Monday, 9 March 2009

"What's it like? ... really?"

Human beings are always interested in how other human beings live - not just the things they are passionate about or the work they are pursuing, but their ordinary everyday lives. So in this chapter of the blog there is something from the "human interest" angle. When we moved to Dorset from West Yorkshire in 1989, there were quite a few people who regarded us as specially lucky. Indeed we we were but, since Dorset is a holiday destination, some folk had the strange impression that we would be having quite a restful time of it. In point of fact Bridport, for its size, is among the busiest parishes in the country. In the fourteen years we were there we never managed to discover half of what was happening. Sometimes there were three major events in one afternoon, especially in the Summer. So if you expect an easy, time don't go to Dorset.

The street outside our compound
So now there are those who believe the Sudan to be the opposite of Dorset - a tough, primitive place where people take there lives in their hands most of the time. A place which is hot and unhealthy and full of things that sit in wait for you. Well it can be uncomfortable on occasions, but it is no more threatening in Juba than in Bridport. Crime is very low, although poverty is high. Food is plentiful and good - unless you are without money.

A selection of the food we eat
There are decidedly less spiders here than in the UK, the flies are nowhere near as plentiful as in Queensland, and the mosquitos do not leave great itchy lumps like those you get in May in Bridport. The worse things about Juba are the dust and the litter. Huge piles of plastic water bottles and paper wrappings lie in heaps or along the road-sides. But there is no smell, and no fouling and all sewage is very carefully controlled. What you see in the pictures is litter - not rubbish (like the sea-gulls scatter in the streets of Bridport), and the reason is simply that the people have nowhere to put it. As Juba grows at a unbelievable rate, council services simply cannot keep pace. They are engaged in surfacing the main roads through the town, but the many back streets (mostly on a grid pattern) are unmade and very dusty (or muddy when it rains). Some roads just turn into lakes, and pedestrians have to creep around the edges. The dust gets everywhere in the house. We have quickly learned to cover everything with dust sheets all the time. Our windows are the ubiquitous glass louvres that you see all over the tropics so they can never be fastened against the dust - and, in case, they need to be open to allow in the breeze day and night.

The kitchen
In the inner suburbs there is piped water, but in the outer areas it all has to be trucked in with water tanker lorries. We are fortunate because we have water on tap. We have a bathroom with a sink and shower over a bathtub. It "works" in African fashion (African plumbing, electrical wiring and general building would give British health and safety inspectors a fit). It is not a place to allow children to run around - but, of course they do. There are two flush toilets in our three-bedroomed block, part of the ECS "Guests House" complex. The water is 24 hours (although if demand is high it occasionally fails, so we keep a bucket filled) but electricity is evenings only. We have bought ourselves a fan, so on hot evenings we can provide a cool breeze as we watch a film on our laptop or read. The kitchen does have a strip light - but there is no corresponding light switch. It just doesn't seem to have been connected up! It makes for a perfect excuse to leave the washing up till next day. The other thing about washing up is that no-one seems to have heard of washing up liquid, which means that washing pans used for frying is quite a challenge. Washing clothes, of course, has to be done by hand - usually first thing in the morning before it gets too hot. They do have soap-powder, but the only way to get hot water is to boil it on the stove. The great thing is that you can put it on the line dripping and it it dry in a couple of hours.

Using the electric iron in the evening
Most parties and social gatherings happen outside under trees, and much of the day, for those who are not inside working, is spent outside. Under-tree churches in the country areas are not uncommon. In Juba they are getting increasingly sophisticated and new, posh churches are being erected. Juba Cathedral has plans to expand, and the large traditional thatch building in Yei that we visited with Lord Carey is to be replaced with a permanent brick and stone structure. We have use of a kitchen with a heavy-duty calor gas hob. There is no oven - like much of the world Africans do not use them. Things are boiled or fried. We can buy fish and meat (mostly beef, goat or chicken) at the market. Unlike in some parts of Asia, the flies are kept away here. The fish comes in boxes full of ice. It is not displayed; it is produced from underneath upon request. The meat is kept completely fly free because they burn a kind of incense with fly-repellent smoke. The market works on a system of "mahaals" - a different row for each product and every product can be had. It would take a long time to explore it all. In the inner depths of the souk the alleys are covered by sheets giving the impression of an indoor world.

The sitting/dining room
The block we currently occupy is a temporary lodging. When the Archbishop leaves his temporary lodging - just across the way - it will become our permanent one. In the meantime we are enjoying the facilities of a huge sitting/dining room with upholstered cushions and a polished table. Our bedroom, too, is spacious with a normal size double bed, a couple of chairs and a bed-side table. However there are no closed cupboards so we have to keep everything covered up to keep it clean. The other bedrooms are often occupied by guests of the ECS, such as visitors from England and America, and a variety of bishops and others in town for meetings.

Our private bedroom
Immediately outside is a beautiful frangipani with its intoxicating fragrant flowers. Most frangipanis are white - this one is red. If you have never smelled a frangipani, then you have missed out on one of the world's most wonderful things. And it is in the shade of this tree that I am composing this blog. So for all of you who are worried about us, add a bit of rejoicing to your prayers!

Beneath the frangipani
The worst aspects of Juba are that sometimes it is too hot, the banks are a nightmare of bureaucracy and tedious queuing, the roads are dusty, uneven and full of holes and the litter is so disfiguring - and burning it fills the air with acrid smoke from plastic bottles. The best aspects of Juba are its trees (mangoes, acacias, flame trees, pawpaws, frangipanis and a host of others that you would have to ask a botanist the names of ...), the markets, the vibrant churches and enthusiastic worship, and, above all, its friendly smiling people who have the patience of saints as you struggle with Juba Arabic. The little shop-keeper at the gate of the compound in which we are living has started to call us "sabii" (friends) as we buy bread and occasionally cold drinks from him. (We used to buy our eggs there until we discovered that they were hard boiled - sold to passers-by to eat as a snack. We had tried boiling them but always found they came out over hard! Eventually, it was the little bag of salt beside them that gave us the clue!). So now it is back to work sorting out theological education. We think we have identified a site for the new foundation. The first things we shall plant are a mango tree, a meringa tree ... and a frangipani!

Frangipani close-up

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