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!