Monday, November 28, 2011

Land of the Giants

Juba, South Sudan.

The people here are TALL. Wow. Many of the South Sudanese are from the Dinka tribe, which is famous for the height of their people. It’s not uncommon to see people 6’5 and above on the streets. And that includes the women! There is a shoe market near where I walk most days, and the size of some of the shoes!

Generally they are also thin, with long, long arms and legs and necks. South Sudanese are, generally speaking, very black. As in black, not dark brown.

I wish I had some pictures to show you, but I really can’t take pictures of people on the street.

My daughter went to an official event recently and had her picture taken with a couple of dignitaries. She is a normal sized Canadian woman and looks like a little child standing with them.

It is the dry season now, and dry is the operative word. As there are so many unpaved roads the dust is incredible. It’s a reddish dust. I have developed a very bad cough which I suspect is because of the dust and the smog. As in any third world city, the environmental standards are not, shall we say, quite what I am used to. It is also the custom to burn off the fields in the dry season and ash is falling from the sky. \

Saturday I went to the town of Nimulai on the Ugandan border with a group of my daughter’s friends. The intent of the trip was to visit the National Park. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife, but the trip was very interesting and we had a great hike to see the cataracts on the Nile. At one point we were very high up looking down over the plains and the Nile meandering into the distance.

En route to the cataracts we passed a UN police vehicle driven by an RCMP officer on temporary duty with the UN. They invited us to the UN compound for a cold drink before heading back, and I took the opportunity to pounce on him for information about his job here.
Fodder, I hope, for a story soon.

The road to Nimulai is being paved and parts of it were in very good condition. Parts, shall we say, were not. And the dust was incredible. At times we couldn’t see the car in front of us. Not a safe road either, as overloaded buses to and from Uganda kept passing us , on the left, when visibility was about 10 feet.

We passed some de-mining camps and work areas. A reminder of what this country is coming out of.

The International community here is very vibrant and friendly and the social life is great. My daughter had a dinner party on Friday evening. Sunday we had TWO social engagements. A lunch party to meet the new Dutch Ambassador, and then a BBQ dinner. Interestingly, the International community also consists of Africans from other African countries. The BBQ was at the home of a Kenyan woman who runs a car rental agency (car rental in some cases includes drivers) and her Canadian partner. A fun day.

To complicate things: imagine trying to find a house you have not been to before in a city with no street name signs our house numbers. Can be tricky.

There are no districts in Juba. Meaning no suburb for the nice houses and shantytowns on the outskirts. Everything is jumbled in together. It did seem odd to be at the lunch party in a lovely cool house full of Dutch furniture and art, drinking nice wine and eating excellent food and talking about Holland and International politics and then step out the gate into a street that is a dusty track filled with garbage where the neighbours live in mud or thatch shacks and little children run through the streets with feral dogs and goats.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kayaking the White Nile and Falling Mangos

Saturday, I had the extraordinary opportunity to kayak down the White Nile. A friend of my daughter brought an inflatable kayak to South Sudan. My daughter drove us into the countryside, to a nice quiet spot at the banks of the While Nile and we loaded up and took off. The current is very strong and it was work to get across the river to a quiet channel, from then on I lay back and let my guide and the current do the rest. It is not as lush and tropical here as I might have expected, largely because it’s the dry season. But the mango trees are large and green and papyrus grows along the banks.

Children were getting water and people crossing in boats carved out of tree trunks, either poling across or using shovels as paddles. We saw plenty of birds – no crocodiles though.
When we approached town (and the only bridge for the next 1200 KMs) we stopped at a restaurant for a beer. Then on for another while to where my daughter waited for us quite near to her house.

A really lovely outing.

I took this picture of a ladder at a construction site. I wonder what the WCB would have to say about that.

I’m writing this at a compound on the banks of the Nile on Sunday, just relaxing and having a drink and reading (Pirate King by Laurie R. King, if you’re interested). The mango trees are ripe and children are collecting the fruit. A sudden wind just came up and the mangos are dropping to the ground, and the umbrella tops, and the roof of the bar hut like explosives. At first we thought the children were running in fear, but nope they’re busy collecting the fruit. The cooks came hurrying out of the kitchen as well, armed with buckets.

I think Mango salsa is on the menu for tonight.

Incidentally the compound I’m reading in right now is where George Clooney stays when he’s here on humanitarian aid missions. No George sighting as of yet; I’ll keep my eyes open.

I checked with my housesitter yesterday. She tells me it’s turned quite cold in Ontario. Nice to be basking in the heat here in South Sudan on the banks of the While Nile.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Out for a Walk

I’ve ventured out on the city streets for a walk. This doesn’t sound like anything terribly exciting, but it’s rather daunting. First, there are no street signs. If I get lost, I might well never get back. Fortunately downtown Juba is a grid pattern. So if I walk as long as I want, turn left, go one block, turn left, I will get back to Caroline’s street which is conveniently at the bottom of the grid.

