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Archive for the ‘Mission Life’ Category

“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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Save Our Souls…

Save Our Souls… SOS! These words are usually used by marines or soldiers when they were in emergency situation and needed some help by sending out SOS code. In Sudan, SOS means orphanage children’s village.

Welcome to SOS Children's Village Malakal

Last Thursday, my colleagues from United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) Welfare committee went to SOS Children’s Village in Malakal to donate some clothes and food. We wanted to share the Christmas happiness with them. We came to the Village in the afternoon, gathered the children, sang some songs together and of course we also distributed their favourite snack… candies!

UNMIS Welfare Committee with the kids of SOS Children's Village Malakal

Enjoying the candy...

SOS Kinderdorf International a.k.a. SOS Children’s Village was found in 1949. SOS Children’s Village International headquarters is in Vienna, Austria. There are two SOS Children’s Village in Sudan, they are in Khartoum and Malakal.

SOS Kinderdorf International a.k.a. SOS Children’s Village

SOS Children’s Village in Malakal opened in March 2002. It consists of 11 family houses. To date there are 108 children living there, their ages are from one day to 14 years old. SOS Children’s Village focuses on family-based, long-term care of children who can no longer grow up with their biological families. Each family house is usually occupied by eight to ten children with two social workers whom they call ‘Mother’ and ‘Aunt’ to take care of them everyday. They live together as if they were a family.

One of the family house

I admired the hard work that has been done by these mothers and aunts. Although they are not the children’s biological mother or aunt but they really dedicated themselves to take care of these children as if they were their own sons and daughters. These mothers and aunts will not sleep if one of their children is sick.

I posed with the 'mothers' and 'aunts' as well as other social workers of SOS

They really have strong family bond! I saw by myself a two-year old child was excited running toward his ‘mother’ to hug and kiss her as soon as he saw his ‘mother’ coming from far away.

Look at these kids... As if they were siblings!

I asked M, one of the social workers, about where they are sending the children after 14 years old. M explained that those who are older than 14 years old are sent to boys and girls dormitories, they will be taken care over there until they graduate from high school. After high school, they either went to college with some scholarships or went back to their relatives in their original village.

M & me after the UN Day celebration

Last October, we, UNMIS Malakal, also celebrated UN Day together with SOS Children’s Village. Those children were very happy that day! They were dancing, singing and really enjoying the celebration. I was very happy to know at least we could do something to make their day, even only one day!

The children were singing & dancing during the UN Day celebration

SOS Children's Village Malakal choir

Posed with the kids... The celebration was really fun!

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

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You don’t have to go to fancy restaurant to get international cuisine in Malakal, please just come to our ‘Tukul’ (Tukul is Sudanese way to call their traditional house, we built one in our compound as our gathering place) and you will enjoy our international cuisine. They were all guaranteed to be authentic because the recipes were brought directly from the original countries.

We had Christmas dinner last weekend and I was amazed with the menu selection, it was very impressive! We consist of various nationalities such as Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, Holland, Canada, Peru, Honduras, and Uruguay. So that night every continent cooked their own food and brought them in to our Christmas dinner.

I’m not very good in identifying food but that night I was trying my best to observe what kind of food that was served on the table.

Let’s start with Asian continent! I saw my Philippino friend, NR, was preparing roasted chicken. He stuffed the chicken with sweet corn, garlic, onion, green paprika and seasoned it with fish sauce, olive oil and salt. When the chicken was well roasted and taken out from the oven he then cut the chicken into pieces. If you see the photo you can hardly see that it’s roasted chicken but trust me, the taste was incredibly delicious!

Our roasted chicken cut into pieces

Another Asian food served that night was chicken curry! Yes, my Sri Lankan friends made very tasty chicken curry and of course it was very spicy too… Whoa!!!

Sri Lankan chicken curry... Spicy one!

From European continent, my dear friend from Holland, JV, stirred vegetables (potatoes, carrots, green beans) together with chicken and rice. When JV brought the food in I knew right away that it would be one of the best foods served that night and I guess I was correct!

Stirred vegetables with chicken and rice

Last but not least, my American continent fellows made beef sirloin steak. They cut the steak into small pieces so we could enjoy it as a ‘finger food’… Yummy!

'Malakal-American' version beef sirloin steak

Apparently that night was not only for Christmas dinner… We continued with singing (luckily one of us knew very well how to play guitar) and salsa dancing (with authentic Latino DJ!). I really enjoyed that night and now I’m seriously thinking to join salsa class next year…

Malakal Idol

I’m living far away from my family and friends now but in Malakal, I have finally met many people from various countries to be my friends and family whom I can share the joy with… I’m truly grateful for that!

