family. Aside from our puppy and the goats and chickens that run around before they become dinner, there are birds, frogs, snakes, and sometimes monkeys on our compound. There are also bugs everywhere! Sometimes termite swarms will come through after the rains, we have a huge termite mound on our compound which we are trying to get rid of. There are lots of mosquitoes now since the rains began and there are always huge spiders, crickets and beetles. I’m slowly getting over my unreasonable fear of crickets- mostly because I have no choice but to live with them. (It’s been kind of like shock therapy)

When I took leave in Nairobi I was told that the only important questions about my life in Sudan were: 1. where do you sleep? 2. Where do you go to the bathroom? 3. And what do you eat? :) So on to the important things...

- Where do I sleep?
Living in the compound is sort of like camping all the time. There are a mixture of tents and permanent huts. (I live in one of the permanent huts/ Tukuls). The place is as basic as you can imagine- a bed, desk, and bookshelf and not much else. We have a staff of about 20 people that cook for us, clean for us, do our laundry, and fill our showers with water. We also have guards 24 hours. I go to bed and it’s about 92 degrees, and I get up in the morning to high eighties on a good day. No air conditioning, no fan.

- Where do I go to the bathroom?

The toilet is basically a hole in the ground. Those of you who have never tried it all it takes is good aim and some getting used to... There is no running water. Our water is collected from the borehole every morning by our water staff and put on top of our shower area so that we can have running showers, which are always cold. (which is really all you ever need in this heat)

- What do I eat?
The meals are boiled goat, fried goat, goat stew, goat with potatoes, goat with rice, goat with pasta, goat with Ugali (tasteless cornflour paste), and then every once in a while some beef. Not exactly the place for someone who is a vegetarian and someone who lives for good food … Although, don’t expect me to come home looking emaciated. If anything I think I will get fatter (I know those who know me don’t think this is possible, but I may yet prove you wrong…) All I can eat as a vegetarian is carbohydrates and lots of them. And the Sudanese love their oil on food which doesn’t help.

NGO compounds like ours are usually the nicest places in town, (so you can imagine how local people live.) But living in these basic surroundings makes you realize how little you actually need to survive and be relatively comfortable. It makes the excesses of the West seem so much greater when having so much stuff would really just be a burden here. I’m learning to really appreciate this simple life. I’m already realizing that going home will be such a culture shock!

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Some photos of my trip to the town of Chukudum last week. It's built up in the hills so the weather is a bit cooler and the landscape is completely different- it's a beautiful place. The road there is terrible so it's been quite isolated for years.
The goats on top of the bus made me laugh... And again on the way back we got stuck in the worst rains ever. (this is when our car broke down in the middle of crossing a river) It took us 11 hours to go less than 100 km! I thought we would have to sleep in the car.

This is not Paris, New York, or Tokyo!

Spending time in Juba makes me feel nauseous. It’s not only the huge piles of trash covering almost every inch of the town and the putrid smell that comes after it rains, it’s also the fact that the capital of South Sudan is also one of the most expensive places in the world. Having to pay 150-200 dollars a night to sleep in a tent is ridiculous! A tent! Imagine! 20 dollars for cold chicken and chips that you have to wait two hours for? Where do these businesses think this is? And the ones who are going to end up suffering are the local community in Juba. None of the money stays in Sudan, all the millions of dollars that the people are having to spend on these crazy prices are leaving the country with nothing if the businesses were to close up shop. For the price that they are charging to sleep in a tent many new buildings could be put up and actually give something tangible to the community after the aid agencies decide that South Sudan is not the hot spot to work in anymore. All of the money spent by NGOs and the UN on housing and food could be spent on programs that actually help people. As aid agencies continue to pay these prices because ‘my organization is paying for it and not me’, the vicious circle of overcharging continues. So please Juba, lower your prices! For the future of development in Sudan.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Kawaja! Kawaja!

‘Kawaja’ is the Arab word for someone from Europe, and anywhere I go around town that is the greeting that I usually get. It doesn’t matter where the white person comes from, we are all Kawajas. Sometime small children see me around town and run off screaming, not a usual reaction for me most places that I go in the rest of the world… Stopping the car and I can be surrounded by a group of interested children (and adults sometimes.)

