A (Sun)day in the Life of a Humanitarian Aid Worker in Juba

Working in a coordination office for a humanitarian organisation, rather than in a field site, has its drawbacks. Away from the action, it can be difficult to understand the needs of the field sites, to feel connected to the actual work being done by the organisation. This is true of coordination offices in Europe and North America, where most international NGOs have their head offices, and of in-country coordination offices. The latter can be found in cities like Goma, Juba, Bangui, Kabul, Port-au-Prince, and others, where the streets are rivers flowing white with the Toyota LandCruisers and Nissan Patrols of dozens, if not hundreds, of NGOs and UN agencies. Noise, traffic, high cost of living, and pollution are among some of the negative things encountered in many of these cities.

At the same time, the cities that host humanitarian coordination offices also tend to have restaurants that serve pizza, burgers, steak, and other tasty but not-at-all local cuisine. A BLT by the pool? An espresso on the veranda? A dinner by candlelight on the banks of the Nile? A cold Leffe on the shore of Lake Kivu? All these and more can be yours, if you’re a humanitarian aid worker “stuck” in a coordination office. While I personally would much prefer to spend most of my time in the field, it’s not exactly easy to complain about working in a coordination office when the living conditions are so cushy.

So, let’s have a look at a (Sun)day in the life of a humanitarian aid worker (me!) in Juba, South Sudan, a city teeming with expat aid workers:

0641: Wake up on the sofa of a friend, after a big party at one organisation’s residence.

0652: Get up from the sofa, groggy and mosquito-bitten all over, clothes reeking of other people’s cigarette smoke from the party.

0705: In the car and out the compound gates with two other friends.

0715: Arrive at an agency’s guesthouse to pick up two more people. Notice one of the car’s tires is low on air.

0740: Leave the guesthouse with everyone on board, and one nearly flat tire.

0749: Arrive at my house to change into shorts and pick up my dSLR.

0802: Leave my house, still searching for a place to put air in the tire.

0814: Pull over at a gas station. No air for the tire. Pull back onto the dirt road.

0818: Successfully re-inflate the tire and continue on our way, five people crammed into a tiny little two door car.

0840: Arrive at Jebel Lodge to meet our friend, but can’t find her anywhere.

0842: Head toward another agency’s residence nearby to find her. Can’t find the way in, drive back and forth for 5 minutes to the amusement of the children living nearby.

0855: Find the house where our friend reportedly lives, knock on the door. Girl with same name but different face answers the door, says the girl we’re looking for is in House 16.

0857: Drive away in search of House 16. Locate House 16, drive up the sidewalk toward the front door.

0900: Knock on the door, hear the grunt of a hibernating bear. Fear for lives, return to car, reverse car down the sidewalk back to the road.

0904: Head back to Jebel Lodge to park the car, having given up on finding our friend.

0925: Begin the walk up Jebel Kujur, the mountain rising out of the plains to the west of Juba.

Jebel Kujur, Central Equatoria State, South Sudan
Jebel Kujur, Central Equatoria State, South Sudan
Posers on the mountain

1022: Reach the top of the mountain. Take three photos, one of which is half-decent:

Resting atop Jebel Kujur, overlooking Juba

1025: Lie down to sleep. Allow others to take photos with my dSLR.

Sleeping off the hangover
Overlooking Juba, South Sudan

1047: While sleeping, camera is put back in hand. Refuse to get up to take photos. Aim randomly backward over head, push shutter button many times while eyes remain closed and face remains covered by hat to aid in sleeping. One somewhat usable shot thanks to the wide-angle lens:

Closed eyes group portrait atop Jebel Kujur

1049: Put camera on timer mode, take portrait of the whole group:

Timer group portrait atop Jebel Kujur

1050: Start the hike back down the mountain.

1112: Walk past a dozen very heavily armed special forces soldiers, accompanied by a khawaja of some assumed importance and another khawaja with a news camera, who apparently felt it a good idea to climb up a mountain at midday in 40+ heat.

SPLA soldiers walking up Jebel Kujur

1130: Arrive back at Jebel Lodge. Order a soft drink, down it quickly, then order another.

1133: Sit down under a shade umbrella by the pool. Order a BLT with fries. Drink first coffee of the day.

1153: Eat BLT sandwich, order another soft drink.

1358: Leave Jebel Lodge in the tiny little two door car, windows open to beat the heat.

1423: The inevitable finally happens, on a main street near Dr John Garang Mausoleum: the problem tire suddenly goes completely flat. There are no tools in the car to put the spare tire on.

