Are we having fun yet?
1 April 2012, Rumbek, South Sudan
At lunch today Juliet and Helen told me that Tom had April fooled them. Awoke them at 5 am and said the finance office had been broken into. They met as they were going to investigate, decided to check it out before calling me and discovered everything was locked up tight. I’m glad they didn’t awaken me!
We had a nice day at the pool. We three and Alex, a Save the Children consultant, spent a few hours away from our personal prison. Alex and I were the only ones to get into the pool. He thanked me later as he had a chance to do some good networking with other expats. I met a guy from Edina MN, a suburb of Minneapolis. Ali is working for a USAID project. Truly a small world.
4 April 2012, Juba, South Sudan
There ought to be a law that says you don’t sweat until you’re out in the heat. When I got up this morning, and every morning recently, sweat was dribbling down my face before I even left my tent for breakfast. Checked the online weather -- temps were hovering above 100F (38C) most days. I know, Bill, that’s cool in Indio, but you’re used to the heat and like it!
I flew to Juba today en route to Kampala for my first R&R since arrival n mid October. Among my Juba errands was to pick up the log books (registration certificates) for our three new motorbikes at the Traffic Police department. Standing in line outdoors at 102F for more than half an hour only to be given two of three documents and told to return after lunch ... standing in line outdoors at 102F for another half hour only to be told to come back tomorrow ...
5 April 2012, Kampala, Uganda
Whenever I return to someplace I’ve lived, I feel like I’m coming home. And landing at Entebbe tonight was no different. It’s been nine years since I lived here (2002-03) and a lot has changed, but it still feels like I’m coming home.
As we landed, I could see Lake Victoria but also lots of green grass. What a welcome sight after nothing but dry dusty red clay and barren trees everywhere for months. Amazingly I was second in line for a visa. I had opted to walk to the entry gate rather than take the bus that was loading passengers from my Air Uganda flight from Juba.
The Entebbe-Kampala Road is one thing that hasn’t changed. It’s still jammed with cars and lined with scores of small shops and street-side vendors, darting matatus (jitneys, taxi-vans), weaving boda bodas (taxi-motorbikes) and teeming hordes of shoppers and others mostly ignoring all the congestion and traffic as they walk into the busy two-lane road to reach the opposite side. I am forever amazed that there aren’t more accidents.
The van driver took a “long cut” which at least meant we kept moving. The trip took almost three hours. Now I’m ensconced at the Sheraton Kampala, thanks to a couple of free hotels.com nights. The tub is running hot water ... a bath, a real bath. I’m off.
6 April, Kampala
Sun finally came out. I forgot that this is autumn in Uganda, which is on the equator, so temps are a lot lower than in South Sudan and it’s rainy. Awoke this morning to a drizzle and very overcast sky. But set off to get a local phone number and an umbrella. Walked a lot and found both. Now I’ve just had a massage, my first since leaving Minnesota in October. I feel a bit slippy (that’s Pittsburghese for slippery) from the massage oil but invigorated. Might just have to go shopping for a few food items for the tiny hotel room fridge where I stashed a bottle of Duty Free white wine last night. There’s a bakery here with wonderful looking artisan bread that would go well with some cheese, a few olives, the wine -- ta da! Dinner.
7 April, Kampala
I’m pooped. Met a bunch of my former staff members for lunch at Caffe Roma, the place where I ate most often when I lived here -- lunch four days a week. Would’ve been five but they were closed on Mondays, so we did Indian that day. Caffe Roma’s Tilapia kabobs helped me lose 20+ pounds on the Atkins diet while I was here.
Some of that ‘old gang of mine’ and a few extras
The owners, Barbara and Atilio, had moved to this new, bigger location before my 2009 visit and since then, have leased the restaurant to someone else. No tilapia kabob but another tilapia dish was just as tasty and equally good for my expanding waistline. To all of our delight, Barbara and Atilio came to see their lessee, so we got huge bear hugs and a chance to to talk with them.
Barbara and I; one of us needs the tilapia kabob diet again!