As one of my Sudanese colleagues told me, I’m like a tourist attraction and should start charging for a Kawaja sighting. I think it’s especially so because I’m a Kawaja female and have blond hair and blue eyes- there aren’t too many of us that have made it around these parts. Especially not Kawaja’s that do things that women around these parts don’t do like going jogging, driving, going to meetings with men, etc... I’m sure that once I learn to ride the motorcycle around town (sorry mom- but it’s the only way to get around…), it will be even more of a oddity. Yesterday when I was driving around town a small boy asked my colleague if the car was a car for Kawaja’s? I was about to give him a ride in the car to show him that the car wasn’t only for Kawaja’s but as my usual reaction with Sudanese children is for them to run screaming I thought he might be a little afraid.

However even as a Kawaja the local people are so accepting and welcoming. Sudanese are known for their hospitality. I have even been given a real Toposa name. (Toposa people are given their second name based on the place that they were born.) My second name is now Nakai which means one born in the house. I wanted to say that I was actually born in a hospital and not a house, but I’m sure that ‘one born in a hospital’ does not exist as a name yet due to the lack of hospitals.

Speaking of cattle....

A story I found on the BBC to add a little comic relief... (although it's a true story)

Sudan man forced to 'marry' goat
A Sudanese man has been forced to take a goat as his "wife", after he was caught having sex with the animal.

The goat's owner, Mr Alifi, said he surprised the man with his goat and took him to a council of elders.

They ordered the man, Mr Tombe, to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars ($50) to Mr Alifi.

"We have given him the goat, and as far as we know they are still together," Mr Alifi said.

Mr Alifi, of Hai Malakal in Upper Nile State, told the Juba Post newspaper that he heard a loud noise around midnight on 13 February and immediately rushed outside to find Mr Tombe with his goat.

"When I asked him: 'What are you doing there?', he fell off the back of the goat, so I captured and tied him up."

Mr Alifi then called elders to decide how to deal with the case.

"They said I should not take him to the police, but rather let him pay a dowry for my goat because he used it as his wife," Mr Alifi told the newspaper.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/02/24 16:40:00 GMT


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Meeting the chiefs

Several tribes in this area are fighting heavily over cattle, so now the chiefs must get together to try and work things out. This is part of their tradition and culture since anyone can remember. So many things are intertwined with the stealing of another tribe's cattle that it’s hard to imagine it ever changing- although over time and with greater development and access to education I hope that it can.

Cattle here is the source of wealth, only more important because it determines who you can marry. Each woman is given a dowry of a certain number of cattle when she is married and the number of cattle that she is worth depends on many factors. Marrying off your daughter is a way of gaining wealth for your family. This means that the women don’t have much choice in who they marry- it depends on the man who can provide the largest dowry regardless of what the woman wants. Because of being a source of wealth daughters are treated as precious and are second in importance only to the cattle. The way a local told me, the household is ranked- first in importance is the man, then the cattle, then the wife- because she will bring you the children to get more cattle, then the daughter- because she will bring more cattle when she is married, and last the son who is only there to protect his sisters but has no real means to bring more wealth into the family (unless he steals some cattle of course).

During the war in Sudan many tribal conflicts such as these were exacerbated and politicized in order to gain allegiance to either side. Then when the guns flooded the area the whole idea of cattle rustling became a much deadlier game. Now people are being killed over cattle and no one really knows why they are fighting anymore. In essence there were several wars going on in Sudan at the same time- that between the North and the South and that between the South itself. Both need to be addressed in order to have a lasting peace and for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to hold.

But at least we are speaking about peace, even if it only a short term fix to the problem of cattle rustling. The chiefs in the area come together to discuss how many cattle were raided from each side and what the way forward is from here. The Toposa chiefs come with their own mobile chairs that they carry with them at all times. The arrangement of seating is based on hierarchy with the elders also playing an important role in the discussions. Arguments arise on both sides, but hopefully through dialogue stolen cattle will be returned and an agreement not to steal each other’s cattle will be reached. As you can see, there were no women at this meeting as this kind of role is seen as “men’s talk”. I’m encouraging them to send some female representatives, but changing that role will not happen overnight… Sadly the women are all out doing all the work- collecting the water, the firewood, preparing the food, taking care of the children, etc… Sudan will still be far from a sustainable peace unless all members of the community are really involved- including the women.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Beware of Landmines!

