Saturday, August 2, 2008

In Flight!

I rode on my first UN chopper this week, as I travelled from Juba, capital of southern Sudan to a town further north called Bor. In the rainy season (ie. now), many of the roads in southern Sudan are untravelable because they get all flooded and muddy. So in many cases, the only way to get around is by plane.

The ride was pretty amazing actually. You have to wear earphones to mute the sound of the helicopter's wings. Once in flight, they open the small circular windows and the fresh air just flows through. Southern Sudan is totally green, so from the plane, all you see is trees, sometimes a cattle-herder or two, a couple toucols (homes made of mud and straws). It was really beautiful.

I spent a couple days in Bor, talking to people about the insecurity there. Sudan is just so complex. Even though the war between north and south Sudan is over (separate from the Darfur issue of course), unrelated tribal fighting continues to make southern Sudan unstable. Different tribes raid each other's cattle, abduct children and even burn villages - in some cases it is a sign of manhood to kill someone, in some cases they steal the cows to offer them as dowry for marriage. Anyways, so people who were displaced during the war have finally returned home in this time of peace, only to be displaced again in some cases.

When I told people in Juba I was going to Bor, everyone made that "Oh, Bor" face as if it was the worst place to visit on the face of the planet. But in fact, it was quite nice. Like many other parts of southern Sudan, it is in total reconstruction - new roads going up every day. Still, though, you can't go an hour without having to stop the car because cattle have filled the road. And the facilties are still limited. Only the market and the government offices have electricity, and even the UN staff get their water from a borehole run by a hand-pump. Here I am pumping away, with an Argentinian UN peacekeeper behind me. More and more here, I have been impressed with the internationalism of this place. The different natioanlities really do work together in a beautiful way. In one office , you can find someone from Holland, Canada, Guinea, Nigeria, India... and they find ways to joke and relate to each other.

I'm back in Juba now, just in time for party weekend. There's a party tonight so big that people have flown in from Khartoum for the occasion (which speaks to the desperation of the social scene in Khartoum). Here's a pic from a few of us out for dinner the other day. Ralph from Britain, Charita from the Philippines, me, and Mark from Australia. The pizza was good, but took about an hour to arrive, and when it did, it was the wrong toppings of course. That's Africa for you.

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