On Friday morning we left Uganda for three weeks in South Sudan. Our first stop would be Juba where we had to deal with NGO business at the Ministries. We left at 7:30 AM to get there early but schedules are difficult to stick to in Africa.
Our arrival at the South Sudan border coincided with two busloads of people also clearing customs. Luckily, somebody we knew helped shuffle me through but it still took forever and put us behind schedule. I felt a little bad cutting the line but still didn’t resist the offer. It would have taken hours to get through if we had gotten in line with all those people from the buses and we did have a plane to catch.
It was pouring rain when we got to Juba, which also slowed us down. The first and most pressing bit of business to deal with was actually purchasing our plane tickets to Northern Bahr el Ghazal. The plane only runs on Mondays and Fridays and we literally got the last two seats on the Monday flight. Missing that flight would have really disrupted our schedule.
Although Juba was extremely hot and humid, our hotel was situated in a beautiful location right on the banks of the Nile. The location was about all it had to offer though. It was a series of connected, pre-fabricated structures with cold showers, hot rooms and paper thin walls.
On Sunday we were invited to lunch in the village, which is always interesting. There were about ten women cooking animals they’d just killed and what seemed like a hundred kids running around.
Then it was time for the last few things to get crossed off the checklist before leaving. We picked up some more maps from the UN, loaded up the satellite phone with airtime and made our final preparations for the field.
It was our last night in Juba before flying north. I knew that the food selection in Bahr el Ghazal was going to be extremely limited, so we went to a local restaurant that I knew had pretty decent pizza. As we were eating, some international aid workers began setting up their band equipment. I don’t know if they were any good or not, but both the pizza and their music seemed absolutely fabulous at the time.
Our flight to Bahr el Ghazal left at 8AM sharp and at exactly 9:30 we landed on the small dirt airstrip. We took a rickshaw to the hotel and haggled for 30 minutes about the rate. Haggling is definitely part of the culture and was expected despite the fact that there is nowhere else in town to stay. The hotel staff took our money and went directly off to buy fuel for the generator. We began setting up the mobile office and started making calls. With only two weeks to get our team in place and trained, we had to get to work immediately. We are scheduled to begin drilling in late January and there is so much to do in the meantime.
Our first official meeting was with the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner. They are the local government organization in charge of overseeing all aid work in the county. While we were meeting, two people from UNMISS showed up asking us to consider working in a settlement camp where they are trying to place an estimated 12,000 Southerners who will soon be returning to the region from the North. Aid organizations and local government are trying to provide them with access to basic services, such a water and sanitation, so they will stay there. Returnees are clearly a big consideration among the aid community right now and we began to realize that more and more as the week progressed.
The next thing was staffing up in the area. Luckily, we got off to a great start as our first interviews were a huge success. We would spend the next two weeks training our team who would be coordinating with the other international NGOs, selecting schools, mobilizing communities, working with local hygiene training teams, helping set up water user committees, and coordinate with our drilling team.
Later while we were at the traffic office dealing with our vehicle registrations, we ran into a man from USAID who we’d met on our initial trip in July. Although Northern Bahr el Ghazal a very large region, the aid community seems fairly small and close knit. It’s definitely nice to see familiar faces from time to time.