It was wonderful catching up with everyone. We yakked for hours, and I totally forgot about the time. I was supposed to meet Helen’s niece and deliver some money to her. Helen, our finance manager, is from Kampala and supports a son and two young nephews here. Our bank charges exorbitant fees for money transfers, so I agreed to bring some cash. We set a new time for Monday morning.
9 April, Easter Monday, a public holiday in this part of the world.
Had a lovely Easter brunch with David, Olga and their two kids, Ethan and Niahm, at a new hotel. Very relaxing. Between the main meal and dessert, we sat in the garden and talked while the kids ran around and used up some of their energy. Then today I went to David & Olga’s house for a massive dinner with a group of their friends. Olga cooks for an army, and we ate like one. A wonderful way to enjoy the holiday and my R&R. Their wide back veranda overlooks a beautiful garden and the lake.
Well, I got through the dental appointment (no problem), the yellow fever update and my visa application at the South Sudan Embassy yesterday. Today I picked up my passport with new multi-entry six-month visa. That is quite a coup as all of my colleagues who have gotten visas through Nairobi or DC have only been able to get single-entry three-month visas. Of course, my joy was short lived. I returned to the hotel and checked emails only to learn that my predecessor had made an unscheduled visit. Lucy, who is acting CD, brought several staff together for the ‘meeting’ in which she screamed, made unfounded allegations and seemed to take responsibility for a physical attack on our regional director last summer. Then another email that tells of Juliet and Tom, flying to Juba to join the assessment team, almost being part of an airplane crash! Apparently their WFP flight had difficulty on take off but thankfully the pilots got control, and they had a smooth though silent one-hour flight. I am so looking forward to all the flights in my life in the next couple of months. Not.
And now today, our program’s biggest donor has announced a visit for one day only, next Wednesday. That means letters of invitation for four to six people and help in Nairobi with visas as well as all of the arrangements for the visit to the farm which their funding has supported. Lucy is getting the ball rolling. Oh, and shortly after that news, we were asked to host four British MPs who are coming to Rumbek to visit Oxfam but have an interest in programs working with women. They will visit on Friday. Are we having fun yet?
12 April, still in Kampala
I’ve spent more of the last couple of days working than R&R’ing. But I don’t want Lucy to feel like she’s alone with all of the new activities. Of course on top of everything, the Internet at our compound had problems and was down much of today. So Lucy called or sent me text messages, and I emailed the donor team. We are nothing if not resourceful. Everything seems to be under control for now.
Went to see my friend Jolly’s new house. Jolly’s husband, Andrea, worked on the project I managed in 2002-03. He was murdered just after Easter in April 2003. Andrea was Italian and not long after I started, I met with him and told him how glad I was that he was on the project. Not only did he have the trading skills that we needed, but he was louder than I am! It made me angry that people assumed he’d stolen something or was part of the mafia and that led to his death. It was related to a previous business venture, a loan on which he was still paying off. Andrea was one of the warmest, most honest, loyal people I’ve ever known, and I think of him and miss him every Easter.
Jolly’s house is a work in progress. She has everything built but is decorating each room as she can afford to. That’s a far more mature approach than she was capable of after Andrea’s death. But I give her so much credit for knowing that and for never having stopped thinking of her two children and trying to do well by them. Their daughter Ashina is in the UK with Jolly’s relatives and attending secondary school. Son Cool is still trying to find himself as so many almost-20-year-old young men are.
13 April, Juba, South Sudan
Stepped off the Air Uganda flight and thought, I’m back: sweat was dripping from my brow by the time I descended the plane. Went into the terminal and was definitely back. Teeming masses surging toward two small windows above which was a small sign, “Foreigners.” Had no idea which “line” I should in be, so I asked a couple of others who seemed as befuddled as I was. Most people were apparently trying to get their visas. Since I had one, I opened my passport, tapped on the glass to catch the clerk’s eye and placed the visa page on the window. He signaled me to hand it to him and within five minutes, my passport was stamped and I was ready to wait for my baggage. My checked bag and carry ons all had to be opened, fondled and marked with white chalk -- it was either SS or 55. I couldn’t tell.
