Hey – We’re living in South Sudan!
It has been an amazing experience to be able to witness the birth of a new nation in its capital, Juba. We left Rumbek on Wednesday, the last day the airport in Juba was open for non-chartered planes. As we entered the Juba airport terminal we could tell that Juba had already changed since our last visit, 2 months ago. Normally, when our small plane comes from Rumbek we are greeted with rather lethargic security men. These men look at our bags, mark them with chalk to show that the bags are safe, and then we are ushered towards the exit door. On Wednesday we arrived to find many other planes had landed at the same time as us, an x-ray machine for our luggage, and frantic airport staff throwing bags over the heads of people to (hopefully) the correct passenger. Did I mention the airport was packed with people? It was. At one point a person behind me said (to someone else), “Why don’t you go wait in the VIP lounge?” What?! VIP lounge? Yes, Juba was certainly getting ready for something big.
After finally obtaining our bags (go read Kaitlyn’s blog for more details how this happened – http://jantzis-in-rumbek.blogspot.com/2011/07/t-3-days.html) we shoved and pushed our way through to the exit door where many people were trying to push their own way into the airport (through the same exit door). I thought that this could potentially lead to us to be stuck in the airport forever. We weren’t and we finally made our way out to find our MCC Juba friends.
We noticed other things that had changed in Juba since our last visit as well – green plants in the medians, street lights, an abundance of armed men, congratulatory posters, fountains, and street signs. That is right, less than a week before independence (the signs were put up on Tuesday according to MCC Juba), the capital of Juba only had one street sign (a directional sign to help you find your way to the airport, and out of Juba), but now there were stop signs, speed limit signs, and even pedestrian crossings. Juba was certainly getting ready for something big.
On Friday night we gathered with MCC friends from Uganda, who had also come for a good party, in the MCC compound to wait until midnight. At midnight the country had been called by its leaders to make noise! To celebrate! But if you have waited almost your whole life to live in a free country those last few hours are really hard. The horns and music started well before midnight but increased in volume and intensity as the night progressed. At midnight exactly (it is really hard to take the time consciousness out of us khawajas) we took to the street where car horns were blaring. Almost immediately, a car stopped, everyone jumped off and ran towards us with their arms outstretched. They hugged us and welcomed us to their country, to South Sudan. We joined a group of people dancing and singing on the side of the road, as more cars and motorbikes drove past us piled with people and flowing flags. It was an organic, impromptu parade around Juba with singing, marching, dancing, and picture taking.
Thanks to Luke Jantzi for the below pictures:
The next day as thousands of people gathered at John Garang’s Memorial we listened to the speeches on the radio (some of us are a bit sun sensitive) from dignitaries around the world. Speeches full of congratulations and hope. The new flag was raised, the anthem was sung, a 21 gun salute was given (the people were asked not to join in the celebratory shooting at home or on the streets), and in the evening there were fireworks.
Listening to the radio in the MCC Sudan house
Text messages we received from the phone company
South Sudan Tshirts
MCC Teams Sudan and Uganda (Suganda). Sporting some of the above South Sudan Tshirts.
While our time in Sudan has been filled with many struggles (!) it is amazing to think about the times we have been living through – the first democratic election for many people, an historic referendum, and now the birth of a new country.
For more details about Sudan and South Sudan take a look at these articles:
Joy and Terror in Two Sudans – http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/08/joy-and-terror-in-two-sudans/
BBC: South Sudan becomes an independent country – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14089843
BBC: How do you set up a nation? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14014083