“I want to live other lives. I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.”
The twin joy and pain of being here is getting to live a different life, yes, but also observing lives very very different to my own.
Take this weekend for example. I finished writing an essay for a course at home and walked home for 45 minutes as Juba skies turned from blue to dusky pink and boda drivers reluctantly switched on their lights as they honked their way past me on the road. I could have taken a boda, I could have taken a bus, I could have phoned a taxi, instead I chose to slowly enjoy a cool walk home.
On Saturday I went to yoga (the guilty pleasure of living in a city with a heavy NGO presence…) and then set off to visit a work colleague. I walked to one of the bus stations and got on a bus to Guava… or so I thought. A text message later with a reply all in capitals: GET OFF THE BUS meant that I got all 12 locals involved in giving me advice about exactly how I could rectify this issue. One suggested and the rest finally agreed that I should stay on the bus and then take a boda round Jebel mountain to meet my colleague. The boda journey was fun, weaving round the suburbs of Juba (although there were no signs of decking or BBQs or conservatories in this type of suburb) but tukuls and shacks and women breaking rocks into small piles of stones to sell.
I finally met my colleague, on what has to be one of my hottest days in Juba yet, and we walked slowly to her sister’s house. Inside there were 2 small houses and a third being constructed. They rent out 2 of the rooms to bring in income and my colleague was there to watch over her niece who was one week overdue with her first baby. I had brought a few packets of biscuits and some congealing chocolate and these were gone within minutes. And so we sat under the mango tree, shaded from the heat. She went off to pick leaves behind the house, find charcoal and using a peanut paste cooked a simple meal for us and her grandson. We sat some more, and then I explained that I had to go… that my sheets wouldn’t wash themselves.
I COULD have walked or bus-ed it home. Instead I paid the 5 extra SSP (£1) for a boda to whisk me home in the dead heat of the afternoon.
She returned to the mango tree at her sister’s house, the only protection from the sun. I entered my room to have a quick nap before the evening’s festivities. As the electricity came on which it does for 3 hours on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon I thought (again) as I lay in a dark room under a fan about just how fortunate I am, and yet how generous she is.
In every element of living here, I have choices. I don’t have to stand, like those I observed on Saturday, in the raging heat of the market trying to make money selling chewing gum. I don’t have to walk everywhere because 1 SSP is beyond my financial limits. I can choose. I can’t help thinking I would be hugely resentful if the roles were reversed. No wonder people ask me for money.