Anytime you leave the compound you have to be aware that there are land mines all around this area (and all of South Sudan). Kapoeta town was fought over heavily by the Northern government and the South, so the SPLA laid down many mines to keep the government in the town during the war and the government did the same to keep the SPLA out. Many roads and villages have been cleared, but there are still some areas where you cannot travel. Doing work sometimes becomes difficult as you must be prepared to not be able to reach certain areas. Aside from the work that we are trying to do, it stops returnees who wish to return to their home free from fear of land mines. Over 80,000 people in this region live in areas that are affected by land mines, and there are casualties every year due to unexploded land mines.

Thank goodness for the de-miners though or else we would not be able to work here at all. And what a job they have too! They move around finding the mines and destroying them. Sometimes you can hear them exploding the mines that they find. At the de-miners compound they have a big collection of bombs that they have found sitting around. The bombs are at least as big as I am, and much heavier... It’s strange to see these bombs and imagine them falling from an airplane onto
someone’s home!

It’s no wonder the de-miners like to come over to our compound to relieve some stress. A nice surprise when they came over to the compound along with other NGO workers for a spontaneous Wednesday night party which includes charades. I figure any ex-pat living in Sudan should be good at charades since sometimes that is the only way to communicate when you don’t know the language. Lots of laughs were had, and as you can see- lots of Tuskers (the Kenyan beer)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Flash Floods

Returning back to Kapoeta following a week in Juba is not an easy task. The drive would not be too long except that the road between Juba and Torit (which you have to take to get anywhere East of Juba) is impassible because of insecurity. The insecurity is caused by the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda), or others using the LRA as a scapegoat. So this means taking a flight from Juba to Kenya- only to return back to Sudan. The flight takes us to Loki, Kenya- on the border with Sudan. I won’t talk about the flight now because I don’t want to scare anyone who might fly in Africa, but all I can say is that I will never fly another WFP (World Food Program) flight again- certainly not with a pilot named Chris!

Loki (as it is fondly called) is the hub of ex-pat activity. Or at least it used to be. When the war was going on it was the only way into Sudan and many people just worked from there. Now that access to Southern Sudan has opened up, Loki is not quite what it once was… Lots of NGOs are closing up shop in Kenya altogether and moving on establish themselves entirely in Juba.

To get to the Sudanese border we have to wait for a security escort because there was an incident a few days before we were to travel. I feel a sigh of relief upon crossing back into Sudan and away from Kenya. Who would have thought that Kenya was more of a problem than Sudan?

It was a long rainy night the day before we left Loki. As we set out in the morning the rain was still pouring down. I knew that the road out would be bad, but not quite as bad as this! We just cross the border before encountering our first problem. Three trucks have gotten stuck in the mud and there is nowhere for us to pass. I’m not quite sure how our driver makes it through and around the trucks, but we are able to pass. Thinking that was the end of it we continue only to reach another mess full of trucks stuck in the mud. Thankfully there is a bigger truck busy pulling trucks out of the mud which I'm sure he will be busy doing all day.

The next big roadblock is a river that was bone dry when I drove over it 2 weeks ago and now after one night of rain the river is rushing quickly. Another NGO’s car got swept away as they tried to cross the river during another flood, so I know crossing a river is a challenge. There is nothing to do when we arrive but wait… The river comes and goes and we just have to wait for the right time. As we wait we are surrounded by Toposa people who are also waiting to cross the river on foot. If they can make it we can too! We risk it and manage to get across safely, although I was holding my breath the whole way just in case we got swept away.

Back to Kapoeta at last…. With the rain what should have been a two hour journey took nearly six.

Keeping peace at a peace conference

The Peace conference in Torit begins with the arrival by plane of the Vice President of South Sudan (Riek Machar). Upon his arrival a white bull is slaughtered for him to step over. My first sighting of such a thing, but I manage to hold back my gag as I take this photo… Seeing this reinforces why I’m a vegetarian… (I have already caused a controversy and insulted several people by not eating meat here – but that’s another story for another time...) The Vice President is taken to the conference hall where he is welcomed by traditional Sudanese dancers.

The conference lasts a week with lots of logistical chaos and definitely a lack of peace in the planning, but the conference itself was successful. People got together to speak about peace (and sometimes war), and to learn from each other’s experiences. There are some strong personalities at the conference and not many women’s voices are being heard in the government right now. There is so much work to be done to rebuild a country like Sudan, hopefully meetings like this will help in bringing everyone together to talk about their issues and work towards peace.


