Archive for the ‘Mission Life’ Category

I just came back from a 24 hours field trip to Maban County yesterday. Maban County is within Upper Nile State, it’s 205 kilometres to the east of Melut County. As usual, we flew with helicopter from Malakal to Melut the day before the Maban trip.

We were five people and driving two vehicles. We departed Melut at 9.30 a.m. and arrived in El-Bounj, the capital of Maban County, at 3.30 p.m. It took us six hours to reach El-Bounj because we stopped over in Jammam, one of the villages of Maban County, to meet the local authority there.

Our aim on this trip was to assess the situation after the Sudan elections which took place a couple of weeks ago.

24 hours mission seemed very short but I was able to see, learn, and experience a lot of things on this trip.

El-Bounj village, the capital of Maban County

El-Bounj market

Maban people take this public bus to go from one village to another

Sleeping under the stars…

Everytime I went to the field I always slept in either a tend, a tukul (Sudanese traditional house), or a communal guest house where people just choose their bed and sleep as if we were in the hospital ward.

But sleeping outside under the open sky was just a new thing for me although this culture is not new in Sudan. Most Sudanese sleep outside their house because the weather is too hot (It reached 43 Celsius degrees in Malakal these days). I always tried to sleep inside because I didn’t want to get malaria. Sudan is one of the countries whose highest percentage of malaria.

Prior to the trip to El-Bounj, we already planned to stay at UNHCR compound because one of my colleagues had been to El-Bounj before and he stayed at this compound. Unfortunately when we arrived in El-Bounj, we found out that UNHCR compound was just burned down.

Half of its tukuls were turned into ashes and the other half were used as temporary warehouses to safe their remaining stuff.

Half of the tukuls in UNHCR compound were burned down

We were of course still warmly welcomed to stay in the compound but we didn’t have any choice but sleeping in the compound yard. Fortunately that night was a full moon and the weather was a little bit warm so there was not many mosquito around, I pour my body with mosquito repellent though, I didn’t want to take a chance in getting malaria after the trip.

We were preparing our beds in the yard of UNHCR compound

I was lucky enough to always bring my sleeping bag anywhere I go on the field trip so I just slept comfortably inside my sleeping bag that night while experiencing the new method of staying-over in Sudan, sleeping under the open sky and counting the stars.

Me, my bed, & my sleeping bag... Sleeping under the stars!

Breakfast at Jammam’s

For Sudanese, having breakfast is very important and they also have specific time to enjoy their breakfast, 10 a.m.!

On this trip my colleagues and I stopped over in Jammam village to have our 10 a.m. breakfast. We had breakfast at a tea place belongs to a lady called Dawula Dawula. Madame Dawula is a mother of six children and a grandmother of five grandchildren.

Madame Dawula is preparing the tea

She opens her tea stall everyday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Her husband is working as a porter, he owns a donkey cart to help people to carry anything but mostly clean water. To get clean water in Maban County is not easy, you have to go to the water point and pay 10 Sudanese pounds (USD$4) for a drum of clean water.

10 Sudanese pounds for a drum of clean water in Maban County

Madame Dawula and her husband are originally from Maban but they migrated to Renk County every rainy season because her tea business was not good in Jammam village during that season. “I earn 20 to 30 Sudanese pounds (USD$8-12) everyday during dry season but in rainy season, we have no income sometimes,” said Madame Dawula to me while I enjoyed her ginger-tea.

Sudanese ginger-tea

Besides tea, ginger, and coffee, most tea places also served a snack called zalabia. Zalabia is a fried little ball made from wheat and powdered by sugar. Tea and zalabia are just perfect combination as breakfast menu in Sudan!


Riding a camel…

Season of migration is apparently very popular in Sudan. It’s not only for the animals but also its people. In Sudan, to have hundreds or even thousands of goats, lambs, cows, bulls, camels, is more than anything. And if someone owns a lot of livestock he won’t be able to stay put in one place, he would move around looking for areas where his livestock can eat grass. In Sudan, they call this kind of person as a nomad.

Most nomads in Sudan are Arabic tribes and they are coming from the North. They usually migrated to the South for cattle grassing every November and returned to the North again in July.

Nomads from the North migrated to the South every November to July for cattle grassing

According to the local authority in Maban County these nomads never disturb locals and locals always welcome them as long as their animals don’t eat somebody else’s garden.

This was the first time in my life to see with my own eyes these nomads moved along with all their thousands of livestock. The group was really huge, how amazing! I wondered whether the owners would notice if one of their bulls got stolen.