Despite different nationalities, we are one family!

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

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“President Obama plans to send 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan…”

Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan has been the hottest news for the last three days. Everytime I watch the news on TV, the above quote has always been the headline news of the day.

Speaking about Afghanistan… It reminds me to my experience living in Kabul back in 2003-2004.

I never thought that I would spend one year of my life in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous countries in the world where bombs and rockets are exploded almost everyday with additional experience – being robbed in the first month of my stay. I went to Afghanistan to work with United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). When I received an appointment letter I was a little bit shocked because I never thought that I would be sent to Afghanistan. I still remember the first time I set my foot at Kabul airport on October 20, 2003. My first impression about Kabul city was ruined and cold. It was the first time in my life I could really feel how to be in the war zone area; from the airport on the way to town I saw so many buildings were collapse and ruined because of bombs and rockets explosions. Kabul is the largest city in Afghanistan with approximately three millions of population. It used to be very modern and popular as economic and cultural centre. Unfortunately the war which began in October 2001 between U.S. military operation and al-Qaeda, an Islamic extremist which is led by Osama bin Laden torn the city apart and left it ruined and wasted. After two years of war, people were trying to do their activities in town like normal but I could feel that they were still filed with fear and anxious. I could see people were walking on the street with eyes looking down it seemed they were afraid to look at the strangers and very reserved. Most women were still wearing burqa: it’s long blue veil to cover their face and body. This made Kabul seemed very cold and unwelcome. This impression was confirmed after I was being robbed at the Chinese restaurant three weeks later.

In the first two weeks I was put into a guest house in the middle of town. I recall the guest house was very modest such as the building was very old and the furniture was incomplete. I had to pay USD$35 per-night including breakfast and dinner but still I considered it was a little bit expensive. On the third week I decided to move out and rent a house together with five of my colleagues, three females and two males. It was nearly a week after my housemates & I moved into the new house when the robbery happened. It was seven o’clock in the evening when we, the female residents, came home and the electricity was off. We just moved into that house so we still tried to organize our house such as to bring in some furniture and to have proper kitchenette therefore we were unable to cook for our dinner. “Let’s have dinner in the nearest restaurant, I saw there is a Chinese restaurant just a cross the road,” my housemate, CS, suggested. Somehow we all just agreed with her idea without giving a second thought whether this restaurant was security cleared by the UN security. At that time security situation in Kabul was unpredictable and unsafe therefore we must not go to any restaurant which was not security cleared by the UN and there were only six restaurants allowed to be visited by UN staff. These six restaurants were cleared because they were within safe zone area; near UN office, so if something happened it is easy for security to evacuate us. We knew that this restaurant was not cleared by the UN security and we were also aware that this wasn’t a good idea but because we were very hungry so we thought that a quick dinner across the street would be fine. As soon as we came to the restaurant we ordered a big bowl of hot sour chicken soup as appetizer before we went for our main course. The restaurant seemed nice and quiet with Chinese decoration style such as a golden dragon was placed on top of the gate, a panda and bamboo painting and red lanterns were hung on the wall. The Chinese waitresses were also very friendly even though they could hardly speak English. They came to our table with big smile and tried to communicate with us as best as they could like they gave us the menu list and pointed out some numbers which I understood straight away that they wanted us to order the food by pointing out the menu numbers. Besides us I saw some Indian gentleman who also had dinner on the table next to ours.

When we were almost finished our soup we were shocked by screaming and yelling from outside restaurant. Suddenly there were eight Afghan gunmen came into the restaurant, they covered their faces with scarf but I noticed from their language they used which was Dari, a daily language which is used by locals. For a second I couldn’t believe what I just saw, “We are being robbed!” that was I whispered. I’m not that good in distinguishing any type of gun so what I can say is these robbers had long armed guns, one of my housemates said that it was AK-47. They wore light green military uniforms but I wasn’t sure whether they were really military. I was frozen like ice cube, I could not move myself. I was trying to make myself believe that this was just a bad dream but it was not… It was real! We were all pushed into the kitchen and one of the robbers yelled at us, “Dollar, dollar, dollar!!!” He took all of our money, I still remember I had USD$10 in my pocket and I took it out straight away and handed it to the robbers but my housemates got robbed USD$100, USD$150 and USD$900 each! The robbers also asked for our mobile phones but this time I didn’t surrender mine. I put my mobile phone into my inside pocket of my jacket and I insisted not to give it up voluntarily. Luckily none of the robbers touched me so they didn’t know that I had one. At that time my phone was on and I really wished no one called because it would have been disaster for me if it rang!