I don’t have many pictures to show you, although I’ll try to get some. The big issue about taking pictures is the security forces. DO NOT, I have been told, take your camera out if any police or soldiers are around. You cannot take pictures of infrastructure or strategic places and they will decide what counts as strategic. Definitely do not take pictures of cattle pens! I won’t take my camera with me when I’m walking alone. If I get into trouble, I want someone to be with me.

When I go for a walk, I quite likely do not see a single other white person. Yet no one bothers me: no one stares at me, little kids do not ask for money (although they might well say Hello), street vendors don’t even beg me to sample their wares. Everyone just goes about their business regardless of this rather clueless blond woman in their midst.
The streets are absolutely packed. There are a few dirt patches that might count as a sidewalk but in most cases you walk in the road, trying very hard to stick to the side without stepping into the open ditch. Trucks, 4*4s , cars, scooters they call boda bodas, motorbikes. No street signs, no traffic lights, just a mad scramble as everyone hits the intersection (including the aforementioned white pedestrian) at the same time. The odd goat, chicken or dog as well.

There are tons of NGO and foreign government aid organizations here. Plenty of
mud-spattered white 4*4s on the street with UN stamped on the side. Many aid-organization trucks have signs in the window with a machine gun and a red line through it. No arms. I’ll try to get a picture. My daughter’s primary focus is health – a major challenge in a county with no hospitals. Her colleague works in food security, which I find really interesting.
Went to the market with Caroline after work. It’s just a short walk from her house. As you might expect, the market is mostly women with goods (mainly fruit and vegetables) laid out on a blanket in front of them. We bought tomatoes, avocados, cucumber, tiny bananas, and a papaya.

I don’t think there is anything better in this world than a big African avocado, unless it’s a personally picked cherry tomato. The Mexican avocados you get in Canada? Don’t even begin to compare.

I am told that almost all of the food for sale is trucked in from Kenya or Uganda. After twenty years of war, the infrastructure of South Sudan is just about non-existent and there is nothing in the way of commercial agriculture.

A county with a lot of challenges., But from what little bit I’ve seen, they have the people to match.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not just Another Day in South Sudan.

It was my birthday!

I am writing this in the restaurant next to my daughter’s house so I can use the Internet. For the astronomical price of 100 S. pounds (about $33) I get 12 hours of time. The Internet isn’t working in my daughter’s house and even she has to come here if she needs to check her mail when not in the office.

Or when the power in the office is off and she has to work in the restaurant. Electricity in Juba goes out regularly for several hours. They have generators, but the office generator ran out of gas yesterday. Problems problems.

It’s nice, though, sitting here in the bar. The staff are so friendly. Everyone seems to like my daughter and was quite excited to hear that I am her mother. They said they didn’t believe it, but I’m sure they were being nice. There’s a difference also, I guess, between me and a woman of my age who has worked in the fields in the hot sun every day and lived in a mud hut and had 12 children.

The street pictures were taken as I stood at the gate to my daughter’s house. Not exactly the leafy suburb of colonial dreams.

We went to Da Vinci’s, a restaurant on the Nile, last night for my birthday with some of Caroline’s friends. As we arrived the wind came up – what they call a black storm. And what a wind. We dodged mangos falling from trees on the run from the car. The wind blew and waiters were running after napkins and bringing in cushions. Caroline had planned on us having a table on a raft on the river. That plan was quickly shelved but we had a lovely table inside – inside meaning a thatch roof overhead, there are no walls. We’d sat down, taken a few pictures, when the wind and the rain were over. Five minutes later – calm and peaceful. I had grilled Nile perch and it was very good. Two small desserts were presented to the table with a candle in each and Happy Birthday Vicki written in something pink on the plate. I blew out the candles, and up they popped again. Trick candles.

The Nile is very brown and muddy here and very fast moving. On Sunday I’m going – Kayaking! On the Nile! That will be an experience.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Here I am in South Sudan

Juba, South Sudan. The World’s Newest County.

I am now in Juba, capital of the brand new county of South Sudan. I have been to Africa many times before, but even for me Juba is a real eye opener.

This is not the Africa of luxury game resorts, sundowners around the pool, leafy suburbs. This Africa is harsh, friendly, raw and new. South Sudan got its independence in July from Sudan after a long and brutal civil war. The county is essentially starting from scratch and there are a lot of people here determined to see it succeed.

Juba, the capital, has pretty much nothing in the way of buildings higher than two stories, or buildings at all, come to think of it. Lots of tin or mud shacks. There are no Western amenities here. I haven’t seen a McDonalds or a Quality Inn. In fact, come to think of it, I haven’t seen a single recognizable Western brand at all. The roads in the center of the city are paved, but a chaos of scooters, cars, trucks, 4 wheel drive, bicycles, pedestrians, goats and chickens and the odd big-horned cow. Bad enough, but my daughter drives a right-hand drive car – on right hand drive roads! (Neighbouring Kenya is left-hand drive, but South Sudan is right).

I was exceptionally lucky to be allowed to accompany my daughter out in the field. We left Sunday afternoon in a convoy of two 4*4s to the town of Yei. (Pronounced YEAH) where we were to meet community health workers. Malaria is the number one killer of children under 5 and my daughter was taken to see promising initiative of local villagers who are trained to recognize and treat malaria. They are hoping to expand the initiative to include other diseases.