Flat tire fun in Juba

1439: While waiting for a friend to arrive with tools to change the tire, a huge flatbed truck rolls past with a tank on board. Atop the tank sit a bunch of young SPLA soldiers, chanting and fist-pumping in the air. Random.

Young SPLA soldiers ride through Juba atop a tank on a flatbed truck

1450: Tire changed, back in the car.

1304: Arrive home, take a nap.

1738: Leave home toward a friend’s compound for volleyball.

1844: While having a quiet beer at the bar between volleyball games, discover that the morning’s hibernating bear grunt from House 16 originated from the vocal box of a large Serbian man who does not like mornings, but is very friendly in the evenings (which is when we’re accustomed to seeing him at the bar).

2040: Return home after many games of volleyball and some good conversations with friends.

2355: Set alarm for what is guaranteed to be a tough Monday in the office. Get under mosquito net. Go to sleep.

Hiking up Mount Gardner, Bowen Island

On August 4th, I hiked up Mt Gardner for the first time in my life. My sisters had both done so before, but for some reason I’d never been up to the highest point on Bowen Island! A few photos from our adventure:

Salal berries – very tasty!

Banana slug – probably not so tasty:

The view from the top:

There are two wooden platforms at the summit. I think they’re for small helicopters to land for servicing the radio tower up there. Many people have etched their names in the wood over the years, but this one stood out because we grew up with the Bensons, but they moved from Bowen to France back in 2002.

Lisa can touch the mountains on the North Shore (on the BC mainland)


Heading down a different route than the one we came up, we had to use this chain for a particularly steep section:

There are heaps and heaps of snakes on Bowen Island. As a child I was deathly afraid of them but I grew out of that a long time ago. The last stretch coming down the mountain was a gravel road, and I was far ahead of the girls when I came across this guy, so I stopped and got down on my knees to take photos. I didn’t quite get the head in focus unfortunately:

The girls arrived and it soon took off:

When we reached the bottom, our dad was waiting for us with the car to drive us back to the cabin:

All in all, a really nice few hours spent in the outdoors!

Hiking to the Waterfalls Outside Nabang/Laiza

After only a few days in the area, I had the chance to hike along the river that officially divides Yunnan Province, China and Kachin State, Burma to visit a waterfall with three friends. It was the only real trip I would make in my seven and a half weeks in the area, so I’m glad I took advantage of it.

It was a bit tough going in the midday heat right after eating a big lunch, but it was nice. We had to walk across the river several times where we couldn’t continue on the same side we were on, and as we waded across several times my bare feet nearly slipped on the rocks underwater. Luckily that didn’t happen, as I had two non-waterproof cameras, a non-waterproof GPS device, and my non-waterproof phone with me!

When we arrived at the waterfalls it was great to sit down and relax, eat a huge handful of peanuts, and take some photos of my friends playing around in the water:

The walk home was much easier as it was more downhill and the weather had cooled slightly. I like this kind of bridge – I wish we had more like this in Canada:

After returning home, it was time for supper, ping pong, a shower, and sleep.

Trekking in Shan State – Part 5 – the End

As we waited for our bus in Namhsan, the local monks did their daily tour of the town to collect donations of rice from the townspeople. First, one boy walks through the town ringing a sort of bell, to announce that the monks are coming:

Then the monks walk silently down the road and people come out to add rice to the monks’ food bowls for their daily meal.

The bus did eventually arrive, and it was certainly interesting. It was one of the typical buses in Burma, clearly built over 40 years ago and yet somehow still running. There were a few things that were askew, such as this speedometer:

This is the view from my ‘seat’ on top of a bunch of concrete-hard bags full of compacted tea leaves:

I suppose Scott enjoyed the wonderful lack of leg room even more than the rest of us:

Turning around, this is what was behind me: the entire bus was loaded nearly to the ceiling with tea and then a tarp was placed over the bags so that we could sit somewhere, as there were only two seats that could be used.

The first hour or so was terrifically uncomfortable for me, as I kept slipping off my seat of tea bags and the road was nice and bumpy so I had to keep my head down to avoid getting a concussion on the ceiling. After a while, however, I realised that I could wiggle my way a couple feet backward and I was up on the tarp. There was only maybe 2 feet of space between the tarp and ceiling, but it turned out to be quite comfortable lying there for the remaining hours of the trip.

Here’s our bus, stopped for a midday snack:

We arrived safely back in Hsipaw that evening, and slept soundly in our guesthouse before continuing on to new adventures the next day.