Nightfall at the Aurora, Colo. prayer vigil for victims of the theater shooting on July 20, 2012.
Today, we saw and heard Desmond Tutu speak to a large church crowd for South Sudan’s first anniversary of independence.
In the background is Bishop Andudu, who I have written about for The Denver Post in the past.
What a huge presence for such a small man.
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.
Sushi next to the Nile River in Juba, South Sudan.
This was either the best or worst decision of the trip.
So far, so good. And, it was the most expensive meal so far — a price tag that translates into approximately $12.
(I’m allowed one meal photo without penalty or judgement.)
Do you ever just look around and think, “Did I make a series of horribly wrong decisions in life that led me to this place? Is this where we inevitably end up? — A sarcastic comment by my new friend Nicki Kindersley, a Ph.D. history student from Cambridge who is here for an archive project, as she surveyed the scene on July 4th at “Talent Search South Sudan 2012.” We sat on the aisle stairs in what can only be described as a steamy auditorium, complete with all the over-the-top gawdiness often found in Africa, and all the pent up energy of a country recently liberated from a Sharia government. In all honesty, we loved the whole thing. But, there was a bit of, “How on earth did my life juxtapose to be in this place at this time?”
The national archives project is an attempt to take more than 100 years of South Sudan history out of its storage unit - a tattered, brown tent in the middle of a yard - and organize, catalogue, and preserve it. Documents include the beginnings of the south’s uprisings in the 1950s, border demarcations, and tribal dispute papers.
It’s an entire nation’s history being eaten away by termites and the brutal African heat.
A nation without a history will have a hard time forming a national identity.
I signed up to participate in this event on July 7th, which is two days before South Sudan’s one-year anniversary/Independence Day celebration.
The Juba Marathon has three events: a 5K, 10K, and 21K. I will be doing the 10K.
If this made your mind stutter for a second, you are not alone. Leave it to South Sudan to omit the actual marathon distance - 26.2 miles - from their marathon event.
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.
Truth be told, we are in the Nuba Mountains, a disputed region of Sudan.
This area has been in-and-out of conflict since before the referendum last summer, which created South Sudan.
Transportation and mobility are extremely limited throughout the area. This is due to both the horrendous road conditions and a complete lack of access to fuel. We were fortunate to find a car, driver, and gas yesterday in order to reach a nearby village for some reporting. On the way back, our truck was filled with people needing a lift before the rainstorm overtook us. This is a prime example of people’s interdependency for survival and daily life. People were packed into the truck bed as we bumped over dry riverbeds and gnarled roads.