The last thing I expected was to stop running for six weeks, enter a race against hundreds of Africans, and actually beat all of the women except one.
Yesterday was South Sudan’s Independence Marathon, which I signed up for more as an excuse to get a run in than to attain any goal. It was a 10K and about half way through, I thought, “I wonder if there might actually be a prize purse in this thing?” I had no idea where I was at because all I saw were African men around me, one African woman a little bit ahead,and one white girl from the UN lingering not too far behind. Well, it turns out I was the second female, which would explain why so many spectators looked surprised by my white presence. The best personal surprise: I won prize money and an unlocked cell phone.
Perfect. Running races to pay the bills. Some things just work out.
And then there was that.
When people imagine a crazy, adventurous tale of two journalists traipsing through Africa on a dime, they could easily be picturing our trip — give or take a few details.
I hate stereotypical portraitures of this continent, but our journey over the past three weeks has actually fit the image often visualized for what is involved in the African reporting process.
Our roundtrip voyage from Juba, South Sudan to South Kordofan, Sudan has been unreal. To name just a few, there were aerial bombardments and foxholes, rebels with guns, consumption of “science food bars” that are meant for malnourished children, riding in a six-seat airplane that took off from a red (and semi-washed out) dirt runway, and sharing a camp site in a refugee camp with two famous - and Pulitzer Prize winning - international journalists.
Caption: Yida refugee camp from the plane.
We came to South Sudan thinking we would go as far north as Yida, the year-old refugee camp that began when IDPs began fleeing the air attacks by the central government of Khartoum. However, when we arrived in the country, we found out that we would have to go into the Nuba Mountains for the journalism workshops.
Caption: our transportation means, in-and-out of the Nuba Mountains.
Caption: Our ride out.
This has been one of the predominant themes of the trip: bob and weave. It can be exhausting, but I love what can come when you let go and adapt. There’s a lot of assessing of who to trust, but once you make that decision, you must relinquish control and just enjoy the ride.
The reason we had to do the trainings in the Nuba Mountains is really about resources.
It would cost too much to get 25 journalists from different parts of the region organized, transported, and fed for the week. Up in the mountains, the cost of diesel fuel is astronomical, that is if you can even get your hands on it. It’s a bit ironic considering the fact that they are sitting on a rich oil field.
(to be continued…)
We are officially out of the Nuba Mountains after trying to fly under the radar for ten days. We were technically there illegally, as it is a part of Sudan and their government doesn’t allow any foreigners - especially journalists - to cross into the region. However, about 90 percent of the Nuba Mountains are controlled by the SPLA-North, so we were well-protected. We just spent two days in the Yida refugee camp before catching a tiny plane out this morning. We’ll be stationed back in Juba for the next few weeks.
On a bumpy dirt road, in the blackness of night, we were somewhere around the Sudan-South Sudan border. Tim and I had been squeezed into the front cab of an SPLA truck for 12 hours…
Tim: I cannot WAIT to eat Al Jazeera when we get back to Juba.
Me: You mean jalfrezi?
Tim: (smirk of realization) Yeah, yeah. That’s what I meant.