Cattle grassing

Season of migration

Nomad's bulls

We stopped by to say hello to one nomad’s family and my colleague, ED, even dared himself to ride their camel (helped by the nomad’s father of course).

My colleague, ED, tried to ride a camel

ED was successfully riding a camel!

Trip to Maban was definitely fun and adventurous for me! I would never get this opportunity anywhere else but Sudan. Some people may think we were miserable sleeping under the sky but one thing for sure, this kind of experience is one of the things that you would never forget till the rest of your life!

My colleagues, ED, AA, SA, & PD, posed with a nomad's family (father & son) & their camel

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Sudan elections is officially over today and I’m happy that the overall situation during the balloting was peaceful, at least that’s what happened in Malakal town, the capital of Upper Nile State in Southern Sudan.

I’m grateful that I got privilege to be one of accredited media who could cover the Sudan elections. I had freedom to visit every polling centre in Malakal and the whole counties in Upper Nile State, taking photos, and interviewing people.

The first Sudan multy-party elections after 24 years

This experience was completely different than what I had in Afghanistan back in 2003/2004 when I became a Publications Officer for UNDP Voter Registration and Election Project for Afghan presidential election. I was allowed to cover the election but it was very limited due to security threat.

This was the first multi-party elections in Sudan after 24 years. I was very excited to be able to go and witness this historical event with my own eyes! However, the weather remains a challenge in Sudan. I have never experienced the heat like in Sudan! If you want to get your skin tanned within minutes, just go to Sudan.

Umbrella is definitely needed to prevent too much heat!

The good thing when I covered the elections in town is I got a chance to do small culinary tour. On the first day of elections I had lunch at Ethiopian restaurant which I didn’t do it for a long time. Ethiopian food is one of my favourite food such as Injera, the sourdough pancake-like/large thin flat bread of Ethiopia made from the Teff cereal, and Kefta, the Ethiopian Spiced ground beef kabob.

Me & my lunch, Ethiopian food!

On the second day I was invited by my local colleagues to have lunch at local restaurant. We had traditional Sudanese food which was made from flowers, wheat, and vegetable. I don’t remember its name but I recall my colleague called it a “Shiluk food” (Shiluk is one of the tribes in South Sudan).

Shiluk food

When I went to the polling stations on the first and second days, I saw the excitement of the voters. They came to polling centre at 6 a.m. and in fact the balloting was scheduled to start at 8 a.m. The first day was a little bit chaotic because the ballot papers and boxes were delivered late to the polling centres due to logistical problem so most polling centres started very late between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Some of them even decided to open on the second day instead.

Queue at 6 a.m. to vote!

On the second day, the voters didn’t seem to lose their enthusiasm, they didn’t mind to line up under the sun for hours to wait for their turn to vote. There was this old man lined up in Tharawa polling centre. The Abuna (old man)’s name is BA, he is 80 years old and has voted several times in his life. “I have voted several times but I don’t remember when except the one in 1986 and now,” said Mr. A.

Line up under the sun

The man who was retired from his work as a Forest Oversee Officer six years ago said that back in 1986 he voted in Malakal.

BA came to the polling station to queue at 9 a.m. because he was very eager to vote, “I’m going to vote someone who has been very active to work and is going to bring Sudan into a good future.”

The Abuna was finally being called to cast his ballot at 12 noon and he was helped by one of the polling centre’s officers witnessed by political party’s accredited representatives. “1986 elections didn’t have a lot of ballot boxes as we have now,” Mr. A compared, “Although the process was complicated but I’m very happy to finally be able to vote and I urged all my six children to vote too.”

The Abuna casts his ballot

If there was an old man who has voted several times, there was also a middle 40 year-old lady who surprisingly has voted twice in her life. She is a teacher of Boys Banderi Primary School, her name is MP. “This will be my second time to vote. I voted for the first time when I was still in the senior grade of secondary school back in 1984,” said Ms. P whose name listed as a voter in Lelo constituency in Central Malakal. 1984 elections was a single-party elections to People’s Assembly in Sudan.

"I’m voting hoping that the future leader will bring us into a better future."

The teacher who teaches social science said that there is the difference in her motivation to vote back in 1984 and now (2010). “Before, I went to vote without any goal. I didn’t know the real meaning of the elections because I was still very young,” explained Ms. P, “Now, I’m voting hoping that the future leader will bring us into a better future and a good change such as providing more schools, health centres, and clean water.”

Sudanese voted for a better future

BA and MP may have come from two different generations. However, they have the same hope that the future leaders of Sudan should bring a better future for their people and the country.

