My first days in Juba were spent getting used to the heat and dust and bumpy roads and the incomparable difference to home. We stayed in a guest house which offered basic rooms opening onto a small concrete patio owned by Eritreans. This Eritrean ‘crew’ as I now call them have become a mini community for us. They are a mix of political refugees and those who have sought refuge elsewhere and then come here to work, with their families in Sweden or Italy. We were invited to celebrate Eritrean Easter (they work off the Ethiopian calendar) which was injera (the lovely fermented large pancake) with lamb and spices on top. There may have been wine but I couldn’t possibly comment. Last Sunday we had a pasta party with the one jar of pesto I brought with me, and this Sunday it’s the turn of my house to host everyone. We’re hoping for an Eritrean coffee ceremony, cooked over charcoal. Senait, a new friend, made it for us 2 weeks ago, and the one hour wait is very much worth it.
In Juba there is no mains electricity. Generators attached to our house or guesthouse typically run from 7pm to 2am. When the fan goes off at 2am the rest of the night is spent bathed in a layer of sweat. In Belfast I used to sleep in the fetal position to stay warm- here I lie on my back with a sheet draped across my stomach, and my mosquito net tucked tightly around the bed. The lack of electricity is something I’ve become entirely used to but which originally I was horrified about. What? No hair straighteners? In reality my hair has become the last thing on my mind, and friends, you can tell that by looking at it. We’re showering in cold water brought straight from the Nile. After watching the water trucks fill up at the Nile and then deliver the brown water across Juba I’ve realised why we’ve received so many instructions to keep our eyes closed whilst showering in that same brown water and not to use it for anything other than washing. Owning a water filter is a luxury most in this city don’t have. My white clothes won’t be white for long since the Saturday morning hand wash process is already beginning to harden and discolour my clothes. This is life in Juba though.
The first ten days was about slowly getting used to the heat, undergoing intensive training in security, emergency first aid, city tours, an introduction to Juba Arabic and an introduction to life here in this new, new country. Some of the highlights for me were completing my first boda boda (motorcycle) journey as a pillion passenger and seeing deeper into areas of Juba we hadn’t seen during our in country training with the luxury of being driven everywhere (this luxury is now gone…). There is no waste collection so there are piles of rubbish everywhere, plastic bottles carpeting the dusty, bumpy roads. There are hotels and guesthouses being built alongside tukulus (straw huts). It’s a fascinating juxtaposition as people vie for money and survival. Those guesthouses cost $130 a night, whilst most South Sudanese people are living on 7 SSP or $2 a day. I have been running with a new Eritrean friend and another volunteer and ventured out myself one morning laughing with the other runners at the mud track. On Saturday these long-limbed, graceful runners asked ‘S, where have you been?’ as I puffed round the track they circle with ease. Flood waters had created a small river which I was too frightened to cross and so a kind boda driver drove me through the water much to the bemusement of those watching- many who thought the ‘khawagha’ (white person) should toughen up!
The food is basic. There is little industry or agriculture here so most things are imported from Uganda or Kenya. Two colleagues and I got local buses (I’m now an expert but more on this later) to Konyo-Konyo market last Saturday and had a lovely morning talking to people, buying a few bits and pieces and learning the banter and bartering process. I bought a pineapple for 8 SSP – about £1.30 – so as you can see Juba is expensive. This is a country where there is money to be made and where prices have become inflated like crazy. There is more to write, much more, and this is only the beginning…