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Sunday, 22 October 2017

In Juba after the Separation of S. Sudan (3-10)

A tall airport employee pushed his way through the crowd. His looks were haggard and unfriendly

. He was tight-lipped towards the anxious queries of the weary travelers. Most probably he was unhappy of the job he performed or he was exhausted from the stress born out of heavy workload. His disgust appeared in the way he carelessly distributed the check-in forms .The multi-paper form looked like a book. It contained many questions similar to   Sudan’s higher secondary school history examination paper. To add insult to injury the questions were written in high register English which paid little attention to variations in travelers English language proficiency or linguistic backgrounds. Some of them even had zero knowledge of English because they came from francophone countries like West Africans, North Africans and Mediterranean Arab countries. The form filling was a blatant bureaucratic procedure it had provoked more commotion and stirred turmoil in the already agitated crowds cramming the miserable and stinking arrival hall. The Oxygen starvation was further aggravated by this awkward procedure which led to chaotic scenes. Travelers could be seen panting for air which was in short supply. Drinking water was nowhere to be seen.The only available one was sold at prohibitive prices beyond my financial reach .Thanks to the observance of Ramadan fasting which trained me to withstand bouts of thirst and bring the pressing urges of the drinking instinct under control. Most travelers begged for pens to fill their forms, the pen became the most valuable possession at those difficult moments. My former job with U.N. system had taught me how important it was  to have a pen at all times .The pen became a perpetual friend for my pockets.l carry it wherever I went. I used to pride myself in this habit when  my pen begging colleagues borrowed it. I am an exemplary pen preserver .I drop it in the dustbin only when the ink contained in the inner plastics tube is totally exhausted making the once blue tube transparent.
My English proficiency was of great help that day .It aided me in filling the redundant form in an exceptional time. My dear pen wandered between a multitude of thumbs and index fingers. Syrians co-travelers noticed how quickly did I filled the form .They begged me to fill theirs. They didn't know even a smattering of English language. The sooner I started the voluntary job,  a threatening voice in Juba Arabic warned me to desist saying (you Mondocoro  fuck off and mind your own business. Don't interrupt our job .we earn our living through the filling of these forms).Juba Arabic is the lingua franca across Southern Sudan. The voice was of a slender young man mostly hailing   from the Bari tribe. I could tell that from his unmarked forehead and cheeks besides the accent  in which he uttered his threatening words .The Bari are the indigenous people of Juba which got its  name from their ancestral forefather Jubiet whom I used to see his  mausoleum south of Juba market whenever I commuted to my workplace in great Juba market.They are the most civilized and educated people in the south. The Bari are predominantly farmers and civil servants however they are the least employed and their ancestral lands has been the subject of merciless grabbing from preying Generals of the Dinka dominated government. A testimony to this marginalization is  the  Boda Boda driving which became the only available job for the Bari youth.
l had instantly returned the forms to their owners the desperate Syrians without voicing any form of rejection or putting up a resistance in the face of that  flagrant invasion of privacy. My memory invoked the Arabic saying (you stranger be polite) neither the place nor the time context were relevant to play the good Samaritan or to up a fight to regain my lost dignity. I dashed out of  the arrival hall after great waste of time and effort .I tottered along the piles of passengers luggage towards the exit gate .My clothes got stained from friction and scramble with others . I breathed the sigh of relief when I found myself in the open . The place was crowded with mobile phone balance vendors and foreign exchange dealers .There was a forest of motorcycles which were locally called Boda Boda .They were the most preferred means of transport equivalent to the rachshaw in Sudan which is used for inter-neighbourhood errands. My generous uncle had given me five packets of Bringi cigarette as a contribution to cover my travel expenses. He thought Bringi was as popular as in Sudan therefore it could be sold at a higher price like the other Sudanese commodities which were in high demand in Southern Sudan because of their proven quality. I was deeply disappointed by the low  price offered for the cigarette . I had forcibly  sold one packet  at the cheapest to pay the Boda Boda fare to the prestigious Konjo Konjo market where some of my relatives worked in shops. Smoking habits were totally different from the ones common in Sudan. A trade mark called Toska was in the vogue. My eyes got frantically studying the hitherto unfamiliar currency when I received it from the reluctant buyer .Such confusion engulfs any foreigner who lands first time in a new country. He temporarily fails to differentiate between currency denominations or ascertain whether they are genuine or counterfeit unlike the native citizen who can tell the genuineness of currency and it's denominations from its size or it's feel in his hands even if  he is blind .Because my journey lacked planning and wisdom I didn't bother to inform my relatives beforehand or even to have their phone numbers in order to locate them upon my arrival .
I have gotten on the back of a Boda Boda .The driver was a nice Bari young man. He showered me with smiles when he knew from my appearance from which country did I come .He lived most of his life in Alhaj Yousif shanty town of Hai Albaraka formerly known as Kartoon Kassala. He kept reassuring me that we still brothers and the separation that took place after the 2011 referendum was political. I felt a great relief for the first time since left Khartoum. He spoke unaccented Sudanese colloquial Arabic substantiating how well he was integrated and the assimilated into Sudan central culture. He dropped me in the Eastern corner of Konjo Konjo market  because his motorcycle couldn't go deeper given the narrow lanes which were  clogged   by street vendors leading to difficulty in movement for both  motorists and pedestrians. I made my way into the market through a small internally displaced people makeshift camp .The displaced lived miserable life in tiny huts and shacks made from straw  and cartoon .They were dressed in rags. The stench and squalor was the biggest distinguishing mark for the place .l knew later who those displaced were. They   belonged to the most feard and ferocious tribe the Murle. The Murle are pastoralists. Their life largely depends on cattle wrestling and they were notorious for children abductions. Analytical studies attribute this barbic practice to low fertility rates among their men who resort to it to make for demographic deficit in the tribe. My first cultural shock was the libertine way of women dress .Streets of Juba were filled with women who seemed to outnumber the men .They were mostly dressed in bikini which I had seen in the U.N. system. The bikini partly covers the woman body and considered indecent in Sudan .It's wearing in public is even punishable by a lashing .Very limited number of women wore Sudanese Tobe .In this semi nude culture you also see women dressed in the Niqab the head to toe Islamic dress but this was only restricted to the small Somali community.
Women in Juba used Boda Boda as a preferred means of transport. The rode it with two  legs parted as men do which is also considered indecency in Sudan .They tie their hands across  the Boda Boda driver waist while their blossom is tight to his back . No eyebrow raises and no face frowns as a form of disapproval of this intimacy .Any way that was the safest way to ride the Boda Boda. The least jerk from it could send the passenger in a nose dive into the ground. The  country culture  didn't embrace the teachings of sexes  separation. However seducing and sex driving that dress code was, it didn’t give rise to sexual harassment. I began to believe my eyes when the tales of my Dinka friend crossed my mind .I remembered how he narrated to me their cultural life style. Part of it was their traditional tribal dances that took place in the initiation rites .How they danced naked with their peers from girls and how they also swam naked in the swamps. The dancer would invite trouble to him self if he showed minimal response to his manly physiological composition. Such natural response is sufficient grounds for strong reprimand and social ostracism. He would be branded as Sahar or magician. Sahar is a commonly used term in several southern tribes .It refers to anyone who doesn't comply and violate tribal norms, virtues and values.