The historical Sudan elections 2010

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I had this short field trip was actually a month ago when I covered the visit of the newly appointed UNMIS Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG) of Humanitarian Affairs, GC, in Southern Sudan including Malakal and Dolieb Hill, the nearest village of Malakal.

In Dollieb Hill, DSRSG visited medical centres, refugees’ way station, clean water project and the market… Yeah, I was particularly interested in Dollieb Hill market, it was impressive for a small village!

Dollieb Hill market along the Nile River

Dollieb Hill is a village within Upper Nile State where most of its population are Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Canal village which is not too far away from Dollieb Hill, it was just 30 minutes crossing the Nile River.

Fresh fish from the Nile River

The main livelihood in Dollieb Hill is fishing and farming. These IDPs are supported by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in doing “coping mechanism” where they will be fishing during dry season and cultivating on the rainy season. They have done this in order to survive, at least they won’t be having food shortages.

A lady sells sun-dried fish in the market

They also sell some of their fish and vegetables in the local market. They have small market opened everyday a long the Nile River. I was very impressed with the variants that they sell. I saw fresh fish from the Nile, sun-dried fish, green vegetables, tomatoes, onions, ocras, and even chicken eggs! The conditions of those vegetables were fresher than what I found in Malakal because they grew those vegetables in their own farms.

Onion is one of the important ingredients for Sudanese. They almost eat everything mixed with onion!

I was happy to know these IDPs can survive in the land of stranger by providing their own food. They knew that they can’t count on food distribution from UN agencies and/or non-govermental organizations forever. They have to find a way to survive until they are able to return to their homeland. 

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Spring holiday is officially over! Work & studies are waiting…

Some of you may already know that Sudan elections will kick off tomorrow till 13 April. Tomorrow is going to be the first elections ever in Sudan after 25 years. I’m so happy & grateful to be given a chance to witness this important moment for the Sudanese & also for the world.

I have already gotten my media accreditation card from the National Elections Commission so I’m all set to be one of those who capture this historical momento.

Wish me luck! 🙂

My media accreditation card for Sudan elections

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Garuij Lul

“What’s your name?”


“How old are you?”


I met a little boy who always comes to the State Elections High Committee Office to clean and shine the shoes of every gentleman who is visiting the office that day.

Garuij Lul

The little boy’s full name is Garuij Lul, he’s from Nuer tribe. His age is eight (not ten as he told me earlier) and he is in the second grade of Qiyada Elementary School in Malakal.

Garuij has two brothers and three sisters, some of them live in the village called, Lou. As for Garuij and the rest of his brothers and sisters are living with their parents in Malakal.

Garuij works as a shoe cleaner and shiner everyday after he came back from his school and he is doing this to help his parents to support his school tuition. He got 50 piesta (25 cents) for every pair of shoes he cleaned.

He may not earn much but his courage and struggle to keep on study will bring him forward to get whatever he is dreaming of!

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I have been into so many field trips before but this was my first trip to Melut and Renk counties. My one week trip to those counties has taught me an important lesson about life.

11 March 2010…

My colleagues from UNMIS Civil Affairs, Human Rights, Radio Miraya FM, and myself from Public Information Office departed from Malakal town to Melut county (also in Upper Nile State) to support the Upper Nile State Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, BA, and the Election High Committee member, TA, to conduct political parties’ round table in Melut and Renk counties..

Six of us went by MI-8 helicopter in the morning at 11.15 a.m and it took only 35 minutes from Malakal to Melut. We arrived in Melut at 11.50 a.m. and as soon as we landed our colleague from UNMIS Civil Affairs in Melut office, AA, took us to see the Melut County Commissioner for a courtesy visit. 

Malakal to Melut is 35 minutes by MI-8 helicopter

The Minister and the High Election Committee member were accommodated by the Commissioner at the government officials’ guest house. For the rest of us, we stayed at the UNMIS accommodation, basically it was just moving into another container.

The temperature was boiling that day I felt it was even hotter than Malakal! After checked-in to our accommodation we went to town for lunch. AA took us to a local restaurant where he used to have his lunch. The restaurant was not really a restaurant, it was a small tent with a lot of beds in it. When I asked what these beds are for? AA said that this tent will be used as a ‘hotel’ at night where people can just sleep in one of those beds and they pay 5 Sudanese Pounds (USD$2) per-night. “Hmmm… Strange,” that was what I thought at that time but never crossed my mind that I would experience it, soon after that.

We are waiting for our lunch. This tent is a restaurant during the day and a hotel at night

The food that they served was a typical Sudanese food: roasted goat meat (Shaya) and another one with soup (Kebab), Egyptian peanuts with lots of oil, scrambled eggs, tomatoes-onions salad, and some bread. After lunch we went to the market to buy some bottles of mineral water, coca colas, and some fruits like bananas, and oranges.

