The Town Bar, Southern Sudan, 2007
This posting every day thing has been really hard this year. It was much easier last year, in Southern Sudan, when all I had to do was open my eyes and write about what I saw, because everything I saw was new. It wasn't always interesting, being in Tiny Little Town; it was just easy to write about. I spent long days doing nothing but hiding from the sun under my porch and working on writing a training guide. It was far too hot to work in the actual office, which had, according to rumor, been designed by someone from the colder regions of Ethiopia. The office, therefore, had one window in each of two rooms. The windows faced in the opposite direction from the direction of the wind. And there was no ceiling under the metal roof. So it was essentially a box of concentrated heat under the 105+ degree sun.
The only relief from the monotony was a walk on the airstrip at sundown, with a snake or two thrown in on particularly exciting days, or a trip to the hospital with a stool sample, or a ride into town to sit outside the tiny grocery store, drinking whatever cold beverage they happened to have that day. The grocery store was a container. You know, one of those containers they use on ships, to carry goods across the seas? The ones that fit on a flatcar of a train, or on a tractor-trailer base? It was the short length, the half-size. No one builds permanent structures in Southern Sudan. Everything is a mud tukul or a container or a prefabricated metal box that must be air-conditioned in order for human beings to survive inside it. It's the first question anyone asks when they hear about a new hotel or business or project: "Did they build a permanent structure?" The answer is almost universally no outside of Juba, and it's usually no even in Juba.
The biggest excitement of a week in Southern Sudan, if you could get it, was a drive to Bigger Town (the state capital, three hours away) or to the Nile. Of course, that depended on the road being okay (i.e. not flooded) and no one flagging you down on the way and saying, "Maybe you don't want to go there." If there is one thing I have learned in Liberia and in Southern Sudan, it is that when someone says, "Maybe you don't want to go there," down that road, along that beach, you really, really do not want to go there. No, really. You do not want to go there. There are guns, most likely.
People in the USA sometimes ask me if I'm scared when I'm in Africa, and the truth is that I have very rarely been afraid. I was far more afraid of bugs and snakes in Southern Sudan than I was of any human beings. (Although we did joke that my headlamp was a perfect target should someone want to get me.) I was scared momentarily in Liberia when it seemed that expatriates were being targeted, but just for a moment. One night I stood on the balcony at work, looking out at the ocean, listening to the night sounds, and I tried to be afraid, but I just couldn't manage it. It was so beautiful. And I was never afraid in Rwanda. In fact, I used to forget to lock my doors at night.