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.