The robbers forced us to sit on the floor to watch them beating and looting the Indian gentleman. I was terrified to witness the Indian gentleman being beaten brutally. From the appearance I assumed that this Indian was a rich businessman: he had a lot of money in his wallet and he wore Rolex watch, big gold necklace and bracelet. The robbers just didn’t waste their time they took everything from the Indian, his money, watch, necklace, bracelet and mobile phone. Basically this Indian gentleman was left with nothing but wounded and injured especially his head. I held my breath when I saw one of the robbers hit the Indian’s forehead with his gun over and over. “Oh God, I just came to Afghanistan and I don’t want to die like this,” that was the only thought in my mind. I didn’t even dare to look at the robbers directly and all of us were silent not any single word came out from our mouths. Some of the robbers went to the restaurant bar and took all liquors, wines and beers. They also grabbed all the money in the cashier. Finally after they got everything they wanted, they locked us up in the kitchen, threw the key away and left. We didn’t make any single move or sound until we heard nothing outside. As soon as we were sure that the robbers already went away we broke the door and four of us ran away back to our house. I was in the deep shocked and so were my housemates. We thought that we were going to die there or at least shot or injured. “It was like an action movie but this one was real!,” that was my housemate, MA, recalled. I felt like just waking up from a nightmare. My other housemate, IV, couldn’t make any comment because she was the one who was robbed USD$900 and we couldn’t get our lost to be reimbursed by the insurance because that Chinese restaurant was not cleared by the UN security.

Indeed we were unfortunate: we came to the wrong place at the wrong time; we came to the restaurant which was not on the UN safe list which we should have been aware that we were not allowed to go there because anything bad could happen at anytime in Kabul. But this taught me something meaningful which I have valued it since. I learned how to appreciate life more especially if we are living in a tough country like Afghanistan: our lives are put at risk everyday. Today I’m alive but tomorrow I might die because of bomb, rocket or gun shot. Today the town where I live is peaceful but tomorrow there may be a fight between government soldiers and rebels. Maybe I’m just having dinner at home instead of restaurant but suddenly there is a rocket shot and blown my house. I have become wiser to live my life and I have also become more careful and precautions on surroundings. I never know when I’m going to die but when the time comes at least I know that I don’t waste my life for nothing like ignoring the security advisory and going to the place where I shouldn’t go.

Imee at Kabul Stadium

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

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Last night my friend AG and I had a very interesting conversation about Malakal (the capital town of Upper Nile state, Southern Sudan, where I’m currently living and working). We talked from tribal clashes that have been going on and on, cattle raiding, food, vegetables, and how expensive the chicken egg in Malakal is, to livelihood. Despite the difficulties and negativity, we praised the Malakal soil that is so fertile and not to mention it’s also vast, but empty.

Our conversation then moved to how Malakal people actually can utilize their vast land and fertile soil. Instead of letting this land empty and dry, it would be better if they start to learn how to work on their soil. So far, they only count on their cattle because the main livelihood in Sudan is to have hundreds or even thousands of livestock.

If you go to Malakal market, you can hardly find fresh vegetables. Also, the chicken egg in Malakal is very expensive, you have to pay one Sudanese pounds (equivalent to USD$0.50) for an egg! Vegetables, fruits, chicken meat and eggs are coming from Khartoum therefore the price is very expensive.

AG & I wondered whether Malakal people have interest in agriculture. If they are worry about irrigation, they shouldn’t be, because they live by the Nile River. They have plenty of water for their farm. They can also buy 100 or 200 chickens from Khartoum if they want to start a chicken and egg farm in town.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been supporting Malakal people in agriculture. They distributed seeds, crops and tools as well as held some training on how to start farming, use the tools, grow the crops and seeds and harvest them. But it seems a little bit difficult to encourage the people because apparently agriculture is not really popular in Malakal.

Today I went jogging and as usual I always passed through empty land near by the compound. I noticed there were only a couple of acacias standing and wild grass growing on it. I stared on it for a moment and started to wonder when these people are going to be hand in hand to grow something on their land. These people would fight and kill each other over the land unfortunately they ended up never utilizing it properly for their own good.

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