More than ‘ho ho ho’
3 December 2011, Rumbek, Lakes state, Republic of South Sudan
Moving day ... what chaos. And our logistics officer Tom had it so well planned. Unfortunately he didn’t allow for a snafu that arose yesterday while I was at the farm. Juliet, a manager and a bank signatory, went to the bank to transfer November pay to staff with bank accounts and get cash to pay the others. A wire transfer from HQ is caught in the ethosphere somewhere, and another had to be sent, thus making payday a bit late. When Juliet got to the bank yesterday, the operations person caught that names and accounts didn’t match. It appeared they were off by one line but all had to be re-checked and verified. Our finance manager is in Nairobi. Juliet and our cashier completed the task early this morning. So amidst our move, all bank account holders made a mad dash for the bank to get some cash before the noon closing ... others had to be paid in cash and finally, a couple of people who had applied for bank accounts hadn’t been told by the bank those were opened so expected cash but their pay had already been deposited ... you get the picture.
It was after 10 by the time I finally called the staff together, thanked them for coming to work on a Saturday, apologized profusely for the late pay and thanked them again for their patience. Then I told them we were moving -- they knew our lease expired in January from an earlier set-to with the landlord. I told them we would pay the landlord to the end as we knew that was our obligation, but I didn’t want to move with the holidays coming and leaves starting. They needed to pack and mark their boxes, then help with furniture etc. Tom took over giving detailed instructions and the logistics company arrived with its helpers.
The night before I’d tried to call the landlord several times to tell him about the move. I got through to someone several times, but the line was so bad neither of us could hear. I sent him a text message asking him to come to the office on Saturday morning. No answer. So when he called me on Saturday morning, he was hopping mad. I was surprisingly calm, repeating that I’d tried to reach him etc. About 90 minutes later he came to the compound, still hopping mad; I remained calm, repeating to him what I’d told the staff. Half a dozen young male staff members jumped to my defense and gradually moved him out of the compound. He didn’t try to stop the move, which we had anticipated as a potential problem. So boxes were packed, furniture was moved, computers were dismantled and a huge flat bed and several Land Rovers were filled more than once and off-loaded at the new digs.
I returned to our new offices, in the same compound where we senior managers live, and ate literally about four bites of lunch. But my blood sugar had dropped to minus zero so I needed something. Via Lucy, who was at the old office, the landlord requested another meeting. I returned as did he with his colleague who’d signed our lease. Job, our regional HR person, and I sat with them, had a calm conversation in which the landlord once again had to berate Jan for our earlier meetings, assign me the role of ‘good witch’ and agree to accept our check for the rent. You would all be amazed at how calm, rational and controlled I was all day. Reminded me of the day in January ’76 when I carried my bleeding three-year-old down Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem to a hospital emergency room -- the three Cs of calm, cool and collected -- until it was all over and I was back in my husband’s apartment (he was doing post-grad work at Columbia). Then I collapsed. Ditto tonight. Moving out is done, moving in is as far done as possible today, my tummy is full. Time for bed.
4 December, still Rumbek
The sun is shining, the day’s high will be in the 90sF (high 30s C) and there’s no snow in sight. And I’m leaving tomorrow for Poland, why? Oh, right, my semi-annual board meeting at the Center for Support of Entrepreneurship, and a chance to get some much-needed hugs from old friends.
I’ll never get used to Christmas where it doesn’t get cold let alone snow. Amanda, an Australian friend that I got to know when we both lived in Sandomierz, and I used to debate Christmas activities. She said the best was a “barbie on the beach” (that’s a barbecue for we non-Aussies). I said snowball fights and skiing.
11 December, Hala’s farm in Czermin, Poland
It’s fitting that I begin and end my time at the Center’ board meeting at the farm. I love this place, it’s good for renewing my soul before I return to my natural urban habitat. Even we chattery extroverts who prefer the hubbub of the city need an occasional rural respite.
As Hala and I left for town on Thursday, we saw our first snowfall on the lawn in front of the house. I snapped a few pix to share. She made me appointments for a manicure, pedicure and hair cut/color. I’m a new woman -- red toes, trimmed cuticles and a new head. I debated the hair cut but decided my hair was way too shaggy, and I’m glad I went ahead. It’s the best color and hair cut the local stylist has ever done.
Meeting went well. I re-upped for another term. My friend Steve’s daughter who lives in Turkey joined us; her first trip to Poland. I found a silver and polished flint pendant for my friend Ted’s wife Mary’s Christmas present. Long story short -- I buy jewelry gifts for Mary and often their daughter and mothers too. Mary liked the pieces I helped Ted select when he was here in the late ‘90s to do a training for me. So now it’s a bit of a tradition that I enjoy.
