Strange Things Afoot at the Circle Juba K

Sorry, the title is a terrible reference to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I’m tired; go with it.

Bit of a strange day in Juba. First, around noon, the Sudan Tribune posted a story that Riek Machar had been killed by a sniper.

 

Credit: Talk of Juba

Credit: Talk of Juba

After about an hour of confusion, rumor mill investigations, and NGOs wondering if they should be pulling their staff from field and PoC sites, Sudan Tribune announced they had been hacked and the story was false. Their website is still down.

Naturally, accusations started it was an April Fools joke. Whatever the motivation, the ramification of what this could have caused had the story been true or even just perceived to be true are extremely serious. I’m somewhat aghast at any motivations of the perpetrator(s).

In a secondary only-in-South-Sudan story of the day, the Juba police have apparently decided that no bodas (motorbikes) are allowed on Ministries Road anymore. Despite a lack of any announcement, today they decided to physically stop all bodas driving on the road, and subsequently confiscate said vehicles.

Naturally, bodas not being fans of losing their livelihoods for spurious reasons, many tried to outrun the law. This intersected my world when a boda came careening around a corner near Juba Teaching Hospital, at obscene speeds, and smashed straight into a woman crossing the street about 10 feet in front of my car.

Boda goes vrroom

Boda goes vrroom

This is about where I screamed, slammed on the brakes and closed my eyes.

This is about where I screamed, slammed on the brakes and closed my eyes.

The woman was flung to the ground. The boda continued on, ricocheted off the side of a matatu, then smashed directly into my front bumper with a sickening thud.

I don't have a pithy caption for this one.

I don’t have a pithy caption for this one.

Thankfully, I had already slammed on the brakes, so the impact was not as bad as it could have been for him. The boda took most of the impact, and the driver was able to walk off the the side of the road before laying down. The woman he hit, on the other hand, needed to be carried to the side of the road by onlookers, but was at least alive, moving and not obviously bleeding in any way.

Somewhat ironically, about 30 seconds after the incident, the traffic police, with a lorry fully of confiscated bodas, showed up on scene. They actually impressed me with their professionalism (not always having the highest regard for armed forces here), and after about 5 minutes the head officer determined the accident was obviously in no way a fault of mine and sent me and my passenger on our way.

In short, it was a miserably frightening experience, everyone walked away alive, and a personal plea to be aware and take care of yourselves and others on the road.

Strange day here in Juba. No fooling.

Juba Good: The Novel

Previous ramblings by myself and others expounded upon the beautifully ubiquitous term, “Juba Good.” It puts what is passable here in Juba on a distinct scale relative to other locales.

However it now seems that Canadian author Vicky Delany has also discovered this term. And has used it as the title for her new book.

No really.

Juba, South Sudan.
RCMP Sergeant Ray Robertson has spent eleven and a half months serving with the United Nations in the world’s newest country. He’s tired of the chaotic traffic and jostling crowds that fill the narrow streets. Tired of the choking red dust that blows into the capital from the desert. He can’t wait to get back to his wife and kids—and back to policing a world he understands.
But when a young woman—the fourth in three weeks—is found dead at the side of a dusty road with a thin white ribbon wrapped tightly around her neck, Robertson fears that a serial killer is on the loose. In a country plagued by years of extreme poverty, civil war and the struggle to establish a functioning government, the policeman realizes that it’s up to him and his Dinka partner, John Deng, to find the killer before he can strike again.

 

Whaaaaaaat?

WHY ISN’T THIS AVAILABLE IN EBOOK FORM?!?

Because These Are Our Conversations These Days

The conversations you have when cooped up inside too long.

When discussing the proper term for a male mistress:

 F: I think Cicisbeo is best
E: I sort of like paramour as a ubiquitous, gender-neutral term
F:  Yeah true. Also kinda like a paratrooper
E … yes?
 F:  Providing emergency loving where it’s most needed, even in potentially dangerous circumstances
E:  I feel like we’ve just contributed significantly to the Juba lexicon

Curfew really needs to end.

The Art of Spin

As a follow up to my last post regarding the warning to journalists not to interview opposition supporters, the spokesperson for President Kiir, Ateny Wek Ateny, stated yesterday that no journalist has ever been “arrested” or “questioned” in South Sudan. Oh, dear heavens, no. Not in South Sudan!

