Archive for December, 2012

Christmas in Juba

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Saturday 15th  to Friday 28th December

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

After the European film Festival, something different – the first ever South Sudanese Film festival. I went on the Saturday (it was also on on the Sunday) – there were a lot of speeches, some singing and two comedians but they also showed a few short films made locally. All credit to local people for making the effort to get this going.

It’s certainly been interesting being here in the build up to Christmas. It doesn’t have a long lead time (unlike at home where it seems to go on for months) but over the last few weeks there have been odd signs – a bit of Christmas music,  I’ve heard “Mary’s Boy Child” a few times and even “12 days of Christmas” coming from shops and out of car windows. And in recent days there have been a few Christmas trees and even the odd Father Christmas – for example as a full size blow up doll outside a shop. All rather incongruous – images from the northern hemisphere transplanted to a very different culture and hot climate.

In work terms the week before Christmas was dominated by a 3 day conference where all the Minister of Health and Directors General from the 10 states were in Juba and met with ministers and senior staff from the National Ministry. I was lucky enough to be able to go and found it very interesting, to see the differences between the states, to observe the relationships between the national and state ministries, and to make some very useful contacts for the future.

Christmas week has been quite quiet. The people I share a house with have gone to a town in the south west for Christmas to stay with some volunteers based there, along with some other volunteers from elsewhere in the country. I was going to go too but at short notice Barbara has said she will come to Africa so we are going to meet in Kenya on the weekend between Christmas and New Year. That is great but I couldn’t do it all and also I needed to do some work if I was then going to be on holiday.

Initially I thought I would be the only volunteer in Juba – the other 3 had also made plans to go away – but as it happened I was joined here by a group of volunteers from another town who had been evacuated because of some security problems.

So I spent time with them and got to know some new people. 3 of us went to church (the Episcopal Cathedral) on Christmas Day – it was OK but a bit dour really. As we came out (from the 8.00am service) there was a lot more going on outside with young people parading and chanting, with music (which we hadn’t had at all). And the church was filling up fats – the next service was going to be far more popular but maybe it wasn’t going to be in English.

The rest of Christmas Day – and Boxing Day were very quiet – but I did get a lot of work done!

Work is going well – and a safari trip

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Sunday 2nd  to Friday 14th December

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.

I had a haircut this week – my hair has been growing much more slowly than at home but finally it needed doing. A completely different experience – there is only one way to cut hair here it seems – very short with clippers. I don’t think I have ever had hair this short!

Things have really started to pick up at work. I have made a few more really useful contacts and I have come up with a way of doing the placement that I think will work and – even more importantly – should mean that it can be sustained into the future after I have finished my time here. And also my boss – my South Sudanese working partner – has come back from extended sick leave so I have someone in the Ministry to check ideas with and make sure that what I am doing is going to be acceptable.

Having said that I was also aware that I could do with a break – I alternate between enjoying the general hurly burly of Juba life, and finding it gets me down. So it’s good to plan to spend some time away when one can – and in the way of things I had two trips very close together.

Firstly a few of us planned a short holiday in Uganda – initially we wanted to travel at least one way by road but we couldn’t get a plan which was achievable in the time available, so we took advantage of a public holiday that was coming up, tacked on 2 days annual leave and went off for 5 days, by plane to Entebbe (Kampala). We then went north from the capital to the Murchison National Park for a short safari trip which was incredibly good value. We saw the famous – and spectacular – Murchison falls, and also saw a lot of animals. Then it was back to Kampala for 2 nights in a very comfortable hotel before coming home. Overall I liked Uganda very much – the city and the countryside seem green and pleasant, it was not so hot as Juba – and in general everything was that much more developed.

In the week leading up to the Uganda trip another plan came together, for 4 of us (from different organisations – I was the only volunteer) to go on a field visit to one of the States to talk with Ministry and county people and see a range of health facilities. I was particularly keen to go to this state as it is one where VSO has volunteers at state and county level and this is going to be really important in my work, building a network of people who can work together on the policy development that my placement is all about.

It was a four hour journey each way on a moderate dirt road but well worth it. Like most places there are lots of problems, lack of staff poor buildings and equipment etc. but the State was impressive in what it is trying to do and all the staff we met were committed to what they were doing – often in extremely remote locations with poor facilities.

Keeping Cool

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Monday 19th to 30th November

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.

The highlight of the early part of this week was getting a fridge freezer for our house. We haven’t got much in the way of furniture – just a few of the ubiquitous garden chairs, a table to match and a few cooking utensils.  But the means of keeping food (and drinks) fresh is a real treat. We had been out looking for a good deal and then we went by car to get it. However having bought it the problem was how to get it home. It had to be upright and would not go in the 4×4 from VSO. So we hailed one of the motorbike tricycle pick-ups and negotiated a price to take it. They lifted it in and with 2 people in the back holding it we set off. It was OK at first on a tarmac road but I was struggling to know the best way home. The most direct  route off the main road is not too bad but to get on it off the main road there is a huge dip. 2 blocks up you can get off the main road and it’s then OK for a bit. We did that until the corner by the local shop – there was no way they could drive down the last part,it’s one of the worst roads around. So they stopped, thought about it – and carried it! 2 men got it from underneath and carried it – at least 100 yards down the roughest road I know. I stood and watched, convinced they would drop it – but they didn’t and we have a fridge – we don’t have electricity all the time but we have enough at times to keep food and drinks cold at home – luxury.

At work it was anything but – the air-conditioning has been broken for weeks and this week there was no power for 4 days as well. Which meant it was very uncomfortable – by the afternoon it was so hot I just sat there soaked in sweat – and it was impossible to work. And with no power you could only work until the laptop battery ran out. So I would search out other offices, or go elsewhere to work.

One Saturday I went exploring as usual with my other volunteer friend– this time we went on 2 buses (a 2 pound and then a 3 pound journey – that means a very long way) and we were right on the far edge of Juba – it felt very rural. It also felt quite isolated, I don’t think they have many visitors but we started talking to a man who turned out to be a  teacher at the local primary school. He showed us the school, very basic but it had been donated by a benefactor and was now run by the local community. We spent a couple of hours talking with him.

The following Saturday we went even further – in the other direction. We got a bus across the River Nile for a few miles, then got another one (which cost 5 pounds – so it was a really long way!!) It stopped where one of the main – but dirt – roads branched off the tarmac roads. There were just a few houses – but a few people were sitting under a tree and they made us welcome, getting us a chair while someone produced a cup of tea. We weren’t quite sure what would happen but after an hour or so a bus came along and we got brought back to Juba.

In between these excursions we had a real treat. There isn’t much to do in Juba but this week there was a European Film Festival, 1 and sometimes 2 films from different countries each evening for 9 days, shown in the open air at the University.

Overall it was really good and a lovely change. But it seems that it was mainly geared to the European/US contingent with cars, with very little recognition that some people (like us volunteers) don’t have cars and have to either walk or use public transport. Similarly there was little regard to the South Sudanese who would not go out later at night. They – and we – would not stay out long enough to watch the second film. However it was still a pleasure to see some good films.