Life in South Sudan

A blog about working and living in South Sudan.

Category: Culture

Party Saturday – bring your gun!

A colleague and I discussed guns the other day and I asked him how common it is that people in South Sudan have guns. He told me it’s very common and that you need it for protection.

“But it’s illegal. Before it was legal and you could buy a gun for a cow or two in the market. We used them when we went dancing.”

I had to interrupt him right there. “You used them when you went dancing?!” He laughed at the surprised look on my face and explained that when he was a child people wore guns over their shoulders when they went dancing. I asked if it was to attract women. “Yes, a gun shows you are rich,” and he added, “But it wasn’t automatic. Another type of gun.”

The thought of this happening in Sweden or Norway is of course absurd. People would be terrified if you showed up at a party with your gun, automatic or not. It would definitely not appeal to the ladies. Most probably it would scare people away. But I have to admit that if you have to use guns, this must be the absolute best way to do it. No killing, no threatening, just dancing.

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How to save a relationship when the honeymoon period is over

When I met Juba it was love at first sight. When I took my first steps on the dusty red dirt roads in this chaotic and exotic capital I immediately got swept off my feet. However different from my previous life it felt like coming home. Our first four months together were intense, like any other love story. New thrilling experiences, new friendships and the red and orange sunrises made my heart jump of joy. I was high on life. That was the honeymoon period on the cultural adaption curve, the first few months when you’re in a new country, when everything is new and exciting.

Sadly enough I’ve realized that the honeymoon period is over and I now see the downside of this country and this kind of life. Good friends have left and moved on to new adventures. South Sudan is running out of money. Colleagues are not getting paid. People are starving. Children are dying. Friends and colleagues keep getting malaria. Homes are getting ruined by heavy rain.

Last week I was sliding down the curve towards a culture shock. I had no idea how to prevent it from happen. For days I thought about things to do to cheer me up and push me up along the curve towards adjustment and adaption. I met with friends. I had some wine. I played the guitar and sang about my favorite things. Nothing helped. The weekend came and I finally found a solution.

On Saturday I went with some colleagues to Gondokoro, an island in the Nile. To get there we took a leaking local boat together with women, children and a motorbike. We walked through corn fields till we got to my colleague’s family’s village. They brought some chairs for us and we sat in the shades for a while and watched children play. A motorboat took us to the other part of the island and on the way we saw a crocodile. It felt like being on vacation on the countryside. We took motorbikes back to the leaking boat and when we were driving fast on the bumpy path under the mango trees I started feeling happy again.

On Sunday I climbed the Jebel for the second time. It was greener this time, with two meter high grass and it was hard to find the path. Snakes love it there, but Juba treated me well and kept them out of my way this time.

This weekend’s adventures gave me all the energy I needed to feel positive again. I guess that it’s like with any relationship, sometimes you just need to spice it up a bit and bring some excitement to it so you remember why you first fell in love. I will try to keep this in mind and I believe that Juba and I will make it together the remaining eight months of my stay.

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…

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.

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.