Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Made It!

Well, we made it to Juba! It's 12:43 AM here and the jetlag is setting in, so I figured I'd blog a little bit. Getting here has been quite the experience, and I already know that this is going to be an incredible trip.

Sanjay and I took a 13-hour direct flight from Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then a 2-hour flight to Juba. We had a short layover in Addis Ababa, where we chatted with a South Sudanese student (who now lives and goes to school in Canada) about what it was like returning home to South Sudan for the first time in twelve years. The flight to Juba was also full of families returning home. Many of them carried on gifts for loved ones and the man sitting next to me said he was excited to be able to see his wife and kids after a being away from them for over a year.

The screen on our flight to Addis Ababa.

As we flew into Juba, I was amazed by how gorgeous South Sudan was. The landscape was flat and very green, speckled by trees and flowing rivers. It looked untouched. As we got closer to the ground, I could see tiny dirt roads and huts spread out for miles. We landed in Juba at noon and stepped off the plane onto the partially-dirt runway. There was a huge sign at the end of the runway that said "Juba International Airport" in English and in Arabic. We were all shuffled into one room (as far as I know, that was the entire airport) and we waited there for our bags. They threw all of the checked bags out onto the floor, and people wrestled each other to find theirs among the mess. Sanjay didn't recognize his back when they brought it out--the zipper was broken, it was tied together with rope, and parts of the front of the bag had been ripped off! Luckily, my stuff was still intact. We had to bring our bags over to a table to be searched by soldiers, and then to a window for customs. All of this took place in the same small room, with hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get out of the airport first.

Luckily, my good family friend, Aduei, met us at the airport and helped us through the chaos. She's one of 89 "lost girls of Sudan" who were resettled in the US after fleeing the violence of civil war. She's an incredible person and she's now living in Juba after recently finishing her masters at the London School of Economics. Aduei picked us up from the airport and took us to our hotel, which was about a mile away. I was amazed by how much Juba looked exactly like I had expected. The road we were driving on was paved, but most others were dirt. Almost every building looked dilapidated or closed, and there was unfinished construction everywhere. White UN vehicles were parked in front of every couple of buildings and armed SPLA (South Sudanese military) soldiers were everywhere. I didn't have a chance to snap many pictures, but I definitely will tomorrow.

Our hotel! 

Aduei's friend Sheldon, a graduate student in international development at the University of Florida, came with Aduei to pick us up. He remarked at how none of the buildings we were seeing were there when he first visited Juba in 2009. I've heard from many of my South Sudanese friends that Juba is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and they've seen what's been described as "chaotic" development since independence last summer.

As for me and Sanjay, we passed out right when we got to the hotel. After a 6-hour nap, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant (which was really good!) and watched the Chelsea-Bayern soccer game. We left before it was over, and we only realized how amazingly it ended after we heard screams and cheering at midnight outside of our hotel room.

I'll be sure to take more pictures tomorrow!

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