18 December, back in my tent in Rumbek, South Sudan
Time flies except when you’re flying. The journey back to South Sudan was even longer than the journey out because of longer layovers. One, however, worked out perfectly. My friend Ana and her husband Archie who live 15 minutes from the Amsterdam airport were returning from their “hols” just before I was transiting through AMS. We agreed to try to meet. I had cleared the Schengen zone and was looking to see where my next gate (in five hours) would be and thinking I wanted to call Ana ... when the phone rang and it was Ana. I spent a lovely few hours at their flat catching up and eating delicious soup that Archie prepared. My idea of how to lay over between flights.
Nairobi airport was the next five-hour stop and is among the worst airports for spending time. Hot, nothing but uncomfortable molded plastic seats, two places for food, overcrowded narrow-for-an-airport corridors, and shops that all seem to be selling the same souvenirs or booze and cigarettes in bulk. I have to admit they have cleaned up their restrooms, and I mean that literally. They used to be the most disgusting places, used only out of absolute necessity. Now, while still run down, they were very clean.
In Warsaw the woman who checked me in was game to figure out how to check my bags all the way to Juba, South Sudan. Even though I had a separate ticket for that last leg of travel, it was on Kenya Airways, the same as my AMS-NBO flight. If I had to get my bags in Kenya, I would’ve needed to buy a visa. After a bit of bad info from her telephone contact, another agent helped her accomplish the task.
Next to last stop Juba where the full force of South Sudan December hit me. I was overdressed for the heat. Our flight was apparently full of government ministers who’d been in Kenya for a conference; I was too tired to notice as we boarded but a cavalcade of vehicles, drivers and greeters awaited them on the tarmac where we all deplaned. Alfred from my staff met me after Immigration/Customs, and we went to see our program’s new lawyer and deliver the cash he needed to finalize our registration. Talk about long processes (our re-registration) ... but I won’t; it’s boring.
I spent the night in a hard room at Afex Riverside in Juba ... had dinner outdoors along the Nile but was too tired to enjoy that. Fell into bed early and awoke the next morning in time for breakfast, a drive through rush-hour Juba and my WFP flight.
Now I’m back in my tent, Alpha 1, and it really did feel like coming home. I know many of you are appalled, astounded, amazed at my choice of living quarters, and I don’t know how to help you understand how good this place feels to me. Maybe because a hard room is just like any other hotel room, impersonal and difficult for me to make mine. My tent, like my Minneapolis condo, is small, cozy and mine.
Of course, now that I’m back, I have played catch up on what happened while I was gone, what needs doing before most of the Senior Management Team and staff go on holiday at various times next week and what Lucy, SMT member who will stay here over the holidays, and I need to do to draft our 2012 plans. Yesterday we all worked the entire day ... today I am going to find at least some time to sit in the sun and read. While I was in Warsaw and had the strong, fast Internet at my friend Marta’s apartment available, I re-filled my Kindle with a dozen books and downloaded a few favorite TV series from iTunes to Mac.
6:30 am and all’s quiet ... almost. It’s never truly quiet here, even at this hour, because somewhere in the background you’ll hear the pulsing energy of a generator or two or more. Both Afex, where I am now, and Hillview, where I first lived, run generators 24/7, one of their advantages, along with wifi/Internet. Pan Door (House of Peace), where two staff previously lived, is on what I call West Nile Electricity; the generator is run in the evening only, just like when I traveled to Arua and Nebbi in the West Nile region of Uganda. Plus no wifi. But it seems that everywhere in Rumbek, the cork-screw style low energy light bulbs are in use. My eyes are adjusting but don’t particularly like the light they produce.
Needless to say, no street lights, which is a huge reason why we don’t drive at night. Not having a lot of outdoor lights means I can see the evening stars, bright twinkles on a black sky. Last night I noticed them for the first time in weeks. And they were magnificent. Reminded me that Christmas is coming.
I will never get used to hot weather at Christmas. I need cold and snow, boots and fur coats, hazardous driving on slippery streets. Ah, well, I shall enjoy what I have and remember that it isn’t snowing in MN either.
