Friday, July 18, 2008

Just another day (stuck) in the office

Our car slid off the road today and ended up stuck in the swamps... It took about 3 hours and lots of mud to finally get the car out. Not your typical day in the office unless you are working in Sudan!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oil country

Going out to the field last week I flew into a perfect airport with a great all weather airstrip and get into the car to drive on perfect roads. This is a new experience for me... You must be thinking that I'm in Juba or Khartoum or another big city in Sudan, but I actually just landed in a place called Tarjath (seriously in the middle of nowhere in Sudan). I'm sure you couldn't even find it on a map if you tried. (it's in Unity state if you do want to try...) The reason for the perfect roads, the perfect airstrip and the 3 flights a week here (as opposed to one flight a week to other places) is that this is the heart of the oil fields. Sudan is one of the largest oil producing countries in Africa, and much of it is being extracted by Chinese oil companies in this area. This was a driving factor in the long civil war and continues to be a major sticking point to lasting peace. (see Abyei for example). As I drive North of Tarjath to the place I will be staying, I see mile after mile of empty land except for the oil rigs and oil compounds that I see in the distance. All oil wells are connected by nice roads built only to take the oil out of Sudan. The workers at "the Companies" (as local people refer to them) are either expats or Sudanese brought in from the North. Local people might get a job as a cleaner or a cook, but never anything above that. Of course in the villages surrouding this enourmous wealth there is no school (the UNICEF tent that used to serve as a school fell down so students still learn under a tree), no clinic (although the oil companies have their own clinic only available to them), and hardly any development to show for the wealth but a few well maintained roads. Aside from the lack of development in the area the oil companies (and the bombings during the war) have driven away the animals. I was told that elephants used to migrate here but now they have moved to other areas, leaving the land is as deserted of animals as it is of people.

Yay for Yei?

I recently returned from a fabulous R&R (see previous post on Rest and Relaxation), which is why I haven't posted in a while. This vacation I left the continent of Africa, and it was much needed! I recommend it to anyone living and working in Sudan. It's amazing to remember how different your reality can be in Sudan when you go to the outside world. Anyway, I could write forever about my vacation but since this blog is about Sudan I will get back to my reality right now...
Before leaving for my R&R I had in my mind a post about the place where I spend much of my time- in Yei. I was going to write about all of the successes of the place and how it's so far ahead of other places that I have been in Sudan. I recently saw Salva Kiir (the President of South Sudan and the Vice-President of all of Sudan- confusing I know) open the first electric plant in South Sudan so that there will now be power everywhere. This means that hospitals will have power all the time without generators, streets will be lit, etc. etc. In Yei there are also fuel stations, a vibrant Sudanese middle class, a market where prices are not ridiculous and you can buy almost anything, decent roads, Ethiopian coffee, and relatively perfect weather. Yei is also nicknamed small London because of it's cosmopolitan nature. On the border of Uganda, the DRC, and not too far from Kenya you get all types of people living in Yei.
But back to the point of why my post title is now Yay for Yei??? (question mark) Instead of Yay for Yei!! (exclamation mark). Upon arriving back from my R&R I started hearing stories about women in town being caned. I thought it was a mistake as I had always felt like Yei was one of the most progressive and safest places in Sudan, but after hearing the same story from several people and hearing it later discussed in a conference I knew it was true. Women were being stopped for wearing trousers that were too tight (or just generally for wearing trousers and not a skirt!) One kawaja was even stopped and told to go home and put on a skirt. This is due to the so called 'morality laws' which someone suddenly decided was a good idea! Isn't this the same sort of thing that the South was fighting for all of these years? I hope that soon this ridiculousness will stop and I that my next post will be only Yay for Yei!! Until then I'm not going back to Yei until I buy a skirt.... (since I currently don't have any).