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.