On March 29th 1981 I was in Juba in Southern Sudan, with Mary. I was trying to get the documentation which would allow me to return to Khartoum, get my exit visa and my money converted, and from there travel back to the UK.
The days were hot and close in Juba: mornings in the Ministry fighting the bureaucracy, a siesta after lunch and the Greek Club in the evening, food and socialising with other teachers. The time passed quickly but frustratingly for me, and agonisingly slowly for Mary, who was finding being a vegetarian difficult in Sudan. I was trying to eat as much as possible and taking iron pills to try to get my weight up. Most of the other teachers from the South now seemed depressed by their experiences, but we made cheerful conversation as we had done previously. I met one of my students working in a shop in the Malakia, the market area. After graduating from school it was the only job he could envisage, working for an Arab trader; if this did not work out he planned to go back to his village in Equatoria and cultivate, as he put it.
At first we stayed in a depressing rat-ridden guest-room at the University, where we saw no sign of students or staff. Two aid workers took us to Sunday lunch at SIL, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, because they did cauliflower cheese and real mashed potatoes and Mary could not resist. Eventually they offered us a clean, modern room in their compound at a good price and we capitulated. The missionaries were blue-eyed and calm. At lunchtime we would listen to their tales of language translation around the world; they looked on Southern Sudan as a hardship posting like everyone else, and described it as second only to New Guinea in terms of under-development. After lunch on that first Sunday we walked out to the hill behind the non-functioning petrol station. We climbed to the top among baboons and the trees, and admired the view away from Juba from the summit. The hill seemed volcanic and was the only place to get exercise - I was still looking for weight after the poor diet of Rumbek.
Otherwise we saw a Sergio Leone film in a small open-air stadium; some enterprising Britons living in Nairobi were importing the films and trying to make a little business of it. I also visited Issa again at the Wildlife Hostel and heard tales of exploits from her macho shooting Latins, "My father was a professional hunter."
Finally the papers were all provided correctly and we got a flight to Khartoum. Going through customs I followed an Arab trader, who was asked to open his battered, overfull suitcase. The case held nothing except banknotes, and he had difficulty stuffing them all back in like a crook in an Ealing comedy.
Edward Hoagland in his book African Calliope gives a description of the Greek Club, hunters and other Juba characters he met there in 1977.
|Juba, 2007, Picture by Katy Fentress, CC|