So, as many of you know, I'm in Juba. As maybe fewer of you know, I'm actually meant to be in Jonglei State, in a little place called Motot. Motot, so I've been told, is the physical embodiment of 'the-middle-of-nowhere' - practically unreachable in the rainy season. However, it is not because of the rainy season that I am in Juba, but because of insecurity.
Back in August, there was fighting between two tribes in the area, the Lou Nuer and the Murle (for more details click here), and the team has been in Juba ever since. However, operations still continue in Motot and the surrounding areas, monitored by us in Juba and overseen by a local contact person in Motot.
Pieri is another village approximately 15km south-west of Motot where the team also has a sub-base. Last Wednesday, 7 of us set out in a small plane to check out what's been going on with the programmes since the last visit in September, and to pay wages.
Despite a slight glitch where the pilot realised, after turning on the engine and just before take-off, that we needed to 'take on more fuel', we were in the air and flying over miles and miles of untouched forest and grassland. We landed on the airstrip in Pieri and successfully avoided getting stuck in the mud as the pilot drove a 180 and parked us right by the crowd of on-looking villagers.
We walked through the village to announce our arrival to the government officials and passed numerous piles of ash along the way, "they used to be homes", my colleague told me, "and that one, the church". We walked further and passed a UN compound, manned by Indian soldiers. A South Sudanese staff member began communicating with them in English, explaining who we were. We quickly moved on following several exchanges of sentences delivered in thick accents, accompanied by blank looks on the faces of both parties. We were later told that the UN had been there since the violence, and the team manning the UN base were flown in and changed weekly. We witnessed the huge UN helicopter landing that day.
On our way back from the government office, my colleagues showed me a health clinic and water pump that were previously installed by our programmes, walking further we passed the compound of another international NGO where their 4x4, set alight during the violence in August, remained inside the compound, all rusted, no windows.
Meeting the local staff was eye-opening; there we so many of them! They were some of the tallest people I've ever seen, and seemed genuinely happy to see 7 of us back for the day. The team who flew with me, who I'd only known previously working laboriously at their laptops in the Juba office, seemed to come alive when engaging with the local staff. I asked one of the staff members about this later in the day, "of course", she said after I told her that she looked much happier in Pieri than she did in Juba, "this is where we're meant to be!"
My first impressions of Pieri, and the rest of our team (the local staff) were good ones. Being in the field-site made all these funding proposals and reports make sense. I could picture our staff, within their communities, and the communities beyond, affecting change and providing life-changing services.
Next time, there'll be pictures.