Friday, July 1, 2011

Juba, Part 2

During our two days in Juba, I was left over and over again with the impression that every system that might keep a city alive was failing; meanwhile there were always people around who would keep their own lives and the pulse of their neighborhood beating, just on a much smaller scale.

I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get money from an ATM. I went to every single ATM in Juba, to no avail. Despite claims that Visa would work, this incedibly intricate network designed to ut money in people's hands was useless to me. The money changers who sat at the perimeter of the car park, however, always smiled to see me and always gave me an excellent ate of exchange to turn my fleeting supply of Ugandan shillings into Sudanese pounds. They kept my low grade sense of panic from developing into a full throated outbreak.

Sarah and I spent an hour walking around the Ministris complex looking for the office where we needed to extend our visas. When we did find it, it was hidden behind a building which was hidden behind a building - and by building I mean a stack of prefab boxes. Once we actually got our visa renewed, we found that they were marked for single entry - pointless for us as we were leaving the country the next day, but the SPLM official in charge assured us, "as long as the date is valid, nobody will care if it's single or multiple entry."

By late afternoon we found ourselves at Oasis Camp - one of those prefab hotels along the river Nile. It was only a few hundred meters from our guest house, and while the rooms were overpriced, the restaurant (though still expensive) served delicious meals in a sitting area that sat right on the banks of the Nile in an environment of calm and serenity.

Maybe that captures Juba: calm and reprieve can be found for a price, otherwise life is chaotic and governed by the circumstances of the moment.

After two days in Juba with no ability to access money, we had run through almost everything we had. After paying for our guesthouse and a ride to the airport, we were left with 150 pounds (about $50); we were delighted. Juba airport, though, was about to wipe the smiles off our faces. In the airport terminal there wasn't a single computer, there was a single boarding gate, brown outs were frequent, and our boarding passes were handwritten - I saw one man given only a confirmation number written on a torn off scrap of paper.

And then there was the shakedown: as we went to get exit stamps in our passports, the immigration agent told us there was a 92 pound exit fee per person. I told him I didn't have 184 pounds, he told me I could pay $90 instead. I told him I didn't have that either, and he just shrugged and held onto our passports. I asked, "if I can't pay, does at mean I can never leave Sudan?" He shrugged again. I pulled out our last 150 pounds, offered it to him, and watched as he counted it. "Where's the rest?" he asked; it was my turn to shrug. He sampled our passports and returned them to us.

For the next hour we sat at the gate and waited for our flight to board, stewing in frustration. And then our flight was called, we were patted down for security, we boarded, and sitting inside the prop jet we were returned to a world of order and sanity - a salve on our wounds.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you survived the chaos! Incredible the birth of a new nation...the most under-developed on planet earth. By the way, I love the Catholics and their incredible compassion and hospitality. So glad you discovered them there in Juba.