After the conference, we jump on a plane that looks like it’s from World War II and fly straight to Juba. The flight goes smoothly and the plane is much more solid than I originally thought after seeing the way that it was held together. As I get off the plane we are waiting on the runway for our car. I found this to be a little unsafe so moved inside. A few minutes later I find myself separated from my car which is on the runway and inside by more soldiers than I have ever seen. I run through the middle of them to get to my car not realizing what was going on, but later found out that the President of South Sudan's plane has just landed and is on the runway. He has a huge reception anytime he arrives at the airport, next time I'll be prepared for all the soldiers...

From the airport I make my first foray into Juba- the capital of all of South Sudan. It feels a little like Nairobi, only hotter, dustier, and safer! I felt safe walking around at night alone and leaving the door unlocked. I think because of Sharia law in the country during the war, everyone is so afraid of committing any kind of crime. Also in general Sudanese people are very honest.

I was able to eat good Indian food, great pizza, and some Nile fish (which I’m sure had some kind of toxins considering it came from this polluted part of the Nile). Juba is on the banks of the Nile, but there is no agriculture going on here. One irrigation system from the river is right now being used to wash cars! There is definitely a need for some good agriculture and water people in Juba.

You can buy liquor and other Western delights from the new supermarket in town- all imported from Kenya and Uganda of course. Nothing much is produced in Sudan yet… But, I’ll take what I can get while I’m in Juba. With my new stock of goodies, I head back to the bush of Kapoeta.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

To Torit we go….

Right after arriving in my new home of Kapoeta I’m told that I’ll be leaving in a day to help out with a conference in Torit- the current capital of Eastern Equatoria. I head off with my new Sudanese colleague for a four hour drive on dusty, bumpy roads. On the way we pass through the Kidepo Valley, an area where much fighting has taken place over access to this prime grazing land. We see houses built right on top of the mountains for protection. I have no idea how they leave their homes or have contact with the outside world, but I suppose that all that mattered during the war was safety and seeing your enemy coming.

On the way we pass another car which is broken down. The driver was traveling alone and has been stuck in the bush for five days trying to get someone to help him!! We try to help him but the car is not going anywhere. After trying for a while the commissioner shows up (wearing a leopard print cowboy hat (wish I had a photo of that)), and tries to help. We leave the driver behind knowing that he’s in good hands. We must get to Torit...

When we arrive in Torit it seems like a booming town compared to Kapoeta. It’s also level four security because of the LRA, although there was nothing going on while I was there. The town is full of UN peacekeepers patrolling the peace in the white UN landcruisers. Lots of driving in circles observing... A car full of peacekeepers offered me a ride as I was walking two blocks. I thought you weren’t supposed to give rides to civilians guys??? Or maybe that doesn’t count for females…. Regardless, thanks for keeping the peace- we need you!

As we are sitting outside of the SPLM office waiting for our truck to arrive from Nairobi a huge convoy passes in front of us. It’s the Russians. They are carrying out at least ten tankers full of oil. They won't let any Sudanese drive because of safety, so every car is driven by a Russian with a bunch of angry looking Sudanese men sitting in the vehicle and hanging off the back. It’s quite a sight to watch and everyone seems to be tense watching it go by in case anyone tries to attack them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Welcome to Kapoeta

This is my first blogging experience, but I thought that living in a place where most people only think of the images of war and violence that they see on TV I should try and show another side of Sudan that most people rarely get to see. My goal is to show a little of South Sudan to the outside world. I will be adding stories and photos of the people that I come across, the work that I’m doing, and the small steps of progress (or lack of progress) I see towards peace in South Sudan.

The town I’m living in is called Kapoeta, about two hours from the Kenyan border. It used to be a garrison town, but slowly this is changing. During the war days, it was fought over between the North and the South. You see remnants of war everywhere in the town.

The native inhabitants of the town are called the Toposa people. They are pastoralists and their cattle are everything to them. They are friendly people although many of them have guns as so many weapons flooded the area during the war. There are problems here between tribes stealing each other’s cattle as they are one of the only means of wealth in this area.

Here is my short introduction to Kapoeta town, more stories to come soon. Let me know what you would like to hear about…