Sudanese food: shaya, kebab, Egyptian peanuts, scrambled eggs, salad, and bread

12 March 2010…

The political parties’ round table was held therefore we were busy all day…

13 March 2010…

We had our journey to Renk county by road. We went with two vehicles. We started our journey from Melut at 10 a.m. and arrived in Renk at 2.30 p.m. It was quite long drive, 4.5 hours! Actually it was not that long if we went straight without stopping over for a couple of times. Renk county is 180 kilometres north from Melut so if you drive 60 km/hour you should arrive in Renk in three hours only.

The Minister…

First stop was at the tea place, the Minister said that he has yet to get his breakfast. We stopped in an area about an hour drive from Melut. We accompanied the Minister for tea. For Sudanese, to have tea in the morning is like a ritual. Later on I found out that tea helps their body to deal with the heat during the day.

The tea place

My first impression about the Minister was he is a ‘down to earth’ person. He is considered as a high level government official in Upper Nile State, Southern Sudan but he didn’t wish to be treated exclusively. He didn’t hesitate to sit in a modest tent a long the dusty road on the way to Renk to enjoy his tea. He spoke conveniently to the tea lady as if he weren’t a minister and I wondered whether the tea lady was aware that she just talked to one of the prominent leaders in her state.

The Minister (on the third from the left) enjoyed his morning tea

After having tea we continued our journey and 1.5 hours later we stopped for having lunch at a restaurant called Zekryat. The restaurant was pretty big for suburban area and the Minister was very impressed with it. My colleague from Civil Affairs, AK, and I had an opportunity to sit on the same table with the Minister and the State Election High Committee member. We ordered fried tilapia fish (typical Nile River fish) and bread with some onions and lemons.

Welcome in Zekryat

Lunch of the day: Tilapia fish, bread, onions, and lemons

The Minister and I had a chance to have small conversation at that time. He told me that he came from a county in Upper Nile State called Maiwut (it’s near Melut). He studied in Ethiopia and returned to Sudan in 1987 to join Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM). I asked him whether he is running for this time elections, he said it’s not the time yet for him to contest. He will wait until after the South Sudan referendum.

The Minister asked me some questions about Indonesia and he was interested in the democracy system of Indonesia. He would like to request the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) to send him to Indonesia one day to learn about Indonesian’s democracy.

We spent about an hour to enjoy our lunch. We departed Zekryat around 1.30 p.m. We drove for about an hour and finally arrived in Renk.

Renk is a big town, it was like Malakal and even cleaner, so impressive! The market was big and it opened until 11 p.m. There were so many local restaurants and they had some interesting food such as burgers. That evening I had local egg burgers for my dinner. What makes me more impressed was the electricity and clean water are available in whole Renk. These are more than Malakal I guess.

Welcome to Renk county in Upper Nile State

Renk market opens until 11 p.m. daily

Egg burger ala Renk

Unfortunately Renk doesn’t have sufficient and proper commercial lodgings. As usual, the Minister was accommodated by the County Commissioner at the government officials’ guest house but the rest of us had a hard time in finding accommodation until we found a guest house run by a local church. The guest house was very small, it was just a house and divided into four rooms. There were three to four beds in each room and you can just pick one of the beds where you can sleep in with 20 Sudanese Pounds per-night (USD$8). This reminded me to the small tent restaurant where we had our lunch on the first day in Melut.

The weather was very hot that day and even in the evening, everybody moved their beds outside but me. It was indeed very hot inside and there was no fan in the room where I slept in but I didn’t want to risk myself in getting malaria so I was just sleeping tightly inside my sleeping bag that night… No complain!

14 March 2010…

That Sunday was a special day for Renk people. The President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, was in town to inaugurate the city power commission. On the same day the SPLM party launched their campaign and the President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayandit, was supposed to arrive in town as well (But he changed his mind and went to another county instead). Many Upper Nile State government officials came to Renk to participate the city power inauguration including the Upper Nile State Governor, Deputy Governor, and some of the ministers.

My colleagues and I went to the inauguration but there were too many people there so we gave up and returned to town to look for another accommodation because the guest house where we stayed at was too public, it was too many people coming and going, we couldn’t rest at all.

The crowd on the city power inauguration

The Lady of the State Election High Committee…

Madame TA

We went to a small but clean cafeteria called Esther’s Cafeteria, it belongs to an Episcopal Church. They served very tasty local food, I can’t explain it very well but TA, the lady who is a member of the State Election High Committee, said that it’s made from some wheat and the food is called “Wala-Wala” in Dinka (tribe) language.


