Saturday, December 24, 2011

Catching up with December.....

December 24, 2011

Dear Friends,
Greetings from the Big City of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Big Lights, Big City!

This past week and a half has been a whirlwind and I find it is high time that I take a few minutes to blog about the adventures and other things that I have been involved with!

I set out for Addis Ababa on December 14th. I arrived on December 15th. We had quite the little adventure at the airport in Juba that Wednesday. In the beginning, in Malakal, our plane arrived late and so of course we took off late on our scheduled departure. When we arrived in Juba late the plane apparently was in need of either refueling or topping up, I was never clear about which. We were disembarked from the plane and sent to get an exit stamp on our travel documents. Many people now have visas, I have a travel permit as the visas were not issued until a few weeks after my arrival in September in South Sudan.

No one told me that the luggage procedure had changed. The luggage now stays on the plane during the stop over in Juba, previously it had all been taken off the plane and had to be reclaimed, then people had to take their luggage to the reloading area. So when my luggage did not appear I was rather panic stricken as to where it had been gone. Eventually I was told about the change in procedure.

I am a bit fuzzy on some of the details but apparently some kind of negotiations were going on around the refueling issue. As the negotiations were ongoing and perhaps the refueling was even occurring 5:00 p.m. came and it was time for the airport to shut down. The airport shut down and the air traffic controllers left the tower and there we were -- a plane that was going nowhere, packed with our luggage and a planeful of anxious passengers.

The long and the short of it is that God had blessed me by sending a group of people with whom I had acquaintance on the same flight and I was able to join their group. By the time we figured out that the authorities were all gone and no one was around to help us the skies were dark. As far as we could tell we had been left at an airport outside of an unfamiliar city with no place to go, no place to eat and no idea what time the flight would resume in the morning.

This was a particularly distressful evening as there were many foreigners who had connecting flights out of Addis Ababa ; those flights were missed and when we did at last arrive in Addis the next day the airline was having to cope with rebooking people to many different global destinations including China.

Someone suggested staying put, which was a fine idea as there was no place to go anyhow. Eventually the airline sent a bus to pick up those of us who had no NGO (non government organization such as the United Nations) to come and whisk us away. The bus took us into Juba proper and began searching for enough hotel rooms for everyone. The joke on board was that the bus was having fuel problems and next we’d be jammed into a taxi and then we’d be put in a donkey cart. Fortunately we taken care of before the situation came to that point.

We were put up in decent hotels and fed, thankfully. The next morning we were taken back to the airport in Juba and eventually our flight left and we were on track again. I was one of the most fortunate people because Addis Ababa was my termination point and I didn’t have to rebook anything. This was especially important as I had left Malakal with a bad cold and it was getting worse. By the time I reached my accomodations for Thursday night I had a fever and was both sizzling hot on my skin and freezing cold inside. The friend with whom I stayed the first night is a nurse; she diagnosed a sinus infection and we were able to find antibiotics the next day and get me on the road to recovery. Unfortunately since then stomach ailments have come my way, as for many other people here. However, last night I was able to sleep without struggling for breath! Alleluia!

When I was in Juba overnight I realized for the first time that Malakal has no traffic lights. Juba is HUGE compared to Malakal. Addis Ababa is HUGE compared to Juba. Juba has a lot of hotels, I know this because the airline bus we were on the evening that we were stranded in Juba stopped at quite a few looking for rooms. I believe that Malakal may have three at the most. Addis Ababa has many more than Juba.
I have had a hair trim and my teeth cleaned. I have stocked up on imported food. I finally realized as I was shopping in the imported food store, Novis, here in Addis, that it is the imported foods that really increase the grocery bill. This was true in China as well. The local food was/is somewhat less expensive. So now I need to find a routine with which I am comfortable of how often I will be indulge in, say, basil pesto for my pasta. Using the local tomato paste that comes in little plastic packages is going to be less expensive, even though in Malakal it is expensive simply because everything in South Sudan is expensive. It is still cheaper though than imported basil pesto. I don’t have a blender so making my own pesto isn’t realistic in Malakal. And....a blender isn’t realistic with so few hours of electricity. The simpler the cooking the better.

