To the world’s newest country, South Sudan and the capital: Juba. The Juba road through Northern Uganda is appalling, more a track through holes harassed by huge double-container lorries than a road. As Mary said once we arrived at the border (Nimule) that was like being shaken in a metal bucket for hours with someone pouring dust in all the time, although in our matatu the dust came up in clouds through the floor We had been squashed four to a row meant for two, so I suppose we didn’t bounce around as much as we might. In contrast once we had walked through the border, a very expensive but much easier process there and back than expected, the South Sudanese road was tarmac and smooth. The South Sudanese matatu was air conditioned, clean, spacious, without ear splitting music; we sat battered and filthy in bemused comfort.
I don’t think Juba is quite ready for independent white travellers, the place is packed with Western NGOs, but they drive around in herds of huge 4 x 4s. These hermetically sealed white beasts are everywhere: floppy aerials waving over the bonnet; big labels on the side proclaiming donor credentials; windows firmly shut; air conditioning on full, completely secluded from Juba’s indigenous inhabitants.
Walking around the markets, or going down to the bus park to find a better ride back to Uganda,
was met (mostly) with incomprehension, why weren’t we in a car? What were we doing there?
No one was actively aggressive, neither where they welcoming, just puzzled and unsettled; ‘edgy’ was the description we came up with. There are not many direct photographs on this posting; it was not the sort of place for street photography.
But it is booming, buildings going up everywhere, streets and areas change almost overnight. Many of the vocational colleges we work with say that their students intend to work in South Sudan, although there is growing resentment and violence against Ugandans coming to take jobs. Will the boom last? Many of the hotels set up for westerners have a feel of impermanence and rapid solutions to them.
The rooms are made from stacked containers kitted out with power, windows and air con.
We complain in Gulu about the limited choice of vegetables, now I know why, they all go up to the Konyo Konyo market in Juba, where they fetch three or more times the price.
Every sort of vegetable you could ever want was on sale from huge crates, all brought up on lorries from Uganda on that terrible road, there was even fresh dill (there is a very big Scandinavian presence here).
Of course, fresh food and NGOs meant good places to eat and drink alongside the Nile,
and nice meals from the friend we stayed with. She had air conditioning, fridges, freezers, ovens, fresh baked bread, water from the tap you can drink and silence; extraordinary.
On Sunday morning, in traditional fashion we took an early morning walk along a tributary of the Nile.
Through the squatters shacks that surround the city and out into farmed land, people waking, going to church in their best, fishing, working the land.
It was a beautiful walk taken before it got too hot; in many ways Juba is much hotter than Gulu.
We returned to Gulu by Baby Coach, a much better way to tackle the Ugandan section. Would we recommend the trip to others? I think so, it was interesting not necessarily relaxing, but interesting to see a young country get itself going.
There is still a subliminal Arab feel; Frankinsense burned to ward off insects; a greater intensity to haggling and selling anything; mint tea drunk at cafes by men in djellabas and skull caps; gilt and heavy decoration on all surfaces, I suspect all that will go in the next few years.