TA was from Shiluk tribe but she married a Dinka. She was a teacher for 27 years in Sudan and later on she joined Sudan Civil Aviation as an Assistant Manager. Now she is given special leave because the Sudanese government appointed her as one of the Upper Nile State Election High Committee members and in fact, she is the only female member in the committee.

Although she is originally from Malakal but she spends most of her life in Khartoum and Northern Sudan. Even she studied in Egypt for five years in 1983 to 1988. Her late husband was a minister in one of the northern states of Sudan. He died in a car accident 16 years ago. They got two daughters who are now studying in Khartoum and Juba universities.

“It’s not easy to raise children alone but I know I’ll be proud when I see my children are successful one day,” that was TA said to me and I couldn’t agree more with her.

After having a small culinary tour together, TA, my colleague, AK, & I tried to find out whether Esther’s Cafeteria also has a guest house. Fortunately they have some tukuls (Sudanese traditional house) for rent. Each tukul has two beds, a small light and one fan. The rate was 70 Sudanese pounds/night for each tukul (USD$28). We finally decided to move into the Esther’s Cafeteria’s tukuls.

Esther's Cafeteria's tukuls

Inside the tukul

15 March 2010…

We were busy with the political parties’ round table all day.

In the evening…

The Episcopal Priest…

I met this Episcopal priest when we moved in at Esther’s Cafeteria. Father DS was one of the guests who rented the tukuls. He was originally from Yei county in Central Equatoria State of Southern Sudan. He came to Renk county to teach at the Renk Theological College.

I spent my evening to have a chat with him and I found our conversations were very interesting. Father DS told me about the history of the Sudan, he said that the first war in Sudan broke out in Torit county of Eastern Equatoria State in 1955. After that the war was held on until it continued again in 1964.

He became a refugee together with his family to Uganda in 1965. He decided to voluntarily return to Sudan in 1971 and then in 1973 peace came to Sudan through Addis Ababa agreement. His family returned to Sudan after the peace was made.

He went to a bible school in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, and continued his theological study in Nairobi, Kenya when the war broke out again in Sudan in 1983. In 1989 he got a scholarship to go to the US for six months to study in an Episcopal theological college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Upon his return he dedicated himself to be a teacher at one of the Internal Displace Persons (IDPs) camps in Khartoum until he was appointed to teach in Renk Theological College.

When he shared his life experience, I saw smile on his face. I admired his struggle and courage to live and help his people. He knew what he has been doing.

Father DS and I took a picture together before I left Renk


The Minister

The Lady of the State Election High Committee

The Episcopal Priest

Three personalities, different backgrounds and characters I met on my journey in Melut and Renk counties. I’m grateful to be given an opportunity to meet them personally, although each of them is different but all of them are so determined to live their lives. Through the stories of their life experience, I was able to learn that each human being has his own fate and destiny.

In here the important thing is not about how long do we live the world but how do we live the world. I believe that each human being is given a purpose in his life and if he knows what his purpose is then he will use his life to serve that purpose.

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“Five kids were killed by a grenade in Kodok town today! Tomorrow morning UNICEF and I will be going to Kodok town to investigate the case, are you coming?” my friend, JV, who’s working as Humanitarian Affairs asked me.

I was shocked to hear about it and without any second thought I said, “Yes,” immediately!

On the next day we departed from Malakal at 9.45 a.m. with a small motor boat that only fits for seven people. Luckily we were seven including two UNICEF staff, one staff of UNMAO (United Nations Mine Action Office), two from UNMIS (JV & I), one from Mine Tech Demining Company, and the boat driver.

Here's our small motor boat

JV is ready for a boat ride!

Kodok is about 90 minutes up to the north from Malakal by boat. It lies on the Nile River bank. It’s a Shiluk tribe area, the population is approximately 6,000 people and most of them are fishermen and farmers.

Kodok town lies on the Nile River bank

Kodok is one of towns in Fashoda county, Upper Nile state. There are three towns within Fashoda county: Kodok, Lul, and Ditwok. Kodok is the county headquarters where the county commissioner governs from.

Fashoda county is one of the most historical places in Africa. This was the place where the territory dispute between France and United Kingdom happened back in 1898 and it is well-known as “Fashoda Incident.”

Kodok town is the capital of Fashoda county

The history begins…

If you study African history I bet you know the term of “Scramble for Africa.” It was the period where Africa was rapidly being occupied by European colonial powers during 19th century and this involved United Kingdom and France including Portugal, Germany, and Belgium.

