Just spent a great weekend in Manchester at the 40, (yes, 40!!) years-after reunion of the German Department graduation Year 1972. Great to see everyone after all this time and a good time was had.
When we told people about the VSO adventure, the recurrent question was “Why South Sudan of all places?”
Good question. With the skill set that Linda and I were offering, we could have asked for a posting in Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania or Papua New Guinea. So why South Sudan?
Because it seems to be the most challenging. Because there seems to be a really important job to do in this country that is just about to celebrate its first anniversary, and which is trying to put itself after 40 years of civil war. And because 40 years ago, I was there, albeit briefly.
I had been sent by VSO to work as an English teacher at the Higher Teachers Training Institute in Omdurman. Because Sudan was considered a hardship post, we were given the chance to fly home between the first and second years. I took the opportunity to extend my return air ticket to Kenya, to see how the spoiled and pampered VSOs in the temperate foothills of Mount Kenya lived.
Having spent a few weeks exploring Kenya, and having no money to pay for airtickets back to Khartoum, I hitched a lift on an aid convey of six trucks taking supplies overland to the UN in Juba.
We drove up through Turkana in the very north of Kenya and after a nervous half day passing through Idi Amin’s Uganda, we set off through the bush towards Juba. There were no roads at that time and we found ourselves making our way through the bush, crossing dry river beds, driving through swamps, occasionally under the gaze of extremely tall, very black-skinned men with deep tribal scars and dressed in nothing but a short cloak and a spear. My first introduction to the Dinka.
So the suggestion that we go back to South Sudan forty years later, just seemed to have a certain circularity about it. Maybe it was meant to be. We’ll see.