You’ve probably never heard of Juba, Southern Sudan. You were also probably unaware that Southern Sudan is separately governed than Sudan and that they will most likely become an independent country within the next year or so. Believe me, your life will continue unaffected for you not knowing this information. I can’t imagine that if and when Southern Sudan becomes an Internationally recognized country that many tourists will rush to get here. It is hot as hell, extortionately expensive and a dusty mess with not a damn thing to do. Sounds great right?! Well in truth, I wasn’t expecting much-well anything, and that’s why I was at least able to find the place interesting in some ways as my expectations were zero.
As you arrive at the airport all you see is UN planes and other NGO and aid organizations infesting the airport. It wasn’t as anarchical and hassle filled as I was expecting and the immigration and customs process was pretty straightforward. I met my taxi driver to drive me about ¼ of a mile to my hotel (I didn’t know it was so close or I would’ve walked) and he charged me $10. This was to be my first glimpse of how expensive this place is.
I arrived at the Sahara Hotel which was recommended by three different people, all of whom would know what the best hotel in town was. Hotel is kind of a loose term even though they call it a resort on the sign. It is essentially a trailer park meets a Motel 6 type place along Route 66 somewhere in bum-fuck Arizona. I didn’t have a reservation as they are practically impossible to make online or even by phoning the hotel so I just showed up. They first started at like $250 and eventually I talked them into $150 which was a bargain as far as I was concerned because two NGO workers I met on the plane told me it’d be at least $200. The rooms are fairly clean, with AC and have TV’s so at least that can help combat boredom. Additionally, it does a relaxing courtyard and bar so at least you don’t feel like you’re in Juba.
After checking in I hired a driver to show me the sites around the city. After haggling for a while, my Kenyan driver named John and I agreed on $40 for an hour or two of sightseeing. There were no sights to see per se and we just drove around inhaling dust particles as I looked at lines of UN SUV’s (above) tearing up the uneven and deplorable dirt roads around town. The only reasonably remarkable site was the crappy old mosque in town as you can see below. The rest was essentially crappy little stores and offices for NGO’s along with poverty stricken places for people to live. There was also a lot of garbage and little children playing in it. It was quite sad actually. The picture at the top I think is quite poignant and really true to what Juba is like.
As I was chatting up John about living here in Juba, he was telling me how awful it is. I said I could see why and he said he was here because of the money and would be here through April as he could earn money from white people as their drivers. I laughed and shrugged. As there really wasn’t much to see except for dust and the other trailer park like hotels, I realized Sahara was the best hotel in town and decided to head back there and relax over lunch.
Sahara is a Lebanese run place with pretty good food. I tried several things for lunch and they were all pretty good especially with some Tabasco sauce thrown on top. As we all know, Tabasco makes everything better, especially spaghetti bolognese from a Lebanese place in the Sudan!
Another thing I have noticed here in the Sudan, of course Southern Sudan is how many natives look like former 7’ 7” NBA shot-blocker Manute Bol. It’s really uncanny and kind of cool. I mean facially and the same body type: long; lean and very tall-unlike many African peoples.
I always loved Manute because of several reasons. First, he was the tallest guy in the NBA by far in the 1980’s. Second and most importantly to me, I met him in 1985. He actually attended (played basketball at) the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Connecticut which is the city I was born in and the place where my grandparents lived. They lived right by the University and I actually saw him at Seaside Park across from the University when I was 6 years old. I remember talking to him and being amazed at how tall he was. Look at him next to Muggsy Bogues who was the shortest player in the league back then at 5″3″ and they were both on the same team. Albeit the lowely and pitiful Washington Bullets-now the even more morbid Washington Wizards and their legion of one fan.
Even at six I was a big sports fan and then he began to play in the NBA and I always followed his career. Even through its conclusion and his getting robbed out of millions by the Sudanese Government and his embarrassing forays into boxing and ice hockey. I have since lost track of him but the driver told me he was here in Sudan somewhere and even once served as the Government’s Minister of Sport. But aside from the only sitting head of state to be formally charged with genocide by the International War Crimes Tribunal in Den Hague (who is still the President by the way), Manute Bol has to be the most famous person ever from the Sudan.
Anyway, I don’t have too much more about Juba, except that if Southern Sudan does become an independent, UN recognized nation, Juba will in my mind become the worst/lamest/biggest hellhole capital city on Earth-at least that I’ve been to; surpassing Bissau, Dili, Maseru or Kinshasa. However, maybe they would then get the aid to actually pave some roads and get some infrastructure. That of course would be relying upon the new government not stealing the money…such is life on the Continent-TIA.
At some point when I come back to Africa to finish up the remaining nations I have yet to visit I will stop in Khartoum, which is the capital of the Sudan. It is a good place to transit between Libya and Eritrea and I would like to see it and compare to Juba. I have never heard a single good thing about Khartoum but it cannot be as bad as Juba.
I am currently in Kigali, Rwanda and will be here for a few days as I prepare for a New Years Day trip to track silverback gorillas.