14 April, Juba
Well, I got through April’s Fool Day and Friday the 13th without incident, but Murphy’s Law was waiting in the wings and struck today. My 2:30 pm WFP flight to Rumbek was shaped like an eel and had one seat on each side of the aisle. Ear plugs were passed out as we buckled up. And Jennifer, who’s in charge of WFP flights in Rumbek, was on board, returning from her month-long R&R. It was nice to see her. Also had run into Ali from Edina in the waiting room.
Propellors revved loudly, then we slowly rolled along toward the runway ... except instead we went to a “parking place.” It seems a stone had struck and cracked the airplane’s wind screen. Long story short, no flight today. Thankfully both the driver and Afex Riverside/Juba were able to accommodate me.
15 April, Afex/Rumbek, home sweet home
What could possibly top the weekend I’ve had? To arrive back here and discover that I’d have to take a bucket bath today if I wanted to clean my sweaty body and dirty hair. Yes, we have no water ... no flowing water, that is. We do have buckets of water in our bathrooms.
The trip back was especially sweaty. The one-seat-per-side Fokker had no air flow in the cabin until after take off. We were all fanning with the laminated emergency instructions sheet while the co-pilot ran thought the emergency drill. By take off, sweat was dripping from my cheeks to my chest. Otherwise the flight was uneventful.
Rumbek was as hot as Juba. I’d already decided on a trip to the pool after lunch. Although my belongings were stored in Juliet’s tent, I did have my swimsuit and African dress. I talked Helen and Lucy into going along, and we found a driver to take us. Lots of familiar faces at the pool -- Julio from Argentina who lives in the tent next to mine, Guilio and Gabriella from Italy, Jennifer, Peter and Ed from Canada and many more. Some in the water, some sunbathing, some sharing a bong, some just chatting. I climbed into the pool, swam a few laps and chatted with colleagues. Then the winds started, a real Oklahoma dust-bowl style wind complete with dust. Julio was leaving and had a vehicle, so we caught a ride.
Back here, I set the laptop to download, continued to unpack and prepared for my bucket bath. Thankfully I was moving slowly because the electricity went off. At first I thought it was a generation switch-over, but when the lights and a/c didn’t come back on, I realized that I could not only hear the generator but also music in the bar. Took about 30 minutes before someone fixed whatever the problem was.
For an encore tomorrow ...?
Well, it’s two days later, I’m lying on my bed and outside a thunder storm is raging. I just got into my tent before the downpour poured down upon my head. I can hear the thunder roll and clap. The sides of my tent billow and ebb with the winds. And it sounds like I’m under a waterfall except I’m dry. Nothing like a summer storm in a tent, eh? Oh, you think I’m joking. I’m not. I love a good thunderstorm and what more authentic way to experience one than in a tent. Just wish I could see the lightning flashes.
As kids, Dan, Barbara and I loved to run in the rain. And Granny, our mother’s mother who often stayed with us in the summer, would get near hysterical ... literally. At the first sign of a storm she made us go to the cellar (basement) of the house. You see, Gran had lived through many a tornado in her small Illinois town, and rain storms always followed a tornado. She was terrified that we’d be swept up and lost forever.
My sorority pledge mother Karen, on the other hand, loves thunder storms as much as I do. So of course I just called her to report on this magnificent example and catch up. Yes, I joined a sorority at Northwestern, and some day when I have nothing to write about, I’ll tell you about those experiences. For now, enjoy the storm with me.
... On the 18th of April in ’75 ...
I’m in Rumbek, not Boston where it’s Patriot’s Day, the traditional day for running the Boston Marathon and for honoring Paul Revere and other Revolutionary War patriots. Must check to see when the marathon actually ran today or last weekend and who won.
We were doing a bit of running ourselves today. Our biggest donor’s film crew showed up at about noon in their private plane still insisting they would do a turn around. And they proved us skeptics wrong. Off and running by noon, back at the airport just before 5 pm. And in between bumping through new puddles and thumping over old moguls, filming and interviews at the farm, meeting with the community’s paramount chief and his sub chiefs. The whole thing went off without a hitch! And last Friday’s also hastily organized visit by three Members of Parliament and two Lords from the UK also went swimmingly well. The stars were aligned and the gods in their heavens. Thank you, thank you.
