Hiccups resolved, our wonky-eyed, tender hearted, curmudgeony security officer waves us to the road leading west. Always west. Jostled human cargo, I wave back from in between coolers of Ugandan sausages, test prep books, and never-to-be-used camping equipment. But we’re in Africa. T-I-A, that’s what DiCaprio said. Best have a tent on you.
Tally-ho onwards to Yambio!
Thump, thump, clunk. Flat tire number one. Goofy, grandfatherly Abbas hops out of the car with the amiable-just-getting-to-know-you-enthusiasm of starting a new job, laughs his little chuckle, and changes the tire with minimal grunting.
FernGully. Luscious, overflowing life spills onto the dusty-easily-turned-into-mud-road. Palm trees, banana trees, and papaya trees. Blooming sunflowers. Bursts of shocking reds, pinks, and purples with calming whites negotiating between the loudly chattering flowers.
Flat tire number two. We pullover, and a smilingly-grumbling Abbas patches it up for now. No one but us here to help.
We drown in effervescent sunshine even as grey-purple rain clouds loom overhead, following us, on their way to Yambio, too.
Abbas gestures towards the few bizarrely shaped mountains we pass. The Zande, spread between the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, defeated a neighboring tribe there in a ferocious battle long ago, but not too long ago. Histories are living things.
Mundri. Flat tire number three. My observer colleague beelines for the beer after a communicative grunt, and a wilting Abbas chats with the tire-repair guys. I hang around the sitt as-shai failing to make friends, anticipating my Equatorian, not Ethiopian, jabana.
Night’s blanket settles thickly around us. Generators roar. No power here. Watch your step.
Ugandan gangaro (red kidney beans) and rice. Roasted goat meat. Warm Coke and beer. Abbas is unexpectedly reunited with the Ugandan lady who worked for his family in Juba. Oooooooooo-O. She left their house one day without a word.
Made-in-India glucose biscuits sold by Ethiopians. Juice boxes sold by Somalis. Bananas and honey from the women settled on the side of the road. Snacks for the rest of the journey.
Little boys chase the car, angrily demanding “one pound, one pound.” Others put on a show and dance a jig.
Yambio, finally. We round a field of baby pineapples still lost in the vastness of the plant’s leaves. The state flag, embellished with a pineapple in this lauded fruit’s honor, proudly waves in the wind.
Pool halls, pubs, restaurants, and trash cans with public service messages. For SDG200, Yambio’s Tourist Hotel can bake you a birthday cake – vanilla cake with vanilla frosting.
Everything here seems more permanent. There’s potential. The security of a sedentary existence. Tukuls are made of stacked, interlocked bricks, not cool mud molded, dried and smoothed together. Many plots have erected at least one cement structure detailed with white molding and a tin roof for cover.
Our house is a palace formerly occupied by UN peacekeepers. Our landlady decked in gold. Veranda, TV, DVD player, a water tank for running water, refrigerator, tiled floors, and a generator. Sounds of chattering families, crowing chickens, and giggling children filter in and out all day.
Still no power in the state capital. All of the state capitals in northern Sudan have city power.
Darfuri women sell onions, tomatoes, limes, lemons, potatoes, papayas, mangos, bananas, while men in jalabiyas manage the mosque and their Radio Shack kiosks.
A Chinese Mary Kay recruits young Equatorians to be salesmen for their herbal medications. Enough sales, and they’ll send the lucky salesman somewhere abroad.
Word of a recent LRA attack circulates on the rumor mill, words enough to send people fleeing.
Hipster sighting. Skinny jeans, plaid shirt, and rectangular glasses.
An all girls soccer match happens once a week. The audience is slimmer than the throngs who come to the soccer field morning and afternoon to watch the men’s team play and practice. Little girls and their dolls watch the action instead.
Cool climate, arable land, and a salient message. Missionaries liked it here a hundred years ago; still do today. The Zande pride themselves on being the most literate tribe in South Sudan. Irked at their limited representation in Juba, rumblings and murmurings of another independence will continue through the birth pangs of the independent Republic of South Sudan.
There’s a bustling energy here. A sense of moving forward and getting things done step by step.
Six years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and a promise to make unity attractive, Khartoum’s still too stubborn to look past the tip of its own nose to be interested in developing the economic potential of southern Sudan. Six years after the promise of an independent country, the southern political elite almost have unmatched power in their clutches. Autonomous instead of semi-autonomous. Powerful instead of powersharing.
On 9 January 2011, the decision to move from southern Sudan to South Sudan will be made. A decision to write its own history, a decision to shoulder all responsibility for its future.