Sunday, March 25, 2007

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.

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