Friday, 2 May 2014

In-Thought Revelations: Juba Conflict


I experienced a serious case of culture shock. I even asked myself, ‘what am I actually doing here?’. I had just left a hall (with immigration, baggage arrivals, baggage search etc. all-in-one) designated as the arrivals hall of Juba International Airport. I was then met with stares, stares and more stares. Juba's bustling traffic and somewhat disorganised yet 'lively' community was the final thing that tipped me over the ‘culture shock’ edge.


We had arrived home from hiding out at a hotel on the night of December 15th. Let's backtrack. On Day Six I was meant to go back to Jebel, but was given permission to stay another night in Thongpiny (I can only assume everything happened by sheer luck). On the afternoon of Day Seven it had just only sunk in that something serious was happening in Juba. The next three days we were indoors; we couldn't go out and get food and there were no water trucks making their usual rounds.

Thankfully before reaching Juba, I did stock up on a few food stuffs from the UK in case I would miss it. Little did I know, that this was going to be somewhat of a ‘lifeline’ while we were stuck inside our compound.

While sounds of gunfire and artillery was still persisting, social networking sites were run amok by (mostly) self-proclaimed political analysts, peace activists and eyewitness reporters (I am guilty as charged). It was forever interesting reading and hearing people's points of view on what was going on, ''was it a coup?'', ''disagreement between presidential guards?'', ''what's actually going on?''.
I shared my own experiences here on Facebook and on Twitter, some of which got me into the world media. However, not all of my postings were met with encouragement, praise and support, I did get a few messages and comments here and there that were pretty rude. One inbox simply said, 'shut up'. Some comments went beyond normality and I began to calm down on posting as requested by family and friends but still shared the usual things like gunfire sound reports, curfew, etc.


We left the compound in search of food and water. By suggestion on Twitter we attempted an American/European supermarket on Kololo Road. However it was actually shut so we resorted to going to a shop owned by a Northern Sudanese. We grabbed water, fizzy drinks, cookies, croissants and walked back. It was hot, incredibly hot.
Juba was also dead. There were people around but also (and understandably) noticeably more SPLA and blue-coloured, camouflaged South Sudan Police.

Around this time I also read about the rebels approaching Bor Town and the amount of distress I witnessed on Facebook and Twitter was incredible. However, I was too much into where I was at and I had to process the fact that I myself was in a possible war zone.

People were panicking. Friends were panicking; leave, leave, leave. My passport and other items were in Jebel. I didn't have that many changes of clothes and I didn't have a lot of my things with me, but I made it work.

I guess on the Friday I managed to get to Jebel. I got into my cousin's house, grabbed all my stuff and said my goodbyes. I had my passport and this was a sigh of relief to many. But little did everyone know that I really had no intention of leaving Juba despite the conflict. I did register with the Dutch Embassy (I am a Dutch citizen). They were incredibly helpful and I could have left on the plane the very next day. But... I refused.

I had phone calls from friends and family asking me to leave. I was inundated with Facebook messages warning me; I was stressed out, very stressed out, but I knew they all meant well and it all came from a good place.

The days were fine. We were on the compound, would drink tea, sit outside, gossip then get on social media. The night times were the scariest; almost every night I heard gunfire, sometimes accompanied with human voices and screams.

One night there was a lot of dog barking and human screams. That was the night I woke up my cousin who was sleeping next to me and I cried, a lot. I was scared. I feared for my life. I ended up cuddling up to her and then falling asleep.
Every day I did think, what would happen if they came door to door again? What would happen if Juba was taken over? Where would we hide? How could we hide? Some nights I would close the shutters of the window because I didn't want anyone to be able to look inside as we were sleeping; I was in a constant state of fear.

Approaching the second week there was a day we were meant to get a flight out of Juba to Nairobi but we weren’t able to secure the tickets. Stress was building up again.

DAY 14

Within that week we did start going back to normal life again; meeting with friends for lunch at places, going outside a little more. Life was going back to normal to some extent; there was little traffic and clearly anyone who could afford to leave did leave.
Curfew had already been imposed. Me and my cousin would also be out at Juba Central Hotel using the WIFI until 6pm (almost daily) and then rush home to avoid being inundated with phone calls from aunty and uncle. The evenings seemed long, the nights even longer. I was in fear despite staying and putting on a brave face and still being the keyboard warrior I had always been.

Not only were we plagued by fear and uncertainty, we suffered incredible boredom. Most of our nights consisted of sitting around a makeshift lamp (the flash of a smartphone with an empty bottle of Mountdew on top of it gave the room a nice green glow). We walked down memory lane and reminisced, discussed the Juba life that was before December 15th and we looked forward to the craziness in Nairobi.
In the last three days before our December 27th departure to Nairobi, we were incredibly anxious. I personally was, as mentioned before, in fear. There were many rumours and the situation didn’t appear to improve. Unrest striking Juba yet again to the point that the airport would be shut down, was a high possibility.
The day I left Juba, a major weight was lifted off of my shoulders; I went with my judgment and stayed. I left, unscathed, only to experience much more in Africa.