8 days difference

I wrote this blog post 8 days ago in Juba. What a difference a week makes…

I’m sitting at Juba airport. It’s been an adventure of sorts- a certain airline didn’t inform me that there was no flight out of Juba yesterday. I had arrived at the airport after a morning at work which included riding a boda into the bush to help facilitate a focus group on birth registration and sharing a packet of biscuits (or ‘biscwuits’ as they are called here) and laughing with my boss whilst we made plans for the new year. It was a lovely ending to this chapter in Juba. All was well with the world. When I waded through the chaos to the abandoned departures desk of my airline to be told ‘they don’t fly today’ I started to quietly panic as I marched across the road to their portacabin office. Following discussion with 2 rather unsympathetic staff: ‘Don’t you understand? I have a family dinner AND a party AND a breakfast with friends I’ll be missing!!’ I had what can only be described as a meltdown and cried for 2 hours waiting for the manager whilst a friend began researching how to change my onward flight to Belfast. The two male staff were clearly uncomfortable even when my sobs changed to silent rivers of tears. One even said out of desperation: ‘Do you want a cigarette? PLEASE stop crying.’ However the more the tears flowed the more my bargaining power increased and I managed to get a free change and upgrade on my return to Juba. Recovery of an expensive change to my connecting flight will begin in a day or two.

Pizza and sympathy and sleep and a run and reading in the sun and coffee with friends and here I am again.

As I look round the airport – and it’s quite the soap opera – very few of the faces are South Sudanese. There is a lovely VIP room (which I stumbled into by accident one time) which houses the South Sudanese dignitaries and many of the government officials have their families in Kenya and Uganda but apart from those very rich upper echelons foreign travel will come only via scholarship or sponsorship.

I am about to escape the relentless, unforgiving heat for 3 weeks. I won’t need to drink 2.5-3 litres of clean water a day – which I can afford to buy. I will be able to sleep properly for the first time in 7 months. Most importantly, I have the option and the means to leave. Aside from their history as refugees, my colleagues have neither. It doesn’t seem fair. I am ridiculously privileged because I happened to be born where I was. I’m feeling a mix of guilt and excitement as I sit here.

As I acclimatise to cold weather and see family and friends South Sudan will continue to be under my skin however many hot showers I have and however many hours it takes to scrub the dirt off my feet!

Back in 3 weeks, with a caseload of presents…

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