France and its allies colonized the African interior from Senegal, Mali, Niger, to Chad. Their ultimate goal was to have an uninterrupted link between the Niger River and the Nile, to control all trade to and from the Sahel region through Sahara. The Sahel is the zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian savannas in the south. It stretches across the north of the African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.

The British wanted to link their possessions in Southern Africa with their territories in East Africa, and these two areas with the Nile basin. Sudan was the key to the fulfilment of these ambitions, especially since Egypt was already under British control.

Kodok town

British planned to draw a railway from Cape Town to Cairo and French had an ambition to control the trade from Dakar to Djibouti. These two lines intersect in eastern Sudan near the town of Fashoda or now it’s known by Kodok, explaining its strategic importance. The French east-west axis and the British north-south axis could not co-exist; the nation that could occupy and hold the crossing of the two axes would be the only one able to proceed with its plan.

In July 1898, a French Major, Jean-Baptiste Marchand, led 150 soldiers to enter the ruined Egyptian fort of Fashoda to establish French presence in Upper Nile. On September 18, 1,500 British troops in a powerful flotilla led by Sir Herbert Kitchener reached Fashoda in order to reclaim the whole of the Sudan for Egypt and Britain.

First both Britain and France were polite but insisted on their right on Fashoda. Marchand refused to surrender the fort although he was heavily outnumbered. The crisis continued until October and both nations were about to prepare themselves for a war. But then Britain and France were well aware that this battle would bring a wider consequence and at the same time people increasingly began to question the wisdom of war for the sake of such a remote part of Africa.

Fashoda along the Nile River

Finally the compromise was made. The French’s flag will remain above the fort; the Egyptian flag will fly from a nearby tree; and they will leave the wider issue to the politicians.

By the end of the year the French government decided to withdraw Marchand and his men from Fashoda because they were much distracted by the Dreyfus affair, it was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s.

In March 1899, the French and British agreed that the source of the Nile and the Congo rivers should mark the frontier between their spheres of influence. This was the last serious colonial dispute between Britain and France.


I never thought that I stepped my foot on one of the historical land in Africa continent!

Tukul, the traditional house of South Sudan

Back to the present day…

On the way to Kodok, for the first 25 minutes, I sat on the front seat of the boat right in front of the driver’s seat. The wind was very strong that morning so the current was fast, I felt like riding in a rollercoaster & sitting on the front row! The boat speed just perfectly added the thrill of the journey, I was so scared that I might be thrown out into the river because there was no seat belt available that can hold me tight on my seat.

Fortunately something was wrong with the machine so the driver must stop the boat and checked on the fuel tank whether the fuel was still available. I quickly asked my colleague from UNMAO, RI, to switch the seat therefore I could calm myself down and enjoy the boat ride.

We arrived in Kodok on 11.30 a.m. and for the next five hours we sat on the pick-up that was provided by the local authority to take us to see the families of the victims as well as to visit the areas where landmines and UXOs (unexploded ordinances) were still lying around on the ground waiting to be cleared up.

We were transported by a pick-up during the visit

This was used to be a war zone, now you may find landmines & UXOs here

We found two other old grenades that day and when I asked to the local authority why there are so many landmines and UXOs in this area, he said that Kodok was used to be the battle zone between Sudan Armed Force and Sudan People Liberation Army back in 1980s to early 2000s.

Is this American grenade?

What about this one?... Asian made?...

The weather was very hot that day, although I already wore my big blue hat but still it couldn’t prevent me in getting sun-burned. My skin is completely tanned now and my face is like a tomato.

Because of hot weather the land was cracking, I assume the rain has not come for months there. However, I can’t imagine if the rain is suddenly pouring because it would have been very muddy.

Land is cracking during dry season

Although we could hardly find infrastructure which is common condition in Southern Sudan, but some basic facilities such as schools, medical centre, and clean water point are available in Kodok. I also saw some electricity and telephone network’s towers to be built up there.

City power towers are already in town

We ended our visit by meeting the only non-government organization (NGO) that is based in Kodok, Tear Fund. Tear Fund is a British NGO that supports in health area. They have several health projects in Fashoda county such as HIV, malaria, nutrition, and maternity. Tear Fund has expressed their cooperation to support UN in landmine awareness dissemination to the people of Fashoda county especially the children.

Five children were killed by a landmine and no more children will becoming victims anymore!

We returned to Malakal at 5.30 p.m. and had a boat ride for another 90 minutes but this time the wind was calmer so we could enjoy our sunset boat ride as if we were on the Nile sunset cruise… Beautiful!!!