No, they’ve merely brought in a journalist or two from time to time to give them “advice.”

“[S]ome journalists are brought in to National Security offices “to receive an advice because some journalists are very irresponsible and they write very irresponsibly.” “

I can’t help but feel like this is the terrible first swing-and-miss of the new US-based PR firm that South Sudan hired to clean up the country’s image and improve foreign relations.

How do we spin restriction of free press into something positive? I know! They’re not suppressing journalists, they’re just advising them!

There is a serious conversation to be had about responsible journalism, particularly in times of rebellion and crisis, but this, my friends, is not it.

It’s Almost Funny

After 3 months of fighting, South Sudan has now declared that reporting on interviews with opposition leaders is now considered “subversive activity” and is considered an offense if published within South Sudan.

Apparently publishing outside the country is still A-OK though. Maybe no South Sudanese read or listen to external news sources? Totes fo sho.

This would almost be funny, had 2 journalists not been arrested for several days in December after interviewing Machar, along with another foreign journalist purportedly detained earlier this week. On top of the usual veiled and direct threats and intimidation, this new directive will not make local or foreign journalists feel much safer about reporting on sensitive and complex issues ongoing in the country these days.

However this:

Asked which section of South Sudan’s penal code made interviews with rebels an offense, Makuei said, “It is not my duty to tell which law — go and look for it.”

Actually is a bit funny. Especially when you consider that the Makuei, Minister of Information,  is himself a lawyer.
Oh South Sudan.

TIA, or “The Case of the Aloof Trainers”

Two weekends ago, I jaunted over to Nairobi for a mini-Juba reunion with some friends. Merriment was made, vistas were viewed, laughter was lauded. We even managed to have a solid TIA moment when, 8 hours before friends’ international flights, our car broke down in knee high mud in the middle of nowhere, was pushed out with the help of other weekenders, and subsequently fixed 3 hours later by a mechanic on a boda who stuck a screwdriver in the sparkplug and wrapped some exposed wires with duct tape. Sawa sawa. 

All and all good times.

Until I stupidly forgot my running shoes at my friends’ house.

Realizing my folly once back in South Sudan, I rallied a plea for anyone who might be coming out to Juba and wouldn’t mind playing the role of mule (we’ve all done it – I once brought car parts out).

Lo and behold, a friend of friend kindly offered his bag space, and a few emails and taxi driver exchanges later, my shoes were on their way to Juba. Huzzah!

Unfortunately, South Sudan struck again, and the shoe exchange was further delayed. Finally after several days of missed signals due to Malakal fighting, Somalia, and communication mishaps, I showed up, excited to see my beloved grey/pink/orange New Balance (I get slightly attached to running shoes).

Why hello old friends

Why hello old friends

So color me surprised when the lad, surely grateful to have done well more than his duty, greets me with something unexpected.

White, blue, and grey shoes, three sizes too small. 

Reunion!

Reunion!

Or notsomuch reunion

Or notsomuch reunion

A bit befuddled, and not knowing entirely the diplomatic way of proceeding, I stumbled over words before admitting those were not, in fact, my shoes. The look on his face plainly said those were the only ones he’d been given, so I accepted the shoes, thanked him, and left.

Once home, I texted a picture of the shoes to Nairobi-Friend, thinking perhaps he’d accidentally sent his girlfriend’s shoes instead while she was away on work?

Response: “Those were definitely not the shoes sent. Serious look of shock on face. Literally no idea where those came from.”

Further discussion has led to to the conclusion that at some point along the supply chain (Nairobi-Friend – Cleaner – Guard – Taxi driver – Friend of Friend) someone switched the shoes either intentionally (why?) or accidentally (how?).

The mystery therefore remains: Who has my shoes, and whose US size 5.5 shoes are now sitting uselessly on my floor?

TIA, folks.

Three weeks late…

…and many dollars short, I’m back in Juba after an extended evacu-cation.

Juba is fairly normal, minus the lack of traffic, increase in lorries full of soldiers, and 8pm government curfew (and the 35k people still sheltering on 2 UN bases in the city…)

I received hugs from three people at the ministry when I returned.

Sonja at Mama Asha’s remembers our usual order.

Image

salata aswat – all day e’ry day

There’s much work to be done, conflict still ongoing, politics to maneuver, and a cornucopia of “what next ?”scenarios. Despite the difficulties, frustration, and heartache, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Back in action.