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Life is A Bumpy Highway

“Kris are you awake?” Joh, my clinic manager, is outside the door of my small room at a guest house in Juba. It is early. The sun is up, but the city is just awakening. Joh and I were in Juba and we needed to get to Bor. Traveling within South Sudan is quite challenging. We made our way to the market in Juba and waded through the different vehicles looking for passengers. There were mostly Land Crusiers and some ambitious small Vans. We were lucky to find a government vehicle already on the way to Bor and looking to make some extra money. We paid the driver, got in the back, and were off.

The journey from Juba to Bor consists of about 10 minutes of racing thorough the paved roads of Juba, and six and a half hours of bouncing along an unpaved heavily eroded road. It is comparable to sitting on top of a paint mixer for the entire morning. As we bounded through the South Sudanese country side I witnessed the many soldiers left over by the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The checkpoints didn’t cause us too much trouble, due mostly to our government plates. Our driver looked as though he belonged in the South Sudanese Secret Service. His strong jaw and expressionless face only cracked when he leaned out to yell in Arabic at another vehicle blocking the only dry section through a part of the road that had been engulfed in mud. He stops at every chance possible to check the car and have a cigarette. When we suggest he come live in Duk, he tells us there is no way he could. After his yelling he smiles, showing the tough demeanour all might be a big show.

We stop for tea. There are children who yell “cawaja!” but as I bend to greet them and ask them what they would like from me, most run away laughing or screaming. I practiced my very limited Dinka to the delight and amusement of the elderly Dinka people we came across. As we reluctantly continue our journey we pass a tank, not quite as rusted as one would like to see, a reminder of how recent the conflict in this area of the country was. We stop to pick up some soldiers, we leave others behind. We don’t want to end up with a vehicle full of AK-47’s. We pass fifty people standing on the side of the road dressed in their Sunday best, and ahead see their bus stuck in the mud this road is infamous for.

As we wound our way ahead I began to think about all of these soldiers. What do you do with them now that the conflict is over? How do you pay them? How do you transfer their skills? The road we are on is closed every evening at six. The soldiers controlling the road go to the nearby barracks and the next morning return again to monitor their posts. Without conflict, their presence becomes increasingly redundant. Of course there are still tensions on the border areas and some cattle raiding in Jonglei, but the country and the region is hoping for peace in South Sudan. What is the place of soldiers in peace time in a country that is struggling to provide basic services to its citizens?

As we roll into Bor in early afternoon we are welcomed by roads that are a little less bumpy, ditches that have caught some of the water, and many boda bodas making their way through the streets. I get a smile from our driver as I thank him for the massage and we jump on motorcycles to try and catch workers at the local offices in Bor before they head home for Friday afternoon. Later as I lay in my bed, the generator is turned off, the room goes dark, I close my eyes and feel that I am still rumbling along the wondrous road from Juba to Bor.


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