Sunset view along River Nile on the way back to Malakal

Sites cited on “Fashoda Incident” :  African History & Wikipedia.

This story was published at http://pralangga.orgOur Peacekeeping Journey under the same title.

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“We need Public Information Officer here, we are waiting for you,” My colleague, OT, called me today at 5 p.m.

“What for?,” I replied.

“We are going to inaugurate our new basketball court in our compound, didn’t you get the invitation?,” OT answered.

OMG! I forgot about that! I did read the invitation email a week ago but somehow I just forgot about it. I told OT that I will be there in 15 minutes.

Wearing a dark green plain t-shirt with big ‘Tusker’ (famous Kenyan beer) sign on it, light brown batik pants and a pair of black slippers, I came to the brand new basketball court five minutes after I hung up the phone. “Oh my… I don’t think I’m wearing appropriate clothes,” That was what I thought when I saw the attendees came wearing sporty shirts, jogging pants, and a pair of sneakers, even some of them wearing caps matching with their outfit. I wanted to change but I guess it was too late already so I pretended to be okay and confident by sitting in the first row because I needed to take pictures.

The inauguration started around 15 minutes after the UNMIS Malakal Head of Office and Sector Commander arrived in the location. The ceremony was short but meaningful. It was opened by a short speech of my colleague, OT, who is also the Head of Engineering Unit. His unit together with the Indian military engineers were the ones who built the basketball court and of course it was initiated by the welfare committee.

In his speech OT said that, “We need some activities other than to be at the office the whole day and back to our container (accommodation) in the evening. Doctor has advised us to exercise to maintain our lives healthy physically and spiritually. We had tried hard to plan and build this basketball court and we finally made it.”

The Head of Office’s speech followed after that and she supported what OT said. She even promised that she will start to play basketball if she has a match.

Basketball court seems nothing special if you live in a normal condition like living in a nice and developed town where you can easily find basketball court in your neighbourhood or at your school. But in Malakal, the situation is completely the opposite, by having basketball court in our compound we feel like having something fancy! So far what we could do for exercise was just jogging/walking around the compound and went to the gym but the equipment was hardly to be maintained.

Basketball is becoming our new entertainment and recreation, at least now we have more options on the activities outside working hours. It was really a great initiative of the welfare committee!

The ceremony was closed by cutting the ribbon by the Sector Commander and then followed by a friendly basketball competition between civilians, UN Police, and military. I watched the first round of the game and it was very interesting! Military had definitely beaten the civilians and UN Police since the beginning. The weather was very hot this afternoon but it didn’t stop us from cheering on and giving support to our teams.

This story was published at http://pralangga.orgOur Peacekeeping Journey under the same title.

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I was at the anti-riot police station headquarters today but it wasn’t because I was arrested for rampaging some places, I was covering the election security training for anti-riot police officers in Malakal.

Election security training for anti-riot police officers in Malakal

The training was actually started yesterday and it will end tomorrow. This three-day training was attended by 40 anti-riot police officers including three policewomen. The election’s day in Sudan is scheduled to be in the second week of April and this is going to be the first election after 25 years. I found this training is very interesting because it gives the participants very useful knowledge on how to maintain the security prior to, during, and after the elections such as how to secure the ballot box, VIPs, candidates, voters, and the polling stations since they have yet to have any experience in it.

One of female participants on the training

During the training today, the participants were given a scenario where there were some voters not happy with the way election went so they were angry at the polling station. They wanted to destroy the ballot box and even some of them were carrying guns. The police officers who were on duty at the polling station tried to safe the ballot box, polling station’s staff, and called for the back up. Soon after that, the anti-riot police officers came to the location, captured the protesters and brought them to the police station to be investigated.

Some were playing as voters

Female voter put her voting card into the ballot box

The exercise looked like very real, the anti-riot police officers were wearing their shields and sticks, the participants really made it as if they really plunged into the situation. I was impressed!

The anti-riot police officers... in action!

The exercise

Capturing the protesters

Situation is under control

The whole exercise was supervised by four UN Police training officers who are from USA, Jamaica, Nepal, and Indonesia. When I saw Police Commissioner RA from Indonesia giving the instructions to these Sudanese police officers, I felt very proud of my country.

Police Commissioner RA gave instructions during the exercise

Another instruction's given to the Sudanese police officer

Now Indonesian’s knowledge and expertise is really recognized by the world. To date there are 16 Indonesian police personnel who join the United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) as police advisors and two of them are in Malakal. Indonesian’s police personnel have started to be involved in UN peacekeeping operations worldwide to contribute in making the world better. Viva Indonesia!!!