Go a few kilometers from Juba city centre and the pavement ends. Think you’ve driven on unpaved roads? Think again. On Sunday we drove the approx.. 160 KM (about 100 miles) from Juba to Yei. It took 4.5 hours. And was I tried – it’s tough just holding on! I announced that I’d like to stop at the next Tim Hortons. Ha Ha. There ain’t nothing in the way of facilities – not even a bathroom never mind a coffee shop. Nevertheless in Yei we went to dinner at an acceptable restaurant and the guest house we stayed at was clean and comfortable although basic.

It is surprisingly dry here in Juba, but at Yei it is much greener and lusher.
Monday we left the main road at Yei to head into the bush. Good thing we were in 4*4s. Nothing else would have made it. At times the water was up to the top of the vehicle’s tires. The reason they have to travel in convoy – so one truck can pull another out if necessary.

I greatly enjoyed the visit to the village (a collection of mud and straw huts in the midst of a very prosperous looking corn field) to meet the village health worker. We then went to the medical clinic. Basic is the word, but it was very busy with women and their babies. They are trying hard to deliver antenatal care and assisted childbirth as well as basic health care for children. Not easy in the bush. A baby goat wandered in to check us out.
Then it was the loooong drive back to Juba – more bumping and holding on. We went to a small farewell dinner for a colleague of my daughter.

Today is my birthday! We’re going to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Nile. I’m quite excited; I haven’t seen the Nile yet.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Finding Time to Write

Today, I'm very pleased to have my good friend (and wonderful crime writer) Rick Blechta guest at One Woman Crime Wave. Please welcome Rick

Writing is obviously something that’s very difficult to do to a schedule. When the muse speaks, you’d better be listening and have your pen (virtual or not) in your hand. Trouble is most of us have day jobs, have other important things to do with our lives, and our writing time comes very dearly bought. So when you do have time to sit down and exercise that writing muscle in your head, you want to make the most of that time. Here are a few hard-earned tips to help.

1. Tell people that when the door to your “writing room” is shut, you do not want to be disturbed – unless the world is coming to an end or the Publisher’s Clearing House people are at your door with that million dollar cheque. It’s easy for others to think, Oh, he’s just writing. I only need to disturb him for a moment to ask what he wants for dinner. Even a small interruption can completely destroy a writer’s train of thought. If those around you don’t get the message easily, put a sign on your door saying, “Do NOT disturb!!! I will be done working at [insert time here] and will speak to you then”. Ever wonder why so many successful writers have little shacks at the bottom of their gardens or cabins in the woods where they disappear to? Keep writing.

2. Don’t answer the phone. Same reason as #1. If it’s important, they’ll either leave a message or call back. Keep writing.

3. Whatever you do, don’t check your email, don’t even have your browser turned on. If you’re like me, you don’t have several computers, but I do know writers who have bought a cheap second one that they use for writing. It’s not connected to the Internet and it’s strictly used for writing. It is tempting when writing to check a quick fact by browsing the Internet for the info. Unless you’re made of really strong stuff, I guarantee you won’t look up just your quick fact, you’ll check a sports score or glance at your Facebook page to see if someone has poked you (what is poking anyway?). Let’s face it, you can always look things up later, be it how to spell a word or the reasons why World War One took so long to end. You’re writing, right? Research can be done anytime. Keep writing.

4. Don’t go back to fix what you’ve just written. You may know that last sentence was a complete dog, but it’s the information you want to get down, the flow you want to develop and maintain. When you’re on a roll, just keep going. I try to not even correct mistyped words or add missing punctuation. If you noticed it now, you’ll notice it later, and it can be fixed then. Keep writing.

5. Write to the bitter end. You probably know from the start of your session, how much time you have to work. Even if you reach the end of a chapter close to the end of your session, keep writing until you’ve reached your time limit. Quite often it will help your next day’s work because it will be clearer where you wanted to go next. In short, writing requires discipline. There are a lot of unsuccessful writers out there who never grasped that point. They might even be very talented, but you know what they say about talent. It’s easy to just waste valuable time, make up excuses to yourself,let other people get in your way, but the writers who complete novels are the ones who sit down and do it.

Rick Blechta is the author of seven crime novels, the most recent of which is Orchestrated Murder, part of Orca Book Publishers Rapid Reads line. This novella is aimed at those with poor reading skills, but it’s also a compelling quick read for anyone. Next fall, Dundurn Press will be publishing The Fallen One, a full-length novel about an opera singer who just might be seeing dead people. His novel, Cemetery of the Nameless, was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Best Novel award in 2005.For more information, visit his website:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Now On Kindle: Among the Departed

At long last Among the Departed is available for your Kindle. At only $6.99 What a bargin. I actually stumbled across it when searching for something else. My name is spelled wrong - sigh - so it doesn't link up with the other versions of ATD. Anyway, click here.

And remember - it has been out for some time for Nook and Sony.