I walked off the
plane in March expecting to get smacked in the face with heat and dust.
“115 degrees,” they told me, “and the dust will cake on you, are you sure
you want to do this?” Instead, it was 85 and drizzling when Joseph, one
of my host organization’s drivers, picked me up at the airport. “A
blessing,” he told me, and indeed it was — as soon as I got off the plane,
I knew that despite the city’s bare appearances, things could grow.
Juba's houses are built to
keep cool. The trees in the background are unusual for the
area--most have been chopped down for building material.
Juba, the capital city of South
Sudan, is very likely like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
It was certainly new to me — despite working on HIV/AIDS issues for
several years and a having Master’s degree that focused on international
development, I’d never set foot in Africa before. As you might imagine,
no amount of dire warnings could have kept me from taking the opportunity
to teach advocacy strategies to a group of HIV-positive men and women in
Juba. Adding icing to the cake, my host organization focused almost
exclusively on development through agricultural growth — as a homestead
admirer, I couldn’t wait to get out and see what was being done, despite
my current city-girl status. There was certainly a lot to see: the Nile,
the treeless city surrounded by green hills, the marketplace of imported
goods (including winter coats and fur-lined boots!), the United Nation’s
planes, vans and buildings, the university, and the hospital. But mostly
I had questions about what Juba could do to improve the quality of life
for it’s residents quickly and, to my mind, one of the top answers is
encouraging the development of homesteads.
Sudanese women are tougher that I am; this woman
is carrying at least 50 pounds on her head--through the Nile!
Hot and dusty half
the year, most work that gets done in Juba is done during the rainy
season, March to October. Work continues until almost all roads are
completely impassable. With just two paved roads, the second built during
my visit, the majority of the infrastructure in South Sudan is washed away
in the rains and not fixed. Running water is scarce. Most potable water
comes from trucks which go from well to well, dropping of water that is
potable only for those who have never left. Electricity, when available,
comes from generators in the middle of compounds. Any native Sudanese who
want to can pick a plot of unused land and claim it for themselves, and
unused land is not scarce. Instead, much of the “city” is empty patches
of land, barely needing clearing, covered with piles of half-burnt garbage
picked over by goats, hens, and several other animals that would look
tasty were it not for their diet. Personal safety, despite a strong
international presence and dramatic improvements in the past few years, is
still a problem. I was stunned one morning to hear from one of the women
in my class that there had been a shooting at the market that morning, and
even more surprised at how dismissive she and all of her classmates were
at my concern. This, they told me, happens all the time — some Dinka must
have come by drunk, they conclude, and picked a fight.