25 December, Merry Christmas from Rumbek
Christmas really is something special when it’s stripped of the last minute price reductions, gift laden trees, fake and real, and boozy office parties. Today after breakfast, Lucy and I went to her church, the Protestant church at the UN compound. Her friend Joyce arranged transport since, although we have a vehicle, neither of us was prepared to drive it. The service was already underway under large canopies on either side of an open field. A few shade trees continued dropping their dry, brown leaves, and the colorful balloons and decorations, pink altar cloths and red clay dust were blown in a brisk, warm breeze. We arrived shortly before 10 am and left at 3 pm. And in between, we sang and danced and listened and watched others do the same. Guest pastors and worship leaders gave testimonials, offered prayers, rejoiced with a spirit that filled the great outdoors. Small children, youth of both sexes, and a group of street boys all had their chance at center stage. About 1000 people attended the service, from several congregations as well as the community at large. And before leaving, we were all served lunch in an amazingly orderly manner, children first, mothers with babies next, then youth/teenagers, adults last.
Joyce and Jennifer who work for UN agencies have been trying to resolve the issue of the street boys. They are generally abandoned boys, some orphans, some separated from their parents during the conflicts, some runaways probably too. They roam the streets all day with nothing to do. They frequently sleep in the yard at the police station where they are at least safe. But that has become an issue with no easy solution. Because they are boys, nobody wants them; they’re considered of no value. Oh, when they’re adults, men rule the roost. But as kids, they are ignored while any female children are valued, indulged, pampered because girls add cattle to the father’s herd through the bride price. And the number of cows a man owns tells you who he is. Cows are a status symbol with absolutely no economic value.
Pastor welcomes, encourages street boys to sing
Mr. Cool sat in front of me during the service
Youth sing and dance
A day without water is a day without ... you can fill in the blank as creatively as you like.
I awoke this morning, turned on the hot water tap as usual; it gets hot while I brush my teeth. No hot water ... no cold water ... and I had just flushed, so no ... Used a facial cleanser toilette to clean up a bit, dressed and went to breakfast where I learned the water pump had broken. The camp manager was not a happy man, having previously asked to have a spare purchased. He was on his way to town to see if the bore hole driller might have a pump. In the meantime, his assistant distributed two big bottles of water to each tent. I bought water for the office last week. And we have about 10 bottles left in the refrigerator in my office. But I sent our driver to town to buy two more boxes of large bottles of water, just in case we need more.
Lucy’s tent went waterless a few weeks ago as she was halfway through a shower. At least I didn’t have to deal with that -- it was supposed to be a hair wash day!
Hot water heater near by tent
The water crisis only lasted a day. The pump went out. But I laid in several cartons of bottled water to ensure we didn’t run out. There’s a small ‘frig’ in my office, and we stock it with water as well as having a regular water cooler. I’m never quite sure where they get the water cooler water from ... And at dinner last night, I got a second glass of water from the water cooler in our dining room. Thought a bug had gotten in the glass; not an unusual occurrence in open-air dining anywhere. But whatever it was, it was not a bug ... it was very small and swimming around in my glass like a little fishy.
Murphy’s Law is prevailing. Two of our Land Rovers are in Nairobi for major maintenance and a Toyota Hilux pickup is what we’re using here. Or were until it decided to die on us. Thankfully our logistics guy has a couple of local drivers with cars that we can hire. We have 500 women graduating who expect their savings to be delivered as well as their certificates and refreshments. The staff took “public transport” -- boda boda (motorcycle taxis) or matatus (van taxies) to the training centers; the driver loaded his car with water, sodas and donuts and delivered them. We are nothing if not resourceful.
New Year’s Eve in Rumbek
And what am I doing? Downloading episodes of Burn Notice, Skypeing my brother to say ‘happy new year’ and finishing this month’s journal. Typical NYE for me. I will be sound asleep before the bell tolls midnight, as usual. For whatever reason, and I don’t really know why, this has never been a particularly big party night for me. My first NYE as a married woman, Bob and I went to dinner at our favorite restaurant in our town, Marion, Illinois ... and the meal was so disappointing that we ate and left early. My boss and his wife had invited us to their house in the country, so we joined them for an evening of good friends and George Carlin on the tube.
I recall a memorable NYE midnight run around Lake of the Isles when Steve and I were engaged. My son Peter and his best friend Thom (both about 15) had a supposedly ‘boys only’ party planned then three girls showed up early in the evening and didn’t look like they were leaving. To their horror, I collected the girls’ parents’ phone numbers and called each to alert them to the party and my two-hour absence from the house. I think the parents were as weirded out as the kids. But it seemed like a good idea to me.
Signing off for 2011. In case you want to give a Christmas gift that multiplies once it’s received ... or you have room for another tax deduction or two, consider my favorites: