Adventures in Juba.

Feeling out of place? The first day working as a news editor was like stepping into the twillight zone. I’d been given several stories to edit, having left the office early ( my work schedule was tight at the time) i got the email and had a deadline of 8 to send back the news stories. The first story was nearly impossible to edit, i read it through and through severally before the other stories were emailed. English, although considered to be the national official language in south sudan is not widely spoken, the author of the story had little vocabulary and for the most part i had to guess what he meant. I spent the next two hours of that day engrossed in the workload that when my father came to call me to diner i dismissed him saying that i was “working” (words i never thought i’d say).

Day two, i got a call from the journalist complaining that i had not run his story in the newspaper. I asked him to be patient; meanwhile joking with the editor- in- chief about how much of a headache his english had given me. Starting a working relationship with the other journalists was equally tasking as the work itself considering that we all had different backgrounds; I having grown up in Kenya and the others having varied backgrounds, made it especially difficult to engage in office humour. At the time i was also working at a law firm and often got to the Newroom mentally exhausted from trying to understand the technical differences in the legal systems between Kenya and South Sudan.

As i got used to my working schedule, I began to realise my affections towards the Newsroom, at first it was the late hours that bugged me because it gave me little time to rest. The Newsroom was quiet for most of the day, the generator was switched on for an hour at 1p.m and then at 6 p.m when all the work started. The editor- in- chief had before my arrival handled all the editing and was happier when i joined the team to reduce her workload. The initial introductions with the journalists and their stories brought an initial bias on the stories i wanted to read, the political stories had especially diluted my interests considering that i had to practice alot of censorship to avoid criticising the government; many journalists have been arrested on such charges.

The late night drives after work became my adventures. The fuel crisis that i had extensively reported on, even writing an editorial on the day that the director of NILEPET got fired, had made it especially difficult to make permanent travel arrangements. The Newsroom was also far from the printers, this in itself proved a challenge since there were security checks on my way home and we had to drop of the newspaper’s designer and the Editor- in- chief before i got home. Most days i arrived home at a quarter past midnight occassionally at one; if my sister and i did not meet up for an after office cocktail. Having gotten used to the military checkpoints, i often stared blankly ahead into the dark road ahead wondering where the next one will be. One day, the driver called ahead to inform us that the company car did not have a fuel and that he would come with his pickup. Excited, me and the designer jumped in the back. The driver raced through the empty juba streets, past the ICRC gate, slowing down near the junction leading to the president’s residence and onwards to the printers. The wind blowing in my hair and the scene from the back of the pick-up of the emptied juba streets remains etched on my mind.

The late nights proved especially risky to the editor- in- chief, the military check points put her on edge everytime the journalists brought the news in late. She had had an unfortunate incident with the security forces who harassed her for her nationality. She started sleeping in the office overnight and went home in the morning. On most evenings, the mosquitoes would be a bother, but with the rainy season, the office which was located on the 3rd floor was often swarmed with mosquitoes and she barely got any sleep. The sundays were especially tasking since there were hardly any journalists who attended the office, the lack of internet and the faulty supply of electricity made it harder to find any news. On such days however internet sources of news proved more reliable and as such it became my task to comb through every website available. The first three weeks of working improved my understanding of how things are done in south sudan and i also began noticing unique traits based on where my co-workers grew up. The diversity made for a lively work environment, one day we were visited by one of our correspondents from Bor who was interested in showing us off to a UN peace keeping contigent.

One day though, there was a shooting in our estate, my nerves were on edge for the most part of the evening and i began contemplating not going home. The reports that were coming in suggested that a bodyguard to one of the military officers resident in our estate had gone beserk and shot bystanders and butchered the family members of the officer before taking his life. The sources were unofficial and that evening security was tight. The news was also late and at midnight i resolved that i still had to do my job, we followed the routine and i arrived home a little past one. I bid goodbye to the driver and as i turned and walked towards our gate i noticed a figure appearing infront of me from the dark. Appalled by his sudden appearance, i removed my earphones and tried to secure my phone in the pocket. Shouting at me from the distance in arabic, “who are you?” “what are you doing here?” he asked in rapid succession. Appearing in the light, i saw he was dressed in the police uniform but was pointing an AK 47 straight at me. I answered back in english frozen in fear trying to keep my voice steady, “i’m a newsreporter from work returning home.” Having heard the commotion, a fellow officer came out and approached me, having noticed that i wasn’t any threat, he told his comrade to put his gun down and talked to me in english. I walked on a few metres holding my breath, praying that i don’t get shot in the back; I turned to confirm that i was in no danger before the sigh of relief.

This was not however the only scary interaction i had with the police, driving around juba is chaotic at best. I had gone out with my colleagues from the law firm to a client’s hotel and was driving back home when we were overtaken by a military convoy which was not even escorting anyone. We moved off to the side of the road to let them pass and resumed our journey. After reaching the traffic lights, the lights turned green, as we set off the military pick-up truck was racing towards us, for a moment my heart skipped to my throat and i braked. The pick-up which had a machine gun mounted passed us and flagged down a toyota allion which was moving in the opposite direction, one of the soldiers had dropped his hat and was backtracking to find it. I got home and packed the car and went to work that evening via public transport as had become customary on such weekends when i worked on sundays.

The most fulfilling part of my job however came from the compliments i got from the readers. First it was that the quality of english in the newspaper had improved, then the overall performance. The questions by the peacekeepers on the procedure which we used to obtain the news proved that they had an interest in the work, as they left they declared that they had subscribed to our newspaper and were expecting great things from us. On the day that i left for Kenya, I felt sorrowful considering what i had to go back to. I wanted more than anything else to avoid coming, but there was no way to evade it. I’m once again looking forward to my adventures in Juba and will hopefully get to travel around South sudan to garner more stories and experiences.