Touchdown Juba, 9.20 a.m. local time KQ 350. It was a very hectic morning for me at the JKIA especially in the immigration clearing – was almost left behind. So the concerned departments in that airport, please do something (now am sounding like the famous ‘Serkal tafadhali saidia’). I expect to be met by a hot gust of wind, as many people had hinted but thank God, it is the rainy season, a little bit cooler. The place is green.
Outside the airport, everything is strange. Cars are driving on the right lane. The army is everywhere. There is a traffic officer at a certain intersection directing vehicles. He is using a whistle. There are no street lights here. I come to learn later on that there is no power grid. Everybody for him/herself in terms of electricity provision and water supply. Generators are the ones providing power to individuals. I inform the driver that I needed to change some US dollars to the South Sudanese Pound. We head to the market. Currency is exchanged in the market, which gives better rates than the banks. The money market is a resemblance of how hawkers display their wares in the streets of Nairobi; difference being that here the police does not chase them. It is called the black market but I didn’t see anything black in it.
Petrol and Diesel is selling at six pounds per litre; that’s around 2 dollars – translating to Kshs. 170. That’s quite expensive. Especially considering that this is an oil-producing country.
We head to Yei, a town on the western side of the country, bordering Congo. It is 100 miles from Juba. The road is pathetic. Tarmac ends where Juba starts. It’s a treacherous five-hour journey to my destination. The country is blessed – green and fertile lands, water streams and rivers are everywhere. They are yet to exploit this resource. I guess everything grows here. I cannot fail to notice these huge palm trees. They must be centuries old. I ask whether the fruits are edible, the driver says yes, but people claim that they were good food for elephants in that area. Then he tells me that all those elephants migrated to the Congo during the war with the North. How sad. I ask whether all the natives have come back to rebuild the place after the war with the North. Some of them are yet to come back. I don’t want to venture into that topic – reminds me of that book I read while I was a small boy and cried because the main character had to leave his home to look for better opportunities far away: ‘Wake up and Open Your Eyes’ is the book.
At last we arrive at Yei. A typical village set-up. No city luxuries like flushing toilets or showers. But it’s quite a beautiful place. They tell me that the only month which does not rain is July. I quite agree with them. The place is green. And the mango trees? They are so huge. I have not seen such huge trees in my country Kenya. When were they planted? I didn’t ask, but I guess they are almost one hundred years old. The big difference I find here is that the town has a generator which supplies power to the various customers/institutions. It is quite reliable, and is switched off at midnight until seven o’clock in the morning. I didn’t get time to enquire whether a foreigner could possibly own a plot of land here, even if not for anything else just to grow okra or the teak for timber.
Then there is the ‘bomb shelter’ in the compound am staying in. A well-constructed underground cave where people would rush in when the alarm was raised that the bomber was approaching. Now they are not used after the end of the war with the north. I hear that animals (goats, chicken) would be the first to rush into the shelter when the alarm was sounded. See, the north was fighting the south those years, a war which lasted for closely over thirty years. These people have suffered for real. And when I ask about what school children would do during those raids/attacks, am told that each parent was tasked with digging a bomb shelter big enough to accommodate his/her children in the particular school. A section would be set aside in each school for this purpose. Tough living.
And so after a peaceful and busy one week in this beautiful country site, it’s time to depart to Juba, and then catch the plane to Nairobi.
It’s a cool Saturday morning. The journey ahead is not for the faint-hearted. At Lanya, we decide to take something. This guy orders a funny-looking meal. I ask him what exactly he has ordered. Dried-Meat-in-Soup. To me it looks more like some frogs floating in the soup. I can’t stand this. I take bread and greens. At least that is palatable. Am duly informed that the road is particularly unfriendly today. Some vehicles and trucks have been stuck in some parts of the road. If you do not have a 4WD, chances are that you might spend some nights on the road, stuck and hungry.
At some point, we come across an overturned truck belonging to the breweries. It was full of crates of beer. Obviously now it is empty. The locals have helped themselves with this free commodity. And they thank the rain for this blessing of free liquor. I notice three small boys each carrying at least three empty beer bottles from the overturned truck. They will probably sell them to get some pounds to buy sweets, or sandals, or maybe buy some sugar for their families.
Three military vehicles are going towards Yei town. They are mounted with machine guns. I wonder – aloud, whether there might be war somewhere. Am assured by some locals I am travelling with that they are just scaring people with these patrols. They jokingly say that when the rebels were fighting, they kept safe inside their barracks. Now when the rebels have gone, they come out to scare people.
The food I ate at Lanya has missed the digestion sequence. I now have heart burn. Blame it on the bumpy road. Three hours into the journey and am longing for the tarmac in Juba. I now miss the comfort of my not-so-new Toyota in Nirobi. After a gruesome four hours on that bumpy road, Juba beckons. But alas, some part of the road is tarmacked while the other is dusty. Am now choking in the dust. I long for a cold shower and some cold drinking water. And yes, am hungry. But above all I need a cup of hot black tea. Whether my wishes will be fulfilled, only time will tell. And when we at last enter the Central Business District of Juba, I thank God, and breathe a sigh of relief.
Ladies and gentlemen, even if not for anything, be grateful that there is Thika Road in Kenya.