Today is the Augustinian calendar Christmas Eve. It is a bit odd to be in a country that follows the Julian calendar for religious celebrations. Odder still, Christmas is still considered a religious celebration here and not another secular holiday. At any rate, we Western Christians are offbeat here with our December 24 and 25 Christmas Eve and Christmas. As with China, I think that some of the stores here may keep their Christmas decorations up all year round. It might be a bit odd for the locals to have a bunch of people showing up who do not celebrate Christmas at the same time as the local culture.

Friday, December 2, 2011

First Bat Sighting!

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Well, I've found and seen my first bat here in Malakal! There was a big creature that looked like it had flappers on the veranda. It was black and very, very fast. I think I was afraid to stomp it with my Birks! It looked like a big beetle.

I went to my neighbor's for movie night, we watched Little Women, and found out that the creature is a BAT. I suppose even bats have to start out as babies. Gross!

I've had to crush (hard for the vegetarian here!) two baby snakes in the house as well....I just hope I haven't missed any of the little creatures!

International Differences and other observations....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I attended a Security Meeting at the United Nations this morning here in
Malakal. It never fails to strike me as odd that walking into a building and then a
room that has lights and is a just-right temperature during the day feels so normal. When
it's not.

It isn't normal here in Malakal to have lights during the day or air conditioning. In Malakal
these are artificial conditions created by using a generator. And yet when I encounter these
conditions it just does seem so normal. I hardly question it until I remember. I'm in Malakal.

Walking into the UN Compound and the meeting room was, then, entering another world.
Kind of like the movie Avatar except not quite so exceptional or beautiful as the Avatar
world on the alternative planet.

We were not offered coffee and that lack did not fit in with my expectations of this alternative world, this different planet. Other than that it reminded me of buildings I was in when I lived in Jerusalem. NGO buildings that seemed so clean. So technology oriented. So normal in the midst of the craziness that was Jerusalem.

Malakal is not crazy in the way that Jerusalem was. Malakal also does not have narrow windy streets with vehicles careening along threatening to annihilate pedestrians. The little store across the street from where I live here in Malakal is closed today. Perhaps the shop keeper is Muslim and observing the Muslim day of Friday prayers. That is like Jerusalem. But Khartoum was like that too. Anyhow, Jerusalem is a mix of ancient/modern and is HUGE. Malakal is not huge and is more like a recovering war zone. Because it IS a recovering war zone.

So I learned today what the difference is between American Red Cross shelters in the United States and the gathering points for foreigners in Malakal if we should ever need to gather. The American Red Cross FEEDS people. If the foreigners in Malakal ever need to gather we will be at MEETING points and NOT feeding points.

This does not particularly phase me as I grew up in the Seattle area and consider Seattle home. In Seattle of course we try to dismiss the fact from our everyday existences that we live in an earthquake prone area of the world. AND at the same time we are have emergency (particularly earthquake) preparedness drilled into us from the crib on. We are supposed to have three to four days of food, water and medicine handily available in case of an emergency because public servants will not be able to serve us and aid us for at least that long. Maybe they will trying to serve and aid their own families.

So this is not unfamiliar to me and I realize that I can fill a carry-on (plane) rolling suitcase with non-perishable food that does not require cooking and keep it nearby me at all times in the house. I also realized this morning that it is a good idea to have more than I can eat in this suitcase as there will be people who did not grow up with emergency preparedness drilled into them from the crib and they will not have done this for themselves. I can share.

So, life meanders on. I stopped in at the Ethiopian Airlines office which has a tiny office in the South Sudan Hotel, on the way home, and made sure that my e-ticket was on the manifest for my flight to Addis Ababa this month. I'm very excited -- I was the very first name on the list!

Next week finals to grade and final grades to assess. I need to begin packing for Addis Ababa. I need to continue updating the lists for shopping for food that I can't get here in Malakal that I plan to bring back with me. Need to decide what to take with me for working on the dissertation proposal for the University of South Africa (UNISA) that is due early next year.

I think that the internet connection here in my home is threatening to cut off so I will stop now and publish this blog and share it with you on Facebook.