Life in South Sudan

A blog about working and living in South Sudan.

Month: May, 2012

Let’s get married!

A couple of weeks ago I met an American aid worker at a pub. After talking a while I told him that it has been a dream of mine to live and work in the US, but that it’s so hard to get a work permit. He pointed out that it’s probably as hard for him to get a permit to work in Europe. Can you guess my response to that?

“We should get married! That would solve that problem!”

I said it as a joke of course. But the joke is on me. I didn’t realize it until later, but I just did what the South Sudanese man had done to me – I proposed a very businesslike marriage to a stranger.

Maybe this means I’m already changing and adapting to the culture here. Or maybe our cultures aren’t so far apart after all…


Driving to work

New habits

I have developed some new habits due to the conditions here  and I am surprised how fast they have become part of my daily routine.

There is no hot water so I shower every day in cold water. Most days are really hot so the cold water is just nice.

I rarely eat with fork and knife anymore. At work we normally eat South Sudanese food which consists of sauces, beans, meat or vegetables that you eat with bread.

There is no city power in Juba. I think there is supposed to be but no one seem to have it. Everyone has generators and to save fuel there are few places where you have electricity all day. Therefore I need to think about when and how I can charge my phone and other batteries. It took a while to get used to it, but now I plan my activities that need electricity after the electricity hours without even thinking about it.

You can only pay with cash here. It still feels a bit strange not to use a card to buy things. I haven’t looked at my account since I came but I am not using a lot of money either.

There are more and more mosquitoes at night and getting malaria is a big risk. So my new Juba perfume is the Swedish mosquito repellent “Mygga”. I use it every time I go out at night.

You cannot drink water from the tap and you shouldn’t even brush your teeth in it. Forgot it in the beginning, but now I keep a water bottle in the bathroom.

There are so many things that makes life much more complicated here. Like not being able to just go out and have a walk. Strangely enough I have even gotten used to that. It was when a new friend, who has been here for several months, started talking about how nice it would be to just go out and lay on the grass in a park that I realized that it isn’t possible here. I haven’t been here for so long and maybe I will find these limitations more and more difficult by time, or maybe even more normal. Either way, it is now part of my daily life in Juba.

At the office

My new office looks a lot different than my old one, but there are many similarities. People are as nice as back home. Lunch time is a bit later than in Oslo, but they have the same culture of gathering people to go for lunch together. We get coffee, except for today when they didn’t have charcoal to boil the water. Also, statistics is always statistics. The working method differs but the theory is the same.

I’m currently working on consumer price index, which is used to measure inflation. In Norway data is collected electronically. In South Sudan we go to the market with a questionnaire and ask the sellers for prices. Some goods like fruit and grain are bought and weighted to get an exact price per kilo. Going to the market was a lot of fun. Especially for me who likes to hunt for low prices and normally register prices in my head when I’m in a store. In general, statistics is a lot more fun here than in Norway because you get so close to the actual source of information. Hopefully I will get to experience field work and see how they interview households.


Juba today


I had trouble falling asleep last Monday and was still awake at two in the morning when I heard something that sounded like gun shots. First I did what you really shouldn’t do in a situation like that – I tried to convince myself that I was being ridiculous. It must have been something else that I had heard. Then I heard another four or five shots, and they were definitely gun shots.

I don’t think the shootings were very close, but close enough for me to get scared. I tried to listen for screams, running or any other sound that could indicate that this was a serious situation. But there was only silence. Even though everything seemed to be “fine” I still couldn’t go back to sleep. I realized that I didn’t have a personal escape plan. I know what I should do if we have to evacuate, but I have still not figured out what to do in a situation like this. I didn’t even know where I had put my passport.

I never knew who fired the gun and why. The people I asked didn’t seem surprised. They said that they hadn’t heard it for a while now but it might have been the police. There are also civilians who carry guns, and shootings sometimes occur when these people are drunk.

So Juba isn’t all fun. There is a reason why most foreigners working here have a midnight curfew and you shouldn’t walk around after dark.

Culture crash kissing

When you say good bye to an expat you also kiss on both cheeks, like Spanish people do. But in a multi culture setting there is still a lot of room left for confusion.

I got a ride home with two guys the other night. Before jumping out of the car I leaned over to say good bye. It went well with the first person but not with the second. He went right when I went left, so we culture crashed and ended up kissing on the mouth. Twice! I started laughing and said: “Wow! That was a good kiss! Thank you!” and then I ran for the door. I was still laughing when I got inside. Mostly at my very Swedish approach, trying to rescue the situation by being polite and thanking him.

Every day a new adventure

Here is a short summary of this week:

  • Got a marriage proposal. Or it was more like a business proposal. Not very romantic.
  • Got a motor stop due to the current shortage of fuel and got a glimpse of the black market for fuel.
  • Met expats again at Salsa Night and learned how to greet them the second time you meet them. The first time you shake hands. The second time you apparently do it the Spanish way, two kisses on the cheeks. Or maybe that was because of Salsa Night? I am still a bit confused about the expat culture. Lets see what happens the third time I meet them.
  • Went to a fundraising for a new research institute and listened to a very interesting discussion about women’s rights.
  • Managed to scare a colleague’s child just by being white.

Every day here is a new experience and from every new experience I learn a lot. I haven’t been exercising my brain this much since I studied in Valencia. I guess that when you live in another country learning takes place in so many different ways. I am learning about statistics at work and trying to understand the cultures, while speaking and learning foreign languages. I am enjoying every second of it!

Culture shock

Saturday night I found myself at a bar full of expatriates. I had gone there with two girls I had known for only a couple of hours. After being at the bar for half an hour I felt like I had come in contact with more people than I had done after half a year in Oslo. People were open and social and they all welcomed me like I was part of their group and one of them, even though we didn’t know each other and even though we were from different countries from all over the world.

It is hard for me to explain why there was a sudden crash that made me run to the toilet to sit down alone and think for a while. Maybe it was the fact that this was a culture that I, without any effort, immediately became part of but didn’t understand because I had never met it before. Or maybe it was the big contrast from the rest of Juba and the expectations I had of being locked up in a compound not daring to go outside. This bar could just as well have been in any city in the world. At the same time there was the African music and African dance moves that I associated with my experience in Addis. This bar played the same music and people danced the same but it was a different setting and different people.

Nothing made sense but everything felt right.

So my first culture shock wasn’t with the African culture but the expat subculture in Juba. A part from a small mental melt down I had a really good time and guess that after a while I will find my place also among the expats.

Climbing the Jebel

In Juba there is a small mountain called Jebel Kujur. I spent Saturday morning climbing the Jebel with some colleagues. It has been a busy weekend and I have a lot of things in my mind that I will write about. But for now I just wanted to show some pictures.