Lucy greets the Swedish film crew
23 April Rumbek
At the pool on Sunday, I learned that the Juba Marathon will take place on Saturday in this nation’s capital. As Jenny, a colleague from International Rescue Committee who will run in the race, said, it’s a small city so the race will likely be everywhere! I won’t get to Juba in time to watch but hope to help her and her friend celebrate later.
I’m glad that I had something other than my usual exhaustion to lead with today. But I am exhausted and counting the days ... hours ... until 11 May. Two of my staff who were on the team that is assessing locations for our move created an uproar while they were gone. They said they thought they were having a private conversation about concerns over Madam’s, my predecessor’s, recent tirade in our offices while they were absent. They neglected to consider that a member of the HQ staff was part of the discussion and mentally taking notes. And he sent an email to me, my boss and our acting CEO (cc’ing my two staff) that recapped their discussion and basically said we weren’t taking their security concerns seriously. Now mind you, one of the pair rides his motorbike at night to other compounds to have a beer with friends. And I’ve asked the other numerous times if she’s feeling safe because she’s been a target of Madam’s ire in the past, and she’s always replied affirmatively. “She’s going to kill someone some day,” was a comment that my HQ reporter quoted, she being Madam. Got no response from either of them after they got his email and none since their return until I called them to my office this morning. The fact that I was not a happy lady was obvious to all. Afterwards I got a lot of back pedaling on the one hand, and a sincere apology from a very contrite person on the other. But enough. Time for dinner and then to relax.
24 April -- morning in Rumbek
I just had the nicest email from Janet, who was our receptionist when I worked in Uganda. I think that was Janet’s first-ever job, and Liz, our office manager, was training and mentoring her. She’s come a long way in the intervening years, a single mother working as office manager in a company that produces promotional trinkets, from brochures to tee-shirts and caps. Because she was working, Janet couldn’t join us for lunch on the Saturday that I was there, so we arranged to have breakfast one morning before she went to work. The day before, she reminded her boss that she’d be late; he wasn’t happy but she was firm that she was meeting me and would come to work immediately after. Well, he must’ve thought I was trying to hire her because he gave her a raise!
Weather today is fantastic. I’d guess high 70s, a bit overcast and breezy. First time I haven’t spent the day sweating since I arrived in mid October last year.
Ever wonder why I had to have all those shots before I traveled here? Why I updated my yellow fever immunization in Kampala because it had expired? Because a whole lot of diseases that we in the West think are ‘gone,’ aren’t. I remember reading of a case of “the black plague” in a newspaper when I was living in Kampala years ago, and the outbreak was in one of the West Nile towns that I traveled to frequently. The same town that had a garbage dump in its minuscule ‘central business district.’
More recently, one of my staff was late for work because he was being treated at the hospital via intravenous drip for typhus. His second case since starting here last November. I’ve had my shot, thank you very much, and I will keep them all up to date.
30 April, Juba, South Sudan
Regina, my replacement arrived safe and sound from Kampala yesterday. We spent the day running around Juba, three trips to the Ministry of Labor trying to get submit applications for expats’ work permits. Regina isn’t used to the heat of South Sudan, so she was sweating more than I was.
Lots of emails from many of your about my safety. Have no fear, I am ever watchful. Geographically Rumbek is a bit of a distance from the border clashes. But rallies to mobilize youth to join the military and to support the government have taken place. Another all-out war is the last thing this poor country needs.
Oh, had a text message from Jenny. The Juba Marathon was postponed; don’t know the new date.
And the pump that our driver hit about a month ago has finally been repaired and works again. The community has its water source back. The whole episode dragged out because the man who was doing the work absconded before it was completed. Then we learned he’d forged his company’s letterhead to get the job. Meanwhile, a community without water was getting angry. Thankfully we found someone to finish the job and the pump works. I had a staff member take photos as proof positive in case of further dispute.
The pump works!
For those of you who cannot see the photos, you need to do something in your browser to allow them to be seen. But don’t as me, the Luddite, what that is. Find a 10 year old. Until next month ...