First 36 hours in Juba

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is about my current trip to South Sudan and my first days in Juba:

Dear Readers,

Lesley on Africa is in Juba for the next two weeks getting smart on South Sudan…or on the expat community in South Sudan.

I was very fortunate to arrive at Juba International Airport on a Sunday, which apparently made getting through immigration a whole lot easier than it would have been during the week. A friend of mine met me outside the airport and took me to get a local cell and to change money from some random guys holding wads of South Sudan Pounds on the side of the road. It was a little sketchy for my taste, but I got a really good rate, so I can’t complain.

My “lovely little container”

I stayed in a lovely little container at AFEX Juba for one night, which allowed me to have dinner and breakfast alongside the Nile. I was hoping I would get a stunning Nile sunset like the ones along the Nile in Uganda, but it couldn’t compare. I noticed two guards patrolling the area where the camp bordered the Nile, and figured they were there to protect us from the Pirates of the Nile. (Oh, you haven’t heard of them?) Despite their presence, I was able to snap a photo of the Nile (gasp!).

I’m very cautious about taking pictures in South Sudan because last time I was here, I saw the flag of what was to yet to be the world’s newest nation billowing in the wind and thought it was so beautiful and represented hope and new beginnings, so I took a picture. I was subsequently detained (for a few minutes) because security thought I was going to send the picture to Omar al-Bashir. In protest, I was about to point out that I was pretty sure the Sudanese president knew South Sudan was going to have a flag…but I decided it was best to just nod, smile, and act submissive.

My unauthorized picture of the Nile at dusk in Juba

So today, I needed to transfer to my more permanent home, which is, as my mother would put it, behind God’s back as far as Juba goes. While waiting for my taxi, I chatted up the security guard, who asked me how my Eid was. I’m still getting my head around this being a four day weekend in South Sudan – everyone had Friday and Monday off for Eid, which I’m guessing is a holdover from when South Sudan was part of Sudan. I had been talking to an NGO worker earlier on who wondered why South Sudan bothered to have Eid as a government holiday when part of the independence struggle was over different identities (Muslim/Christian/traditional beliefs, Arab/African, North/South, center/periphery). But on the contrary, I can see the merit in keeping the holiday, even though only 10% of South Sudan’s population is Muslim. The government has called for religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence among the country’s religious groups, and perhaps this is part of a larger process of forging a multi-religious, multiethnic national identity. The guard’s perspective was that even though he himself was a Christian, Allah was the same as his God, so he celebrated Eid. I like the way he thinks.

I also garnered some Taxi Wisdom from my taxi driver, who was a Ugandan orthopedic surgeon who had been living in Juba since 2009. He told me Juba had changed a lot since he’d been here, and that the situation of East African immigrants had changed a lot as well. He said that in the past, people from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania couldn’t report crimes to the police because the police would say “Where were you in Uganda when this offense occurred?” However, when South Sudan wanted to join the East African Community (EAC), the EAC said South Sudan had to improve the situation of East Africans there. Apparently this has helped a bit.

So that’s a recap of my first 36 hours in Juba.

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