A DAY IN RUMBEK, SOUTHERN SUDAN


people in a cattle camp outside of Rumbek (Rum...

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Going through my notes I stumbled on my diary written when I worked in Rumbek, Southern Sudan.

 Except from 3 September 2008

 It is 9am, I am on my way to a meeting for all private company investing in Rumbek, Southern Sudan, organized by Rumbek’s officials about the new garbage dump site and the rules to use it.

The meeting is in front of City Hall, next to Freedom Square.

City Hall is an L shape long narrow cottage like building painted bright yellow with a deep blue corrugated roof.
On the porch, seated idle men dressed in djellaba (long Arab garment) sip a strong and sweet tea from small glasses.
Others, standing up at the edge of the porch, blow their noses, heavy mucus which they accurately throw at a distance by pinching their nostrils.

On the dusty ground in front of City Hall, three rows each of ten white plastic seats are under a large shade tree.
Two tall men are placing three large cushioned chairs and a desk to face the row of seats.

Mr. Ambrose, the director of Rumbek County, sit in one of them and the rest of us are slowly filling the plastic seats. We are about twenty in attendance.

Mr. Ambrose, while we are sitting, talks on his mobile making sure that all of us can hear;
– “Oh so you are having an interview with the BBC, carry on”.  By the way, I never heard his phone ring.
 He looks at us and is quick to mention that he has just returned from an official visit in South Africa.

A slender woman, covered with a bright red cloth from head to toe, like an Arab woman, serves us bottles of water and sodas. She has three parallels tribal scars on each temples and one on the forehead.

The Mayor has not arrived but Mr. Ambrose calls the meeting to order and for some reasons starts about the collection of river sand and stones which we use for constructions.
He informs us of the new procedure to follow and shows the proper receipts which we must receive after payments of the goods.  The UN and the NGO are exempt of payment since they are providing services for the region.
Furthermore, he says that “too many kawaja are getting around the procedure as they know how to make money.”
I raise my index finger then ask for the meaning of “kawaja”
– “A kawaja is a white man like you”
He laughs, everyone laugh including me.  All for different reasons, I am black, maybe a different shade, but in many African languages the word for foreigner translates to “white”.

I have another question;
– “Are you going to give more security at the river?  It is far and dangerous.  Locals always threaten and attack our drivers with pangas.”

Before he could answer the Mayor arrives.  A tall dark heavy-set man with eight fine horizontal tribal scars on his forehead and four bottom teeth removed in accordance with the Dinka culture.
His eyes shaded by dark sun glasses. He looks like a dictator from yesteryear.

Before even taking a seat, to assert his authority, he cuts Mr. Ambrose in mid-sentence . Then, explains that he uses a motorcycle but his driver came late.

He does have a driver for his motorcycle; I can see the driver leaning on it now.

Suddenly, again, he excuses himself to have a meeting with two gentlemen waiting inside their four-wheel drive parked meters from the meeting ground.

Mr. Ambrose takes the floor and now tackles the issue of the new city dump.

Our monthly fee is US $300. It is cheap, our business is a large hotel and does produce lots of refuses.  The smaller enterprise will pay US $100.

Then in my head, I think!  Hold on! Actually, it is a rip off.  In Nairobi a private house pays around US $3 per month and you get  garbage bags!  In Rumbek, a small enterprise has to pay US $3 per day and transport their garbage to the dump site.

 Worst, sitting next to me, a representative of another company tells me that private companies built and donated the new Dump Site.

Donated by one of us!

 Patrick-Bernard

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