By Tearz Ayuen
As Christmas season tiptoes in, I would love to advise those who are planning to spend the happy holiday with relatives and old friends in South Sudan. Call it Tearz Travel Advice or TTA in short. But remember, this is not mandatory, it is recommendatory. You have what it takes to take it or leave it.
You must have read or heard from friends that the baby country is growing except that it is developing at a speed of a snail. No, I am sorry I lied. Snail is faster than the speed at which development is moving in this country. This is because your, no, I mean our uncles and aunts are squandering the monies that come from oil revenues and sympathizers like the European Union and Unites States, amongst others.
When you touch down at Juba International Airport, your sensors will quickly notify you that you’re in a strange place. High humidity is the first thing that will say to you, “hello, welcome to Juba my long lost friend.” Your skin will not like the new condition, hence you will leak. English people call it sweating. The airport is a bit disorganized. Non-travelers walk in and out of the immigration sector. You can, for whatever reason, choose to bypass the immigration desk, depending on your body features.
By the time you walk out of the terminal, your outfit will have soaked from sweat. From the airport, you will either head home or straight to a hotel, depending on the size of your purse or the protrusion of your belly.
Hotels are very expensive. Accommodation costs over 100$ per night. Despite the fact that Juba hotels are not up to the western standards, they are somewhat decent. Each room has that device which dehumidifies the air. There is a water shower, clean tiled-floor, comfy king-size bed and fan, TV set and a fridge. However, I would urge you not to eat from those hotels. Most of the foods they offer are those that have overstayed in fridges. Nutritional value is gone. No taste at all. By the way, after spending a very long period of time away from South Sudan, what would stop you from mingling with Jubans in local restaurants where you can find kisra, korob-lubia, asida made from cassava, awal-wala served with fermented milk, akop, dried fish and original fresh Tilapia or Nile Perch from the Nile River?
For my friend who will take a taxi home, welcome to Juba, buddy. This is where you will experience most of the things you heard about South Sudan. And if you’re a keen observer, your stay at uncle’s place could give you an idea about the root cause of corruption. If your uncle is a senior civil servant, you are safe. However, the only problem you will face is overcrowding. No privacy. Most rich government officials’ homes which I apologetically call mini-refugee camps are ever overcrowded, making life a bit uneasy. Nieces, nephews, uncles, in-laws, friends, bodyguards and many others are the occupants. Some come from as far as Nairobi, Kampala, and villages to seek financial aid from one man – the uncle. “This boy needs school fees; that one needs to travel outside the country for a surgery. This woman wants to go back to her children in the village. That one over there seated on a mat arrived last night. They are all waiting for one man’s salary, my salary,” a minister once said. And on payday, the big man distributes his salary to them, and both painfully and annoyingly enough, another hungrier contingent of relatives comes and camps. When it goes, another group arrives. The most annoying thing is that they carry their own mattresses, bed sheets and mosquito nets. That gives an uncle no room for lame excuses like “oh my house is congested, oh blah blah blah.”
Life in a Tukul
For my buddy who may wish to have fun with friends in normal homes, ready yourself for some real fun. No electricity. No running water. No toilets. At night, mosquitoes rule. They make nights long and unbearable. They tax people; taxation is in form of blood. If you’re lucky enough, you may find a pit latrine in your host’s compound. But please, always carry pieces of toilet paper in your pocket. It helps. In case you choose to ignore me, you stand a risk of scratching your buttocks with a twig. You were warned.
If your host lives in a place like Lubas-mafi or Rujal-mafi and doesn’t have a latrine, expect the unexpected. This means you will be forced to relieve yourself at a neighbor’s. Using a neighbor’s latrine is not a problem because South Sudanese are still generous. The issue is traffic. In Juba, many home owners consider latrine a luxury. A family of about ten members defecates in the nearby bushes or open grounds. That means when one man builds one for his family, all the neighboring homes will use it. So, to use such a latrine, you must queue up, particularly during morning hours. When you finally make it in, you could find something unusual. You are likely to find fecal landmines on the slap. This means some girls used the latrine earlier. There is a belief in Juba that girls do not squat on the pit latrine lest they become barren. So, they plant a lot of fecal landmines on the floor. And some men do not flush down their excretions. They leave that thing swimming simply because of the I-am-not-the-cleaner mentality, I hear.
