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Travel in Southern Sudan

Today I got to go into the field. My time in Juba has been very productive and a great learning experience – particularly with regard to asset monitoring and documentation –  but I am ready for a new challenge.

I had an early start from Juba, taking an UNHAS flight to Aweil. Check-in at Juba airport to an untrained observer is absolute chaos. You queue to hand over your ticket, then you have to go round the whole counter, fighting your way through other passengers, to get your bag weighed (a step I completely missed as I misunderstood the gesturing). Then your bag is checked by the airport officials – by hand. Then it’s back to the check-in counter for your bag to be tagged, before taking it back to the same airport officials who put it on the conveyor.

This is all done through a mass of humanity, though in a surprisingly calm and orderly – if noisy – fashion. I was very glad to be with people who had gone through the whole process before and could guide me through.

We were bussed to our little plane past a large group of UN soldiers, all with identical suitcases. We had to wait for what seemed ages for the pilot, who was still on his way from Nairobi. I think it only seemed a long time because it was so hot. Eventually we took off for Rumbek. The flight from Juba to Rumbek reminded me how green and flat Southern Sudan is. There are trees in Juba but it’s so built up and dusty that it’s hard to remember much of the rest of the country is covered in trees.

On the descent into Rumbek I got to see my first brick-making works by the river. I don’t know if they are as impressive from the ground, but the scale of them from the air is amazing. You see stacks of thousands of bricks at various stages of firing or cooling, some half demolished where the bricks have already been sold. I didn’t get off the plane in Rumbek but am scheduled to visit there in a few months, so will hopefully get to see more.

Next stop was Wau, which has the most amazing air traffic control tower. It looks a bit like a cherry picker, with a concertina stand and no way of getting up there unless the tower is lowered. Wau airport also has the skeletons of two planes – not the first I had seen today but definitely the most badly damaged. It’s hard to tell if they crashed or have just been left to rust. I chose to think the latter.

The Aweil flight was in a smaller plane, a Cessna Caravan I think, and the pilot basically followed the road, though I was very appreciative of both the speed of travel and the lack of bumps. There appeared to be another line running alongside the road which I think might be the new railway. We arrived amazingly quickly at the airstrip in Aweil, which doubles as the town square and is right in the centre of the settlement.

I was picked up there, as the airstrip for Malualkon is currently closed, and we headed to Malualkon by car. The road to Malualkon is so rough that it is mostly just used by lorries. Cars drive on the train tracks because they are smoother. We passed through a few smaller settlements and I noticed that there were square tukuls made of bricks in some areas, rather than the traditional round mud construction I had mostly seen previously. It only took about 45 minutes to reach Malualkon.

The team here are very friendly and welcoming and I already feel settled in. I am living in a tent. It has a bed, table, power and lights – quite luxurious really. It is also more waterproof than any tent I have ever been in before. We had a large thunderstorm this evening with heavy rain that would have caused most tents to leak like sieves, but so far mine is perfectly dry.

I have already heard much about the different programmes here and am looking forward to seeing more, as well as helping with logistics activities. Programmes run out of Malualkon include: education, cash for work, food security and livelihoods, water and sanitation, and protection. It will be nice to see first hand how Save the Children is directly helping children in Southern Sudan.

As I am writing this, it is perfectly silent and still except for the slight whir of a fan and the squeaking of the bats flying around outside. So different from the vehicles, generators and dogs barking in Juba. I am really looking forward to my next 6 weeks in Malualkon.

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