If there’s anything this fuel crisis in Juba has taught me, life is a bittersweet blend of meanness and kindness. At the bus stop I watched the otherwise respectable people scramble to get into the matatu(known as Mosalat). The first to enter always clung to the van before it came to a halt, shoving and pushing to get to their seats before anybody else. Then the women join into the struggle and the less inclined to struggle stepped off and watched the van fill up. Standing in my blazer in the already scorching sun of 8, I can feel particles of sweat crowding on my brow, I sometimes just drift off and wonder what is going on in everybody else’s mind. The language barrier, I being fluent in English and the others around me speaking in Arabic, forces me to listen to either the radio or my own music playlist.
A bus comes and immediately fills up, the scramble leaves out a man in crutches, he stands at the bus’ door and looks for an empty seat. The next van comes minutes after and I too am forced to join the scramble. I position myself near the van’s stop and wait for the first few to enter and take their position. A lady standing at the door tells me to get in, I could only understand by her gestures that she was getting off nearby. I take the window seat, which I can scarcely fit into and try ignoring the pain on my knees, the woman takes her seat next to me and we watch the rest enter, as is customary. The cripple stands at the door and a woman in the seat infront of us suddenly gestures to change seats with the man and takes the seat next to the door. I guess there is no language as universally recognizable as kindness. I felt touched and although I could not express it, my otherwise bewildering morning had taken a cheerful turn.
Having gotten used to commuting to work in my father’s car, I felt most aggrieved watching the Prado V8 and range rovers passing us in the traffic. I wondered how they had fuel while the rest of us were crowded in the matatu, a proud petrol head; I dared not to think that these were diesel powered. We came to a halt at the traffic lights where we watched the count down and other cars rushing off from their respective destinations. The light turns green, the driver hoots to the car ahead to move, there’s a boda boda that has stalled in the traffic as we rush to get to the other side of the round about. The first person alights and the overlapping cars delay our departure.
I looked forward to the next traffic light, there’s a particularly amusing traffic cop who motivates me before I get to work. He normally dances gracefully with his gestures and whistle to signal the next road available to the halted traffic while stopping the others simultaneously. The vigor with which he carries out his job is infectious as it lightens the otherwise dull and hot morning air. On the other side of the traffic, juba is a right hand drive city, there’s a UN convoy comprising of a oil/water tanker and several UN military police (UNMP) armored vehicles guarding it in the front and back. I sometimes wonder how delicate the situation must be to always have the UN police on such high alert. Then suddenly as we depart the traffic stop, a SPLA military vehicle hoots us out of the way and speeds off hooting everyone else out of the way, there were no soldiers on board and the car was obviously not heading to the barracks.
Several stops later the cripple gets off with his crutches and smiles at the kind hearted lady who gave him the seat and someone else takes his place. I guess this has been his routine in the juba hustle. Several oil tankers halt the traffic as we prepare to set off to the next stage. I watch out for my stop and think about what I was to do all day, waiting to put aside my blazer and sit under the air conditioner. I get off near the roundabout and walk to the office thinking about the evening scramble for the bus, funny how this black gold could define how my day goes, but to have reached the office before operational hours feels good.