Archive for October, 2012

Getting around Juba

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Sunday 21st October

I am a volunteer with VSO but all entries on this blog are my personal responsibility alone and do not represent the views of VSO.

My second week at work! Still feels fairly slow with a lot of time spent reading and working my way into things. However during the week I met some useful contacts including the project manager for one of the 3 big initiatives rolling out standardised health care across the country. This one involves two of the Northern states and this led to a meeting with him and senior representatives from the 2 states. This was very helpful in identifying the real practical difficulties of delivering the planned model of care at local level. I think I will be able to do some useful work with them.

Also during the week I had a good discussion with another volunteer who is based in a county health department. She has been here over 6 months and is clearly very involved and doing great things. There has been a project to bring over 70 people with cleft lip and palate from all over the place to Juba for surgery by a specialist team who have come in for the purpose. Most are children but there are also adults including a 55 year old lady who has spent all her life shut away from society. The surgery will transform all their lives.

This week I have been getting to and from work by bicycle. The route is slightly complicated because it is better to keep riding on the main roads to the minimum possible. So I go on the side roads which of course are much quieter but the hazards there are different – negotiating the bumps and pot-holes, not to mention the goats and ducks (and children) which are frequently in the way. Still I much prefer it to riding on the boda bodas.

Together with the other recently arrived volunteer I am having lessons in Juba Arabic, the local language; they are on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning and are held at a secondary school by a teacher at the school. The first Saturday it was very quiet, just us and the teacher but this week when we got to the school it was a hive of activity, lots of children and adults, a big marquee and lots of chairs. It was the Annual Prize-giving and there was no way we would have our lesson that day. But everybody was very welcoming and we met the Head, Deputy Head and a lady from England who had been involved in UK Church funding for the school. It’s clearly a very good school with tough admission criteria and very good results. The prize-giving was due to start at 10.00 and we were invited to stay but while it was due to finish at 2.30 we learnt that last year it went on until 6.00pm so I am afraid we declined and spent the day exploring another part of the city.

Started work!

Monday, October 15th, 2012

I am a volunteer with VSO but all entries on this blog are my personal responsibility alone and do not represent the views of VSO.

Sunday 14th October

End of week 2 in South Sudan. In terms of daily living I am settling into a sort of pattern although everything is still very new and even simple things can take a long time. There are 3 other volunteers living in the guest house and they have all been here for 6 months so they are able to show me where things are. We support each other and it’s good to have the company, especially in the evenings. We eat out all the time as there are no cooking facilities at the guest house – mostly this means food (very cheap) from one of the many street vendors who cook good food on charcoal stoves in near darkness. At weekends we treat ourselves to a better meal at one of the posher restaurants.

There is such a contrast between the rough streets, cheap food places and shops on the one hand and some very expensive and good quality hotels which are being built and opening all the time.

This week of course has been my first week at work. My daily pattern has been to get up early and get tea from a shop just round the corner, perhaps with some bread which I might have with a banana for breakfast. Then I have to get to the Ministry of Health which is perhaps 3 km away. This first week I have taken boda bodas  -the motorbike taxis but I don’t like them at all. 2 days I got a boda back as well but the other days I walked – it takes about 40 minutes, not unpleasant although I did arrive very hot!

Mostly the weather has been hot but 2 days we have had some rain and when it rains it really does pour. It can last for several hours but so far it has either been in the night and stopped before it was time for work or during the day when I have been in the office. But I will get caught out in the rain at some stage.

I have been made welcome at work but it is very early days and I have not yet met many people and it is not yet clear how I get into the work. So the week has been spent reading lots of background material and starting to make a few contacts. It feels rather frustrating but everybody says this is what it will be like, taking it steadily and gradually getting into it. Still very early days.

Last Saturday and yesterday I have spent time with another volunteer who had arrived the same day as me. We have decided to use Saturdays to explore different parts of the city, the first week we went to one of the big markets and then also had a drink at one of the places which is springing up next to the River Nile, very peaceful and quite different from the city a few hundred yards away.

This Saturday we explored Juba Town which is the older part of the city and which has a slightly different feel to it. Also on Saturday I bought a bicycle in one of the markets – so that will mean I don’t have to use the bodas which I will prefer and will also save me some money (to set against the cost of the bike!)


Week 1

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Sunday 7th October

I have now completed my first week in South Sudan!

I arrived at Juba Airport on Monday afternoon, having flown via Addis Ababa. This was my first impression of the country – the airport was quite basic and not many flights – and here I was aware of the heat for the first time. The arrivals room was congested and we had to queue for passport checks and then to have our bags checked in the one small area. I was met by VSO staff and taken to my accommodation which is a guest house similar I think to many others. 12 rooms are arranged either side of a courtyard, each one with bed, garden chair and small plastic table – and a hat stand and with an en-suite wet-room, shower, WC and basin. From the road (a very rough back street) access is through a pedestrian door within a bigger door which slides back to allow vehicles to come in and park. It feels secure – the staff/owners are always here. Electricity is via a generator which is usually running between 7.00pm and about 2.00am each day. At the moment I am not sure how long I will stay here as many volunteers move into shared house but this may be fine for me.

There is lots of activity locally – small shops and street stalls everywhere, including a tea place, internet café and hairdresser just yards from the Guest House and restaurants, food stalls and shops just a little further.

There is a real energy about the country and people are open and friendly. There is fantastic potential here but a lot to do. The country is huge and sparsely populated; the infrastructure is almost non-existent in rural areas and communications very difficult.

Juba is growing fast, and one has to accept that is not yet organised like the cities we are used to, only the main streets have names and there are no proper addresses, or post service. The main roads are tarmac but as soon as you turn off those the others are very rough indeed. The traffic is very busy and confusing. There are thousands of motorbikes, many private and also the motorbike taxis – boda bodas – which are the main form of transport along with minibuses which run along a few set routes.

It is striking how many international agencies and NGOs are working here to help establish the country. You see their vehicles everywhere and I’ve already met a number of their staff. The number of volunteers here with VSO is due to increase a lot over the next year as the country is seen as very high priority.

The weather is very hot although occasionally cloudy. It feels quite uncomfortable even when sitting quietly but apparently this is not the hottest time of the year!

Most of last week was spent with the VSO staff on in-country training but on Friday I met my partner, i.e. my boss at the Ministry of Health, and I started work there yesterday and this is where my main time here has started.