Recently, I spent almost a month in South Sudan for work. In order to do the current situation and people justice — this will be the first in a series of blogs.
As the newest country in the world, South Sudan was already a fragile country, then a fight occurred between the President and Vice President, leading to a conflict that has turned the Vice President into the leader of the opposition party. The consequences of which are the spread of massive violence, including horrific human rights violations throughout the country.
There are certain inevitable experiences that one has when traveling and working in countries experiencing conflict, a civil war or those involved in a post-reconstruction stage (after the peace agreement has been signed). Upon arriving at the Juba airport one notices that it is packed with NGO (UN, WHO, WFP) and other cargo planes, which are parked everywhere — and very few commercial airliners. The WHO aka The World Health Organization is the first stop – hand sanitizer and forms to fill out with questions about where you are coming from, and everyone receives a temperature check. Having my temperature checked happens to me at a lot of African airports these days.
It’s hot and chaotic at the Juba airport and very similar to the Kinshasa, DRC airport.
As we drove off we could see the new building for airport being built, which makes arrivals seem like a shack, though, with the current state of affairs I wonder where the money will come from to finish the project.
There’s a unique hustle and bustle with lines of UN vehicles, cars and TukTuk’s (rickshaws) driving through town. I was surprised by the absence of military personnel with machine guns. Though after being in Juba a while I realized that they are stationed around town, just not on every corner. It didn’t take long before we were off of the paved road and on a bumpy dirt road.
We stayed in an area near the White Nile River, a local Mosque and some small business. The hotel had the feel of a compound and felt relatively safe. The scariest part was being in the flight path of the airport and watching, hearing and feeling the incredibly low flying planes above the hotel. It was so loud and powerful that the buildings shook.
One of things that surprised me about Juba was the noticeable amount of immigrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Some of the hotel workers explained that there were more opportunities for them in South Sudan, which was unexpected.
Most of my time in Juba was spent at the hotel where we held the workshops and I ate almost every meal in the hotel restaurant. The morning and lunch buffets had many vegan options. Ordering off the menu at night was more limited, but doable. My main option other than fried potatoes was vegetable curry. Seems to be my staple dinner in African countries – but it was good. One night ended up being French fries and beer – don’t knock it. If they would have had popcorn…For me, it’s all about having reasonable expectations and gratitude — while in a country where people are starving I am not about to complain about variety.
My group was able to go out for dinner a few times and we enjoyed the food at Turkish restaurant so much, we went twice. Great space, good service, with many veg options and wonderful fresh juices.
We also ended up out of the compound to attend meetings in the area where the UN and the American Embassy have offices. It’s an interesting trek over there because none of the roads are paved until you reach ministry row, the area near the official residence of the President and the compact center where other businesses are located, but once close to the embassies it returns to unpaved difficult to navigate roads.