Goodbye Old Juba: Update #20

Published June 13, 2011

This is my last night in Sudan. Tomorrow I begin the 36-odd hour journey home. My son Milo’s vocabulary has grown exponentially during the month I’ve been gone. I half expect him to meet me at the airport with, “Welcome back dad. How was your trip to Sudan?” But I’ll be happy with “Da-da!” and a big hug.

I changed my ticket this morning. The cost of changing it was the same as two additional days in Juba – it wasn’t a hard decision. The fuel shortages are becoming severe here and I’m starting to wonder how much fuel is left in the hotel generator’s diesel tank. Juba’s power grid is also fueled by giant diesel generators that have remained silent this past week due to delays in fuel shipments. The 15 passenger Toyota Vans that serve as buses here are usually ubiquitous running up and down the main routes. Today, they were few and far between. So I walked the 2 miles from the hotel to the city center where the Ethiopian Airline office is located.

Since I was already on foot, I decided to explore a little bit. The neighborhood just adjacent to the city center is known as “Old Juba”. This part of town was built from stone quarried from the small volcanic outcroppings that ring the city. Modern Greeks brought this building technology to Sudan in the 1890’s while making Juba an important trading hub for East Africa. Though many of the old stone warehouses and storefronts are in disrepair, a few are being lovingly restored stone by stone. I hope the neighborhood can retain its unique character even as “New Juba” takes shape.

I promised in an earlier post not to editorialize or prognosticate about South Sudan’s future. So maybe I’ll just selectively choose some facts. South Sudan is roughly the size of France and has 30 miles of paved roads. A girl in South Sudan is more likely to die from childbirth than to finish school. In one one of Juba’s many mega-brothels, the AIDS rate of sex workers over the age of 25 is nearly 100 percent. Many civil servants are serving without pay and live in tents while the new oligarchs are building private mountain resorts.

These are my thoughts as I leave. Even more reason to come back.


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