Your Foreign Currency/Exchange
In here, the cart goes before the horse. The important Central Bank of South Sudan is impotent. Exchange rate is being controlled by cattle keepers. Isn’t that weird? They decide when the pound rises or drops. Right now, the official dollar rate is 2.9 pounds per dollar. While in the black market; with one dollar, you get 4.2 pounds. Unconfirmed reports say the dollar business run by the cattle keepers is a big scandal. The herders are mere agents. Their bosses are in the government. And that’s why the Juba City Council finds it hard to rid the city of them. Its efforts to arrest these official law breakers are thwarted by powerful anonymous caller who instructs the police to stop “harassing innocent civilians.”
Some of these cattle keepers turned money exchangers are conmen. I call them dollar-rustlers. They possess counterfeit money, both pounds and dollars. Always take precautions. If possible, choose one of them and let him hop in a car you’re riding in. With the help of your cousin or a friend, exchange your dollars. They operate in tree shades, at market places. In case you show up at their place, alone, they will pretend to be cross checking the genuineness of your notes. One dude holds it up to the light and feels it with his fingertips. He passes it on to another dude who does the same thing. By the time it comes back to you, it will have passed through hands of about ten dollar-rustlers. Guess what happens? The one that comes back to you is a fake dollar bill. This is when they begin to reduce the rate and if you don’t agree to it, they ask you to leave.
Juba is fun. It’s the place to be during December holidays. Lots and lots of fun; all day all night – The social places, the party-goers, everything. However, things are a bit more different here. That means there are some things, habits that you need to leave behind:
And this goes to girls. I know you are used to doing things the western way. That’s fine. It’s your life, your choice. You’re notorious for not wearing enough clothes – extremely provocative outfits: quarter-skirts (not mini- anymore) and string-like underpants. Some of you don’t even wear underwear anymore. Others don tight and transparent bra-less tops that show nipples. That’s cool. Some of us like that. But the problem is, when you dress up like that for a night party here, others, in fact, many, will think that you’re a call girl. Not to mention how South Sudanese men behave when drunk, they would want to grab you by any part of you, teats first. What do you think would happen to that social place should your male friends or brothers react? – A flying-bottle teeth-removal jaw-breaking zone, right? That’s one.
Two, there has been reports about Juba Police harassing urbane young females over dress code, especially those who wear tight jeans and quarter-skirts. Though it’s not a legal thing to do, a small unit of police officers could anytime any day decide to ‘teach’ young people how to dress properly. They normally stop them, confiscate the attires and drive off. Guess who is standing by the roadside naked, on Christmas Day? – You! I have nothing much to say to you here but I would urge you to always carry extra clothes – skirts, long ones – in your handbag.
The way you speak English here matters a lot. Members of diaspora have lost lives to accent in the recent past. You know very well that the 21-year civil war has disadvantaged a big number of us. This has made it so hard for some people to see you as a brother or sister. They feel intimidated, overlooked. So, when you speak that Youknowwhuramsayin accent while talking to police officers: “Hey worrap, maan? I jas came from the Unai stet, maan. I am from Coloraro, man. Coloraro. It’s a gu place, man. Aaight,” someone might mistake that for conceit – that you’re bragging about your academic acquisitions and maybe better life. If you are not careful enough, your ribs or chest could be the perfect destination of flying blows, kicks and gun butts. Guess the aftermath of this encounter with the police, and make sure your guesswork is not far away from serious internal injuries, deformation and death. Since you were neither born in the United States, Australia, Canada nor Europe, why can’t you just speak in a normal way? If I were you, I would even speak our broken English: “Hawar you, polith opither? Yeth ah yam prom Thouth Thudan. My name will be Jamith Deng. I am beri hepi por being home again.” Would that hurt or cost you a dime? Good luck.