Two Indonesian's policemen, Police Commissioner TS (the second from the left) and Police Commissioner AR (the first from the right) posed with The Head of Anti-Riot Police Officer of Malakal (in the middle) along with UN Police members from Nigeria and Nepal

This story was published at http://pralangga.orgOur Peacekeeping Journey under the same title.

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Dancing in the mud…

To be in the reverse position sometimes is a little bit awkward… At least that was what I felt when the first time I had to host some journalists in Sudan. Prior to join United Nations (UN) I was a journalist for a local weekly newspaper in East Timor called, East Timor Sun. When I worked for East Timor Sun Newspaper, I was often being invited by UN to cover their occasions or projects. UN would take us, the media, to go to visit their projects, to interview people and take lots of pictures. Sometimes we had to go by car or even helicopter if the project site was far away. One day, our (UN) car was stuck in the mud in the middle of heavy rain when I was invited by United Nations Mission In East Timor (UNMISET) to cover the visit the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG) in some rural area after militia attacked one village and raid the cattle of the villagers.

UN-Media photo group in Dili East Timor when I was still a journalist back in 2003

Posed with President Xanana Gusmao when I covered the Independence Day anniversary of East Timor in 2003

Six years later, the position is changed. I’m now the one who is hosting the media to visit UN projects and occasions. As I mentioned earlier, the first time I felt so awkward because I was in their position once.

My first experience in hosting journalists in Sudan was during the visit of the UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki-moon, in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, back in September 2007. At that time I was the focal point of the media who would like to cover the UN SG in Juba. Aside from the program itself, I had to take care of their accommodation, transportation, and be with them during the events to make sure they followed all the rules.

My best shot of Ban Ki-moon during press conference. He looked at my camera!

When I was asked to take up on this responsibility I was very nervous because I had to handle nearly 100 national and international media including BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, etc. Not to mention I also had to liaise with the Minister of Information and Communication of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). This was a huge task for me who was not even a year to join United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) at that time, fortunately RA, my colleague from UNMIS HQ Khartoum, came to help me. I was very exhausted during the preparation but in the end I was grateful that the coverage of the whole programs went so well and everybody was happy!

On the bus hosting the journalists to make sure they behave!

The latest one was six months ago, I had to host five Khartoum-based national media (newspapers) visiting UN in Malakal, the town where I’m living and working now. I always mentioned about Malakal all the time, for those who don’t know where Malakal is, I will tell you now… Malakal is the capital of Upper Nile State in Southern Sudan and for your information, Southern Sudan has ten states in total. Malakal is located on the banks of White Nile just north of its confluence with the Sobat River.

Anyway, back to media visit…

It was a three-day program and mainly to show them both UN mission and UN agencies’ projects for the community. I took them to several projects such as school feeding project of World Food Program (WFP) in an elementary school called, Dar Salam; United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s support project on the school’s building construction in Shaab Girls Basic School where 1,152 students were enrolled there; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s project to renovate police stations; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s project to support the fishermen and farmers; UNMIS vet hospital to help locals to treat their cattle; and finally UNMIS river transportation unit which is operated by Bangladeshi Navy.

One of the journalists was trying to cook the food for WFP school feeding

The students of Dar Salam elementary school

Visiting one of the police stations that was renovated by UNDP

One of the fishermen who was supported by FAO

Enjoy the boat ride with UNMIS Bangladeshi Navy Force Riverine Unit

The whole program was really fruitful, those journalists got most of the information they wanted, they took pictures, and interviewed people. Everything went as planned except for the weather. Somehow during the visit (the second day precisely) the rain was just suddenly pouring and it never stopped! We were not ready with our rubber boots so we finally had to walk with bare foot, we were simply dancing in the mud… A bit scary because it was very slippery and I was afraid to fall down into the mud but it was fun too! This is exactly how I feel everytime I hosted the media, I was a little bit nervous and afraid because they might quote me wrongly but somehow it was fun too because I used to be one of them!

Dancing in the mud...

Had to walk with bare foot when visiting UNICEF school construction site

At the end of the visit, my fellow journalists said that ‘Malakal visit’ was impressive and unforgettable… Dancing in the mud was the highlight! They were happy to see the ‘real’ face of Malakal (muddy and slippery) so they knew the real condition in Malakal. They promised to write something about it and apparently the promise was kept because Malakal finally became the headlines of most newspapers in Khartoum for the entire week!!!

Hosting Khartoum-based national media visiting UN in Malakal in 2009

This story was published at http://dreamerchant.com under the same title.

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