Haven’t been writing much partly out my being perpetually lazy but mostly, as some of you found out when I FaceTimed you at an ungodly hour in the morning, there’s not much to do here. Which now that I think about it, may also be a product of my laziness. But also attributable to the sort of city Juba is.
I live in Jebel Site. It’s nestled right at the foot of one of the jebels or mountains that guard Juba. This was one of the most up and coming areas in Juba before the war hit. The UN was beginning to move its offices near the airport to Jebel and all the other supporting hotels and restaurants were following suit. There are even hints of tarmac in some areas of Jebel.
And I say “the war hit” because for most, despite the warning signs of the forceful cabinet resignations and press conferences calling for reform in the months preceding December 2013, the war truly was a surprise. Local industry, despite a slow start, was on the up. Oil exploration was getting underway with Malaysian and Chinese assistance. A local beer brewery started pumping out “White Bull” beer, honoring the cattle culture of South Sudan. JIT water, owned by an Indian, started pumping, filtering, and bottling groundwater. Roads were being paved. Buildings were finally replacing the tents and tukuls that inhabited Juba for the previous decades. The tree line was surpassed by taller and taller structures and a skyline was about to take shape. Embassies built their offices downtown and showered praise on the development of the world’s youngest nation. Finally, the rule of law had overcome tribal warfare. South Sudan was the jewel of Africa, hope for a forsaken continent, and the jewel of Western diplomacy.
But today, Jebel is that part of town that when I tell people I live there I’m inevitably met with a “Really?”. The roads are the rockiest in town and it’s home to most of the crime reports that appear in embassy warnings and travel restrictions. I’ve been told several times to not take a boda here at night and have been refused by several drivers for fear of armed carjacking. I once made the mistake of returning at 10PM after a going-away party for a UNHCR staffer downtown and faced the ire of the entire compound.
There are very few brick houses around here and quite a few that are half constructed and abandoned. A few even have a “for rent” sign out front with a phone number attached. The closest market road is a stroll away from my compound and is bare even by Juba’s standards. It’s a feeble row of shacks peddling “Karioki Nights” and cell phone charging, perpetually lit by burning piles of trash on its edges.
My compound is actually an Indian-Chinese restaurant that doubles as lodging for UN police officers stationed in Juba for their month-long primary training. The Hurry & Curry, as it’s called, is one of the few attractions of this part of town and occasionally brings UN staff to its outdoor seating. Just this morning I had breakfast with two Japanese soldiers with the engineering corps.
Owing to its relative distance from the busier parts of Juba, it’s pretty difficult to catch an errant boda and get downtown. My plans are constantly at the whim of Kennedy, a boda driver that lives around here, and he’s often not available. Even on a good day, I’m quite limited to what I can do. I usually wake up around 9AM and get some breakfast. I meet up with Kennedy around 10AM and we have until 1AM to get some things done before the city breaks for lunch and I’m dropped off at the compound. Around 3PM, Kennedy comes back to get me and we have until 5 or 6 in the evening to finish up the day. Then I’m back inside, praying for internet to shine on our lowly bungalow and watching Hindi movies with the Sri Lankan UN staffers. Get some rice and beans in you, pop some zzquil to cope with the heat, crank some old NPR podcasts, and you have yourself a typical Rajiv-in-Juba kind of night.
I’m heading out to Nairobi on Wednesday morning and I’m keeping up this trend of sleeping in Asian restaurants and booked my stay in the back of a Thai place. In the meantime, I have a few interviews scheduled with professors and journalists and maybe even a visit to a Chinese clinic, but we’ll see how Kennedy is feeling and go from there.