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Story Publication logo June 23, 2007

What it is like "on the ground"

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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

We did get to speak to Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan and, under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Vice President of the Government of National Unity. He, like Pagan Amum, Secretary General of the SPLM, was optimistic about the transformation of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement from a liberation movement to a political party and its ability to bring home a victory in the scheduled 2008 elections.

Meeting with President Kiir and Pagan Amum all happened in the last hour of our officials time in Juba. It was intense, and I'm sure we'll both write more about it. But for now, in response to a request form my sister, a few words about how we get by "on the ground."

Okay. There's a LOT of walking. And it's hot and dusty, and there are no real showers, and we're packed lightly so washing our bodies and clothes whenever we can. And it's rainy season, so this brick-red mud spatters our pantlegs. And I've got little red insect bites all over my arms and legs. And we all stink. Okay, I'll speak for myself. I stink.

Squat toilets are a luxury. Often it's holes in the ground. Here at Afex camp (short for African Expeditions, the company that outfits such place) there are genuine flush toilets, and this pleasant little Internet cafe, and cold beer (Nile Special, brewed at the headwaters of the Nile, in Uganda). So Jen and I are hanging out here, until our car (for the past three days we have hired a car and driver at a cost of $120 per day, to save some of that endless walking) arrives at 7:00 to take us to wher Bol and Garang are sleeping. Our party is down to four of us. The two "girls," Melinda and Diyani, are back in Nairobi with Chris Koor, who will see them off and then return to reunite with us in Kakuma campj.

Food. For the first few days I thought I'd starve. Sudanese do not eat breakfast, at least by my standards. Tea and bisquits. I usually have a handful of granola to give me some ballast and offset the stomach-effects of the Malarone tablet taken every morning to prevent malaria. In Kuajok I learned that Sudanese food can be quite wonderful, and since that time we've managed one way or the other to survive. The guys, having undergone starvation as boys, are surprisingly picky about food. Today, I paid for two meals at a place that caters to Kawagas (lwhite people) on the assumption we would split them as we have learned to do - easier when eating in the African style of everybody eating off the same plate. It's too convoluted a story to tell compactly here, but the upshot was a misunderstanding that left me gorging myself on one of the plates of food and their refusing to eat any of the other! Dinka pride.

Water. We drink only water that has been treated. Either bottled or well-water that we have treated ourselves using chlorine tablets or the ultraviolet magic wand that I use. Or soda. I've drunk more soda in the past month in Sudan than in the past five years.

Lost my sunglasses. Prescription. Badness. Am trying not to mind.

Language. We know enough simple Dinka phrases to be friendly. Here in Juba you're better off saying "Salaam" rather than "Shibock," because you don't know who's Dinka and who's some other tribe.

Juba by the way has increased vastly since my visit a year and a half ago. Quite disorienting. More on that another time.

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