Everything posted here is stricktly the opinion of the poster and shall not be taken to be the official position of UNMIS, UNMISS, UN, the Norwegian Armed Forces or any other organisation whatsoever.

Thursday 30 September 2010

A taste of Sudan

Two other UNMOs came by the Norwegian House today, on their way home on leave. Since neither had eaten, and nor had any of us living at the House, they suggested going to a place they knew...

A quick glance at the menu, and I know what I wanted: Under the heading 'Sudanese Specialties" was several intriguing dishes.. I ended up ordering Shaiaa - cubes of lamb fried with onion, served with rice, flat bread and a tasty, tasty dipping sauce. So yummy, I ended up finishing the plate even if it was an american-sized portion.

Pretty stuffed now, and ready for the weekend.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Licenses w/ attaching and connecting parts

Again I'm reminded that the standards for training down here is, to be blunt, minimal.

Well, let me clarify: Not 'minimal' in the sense of inadequate, but minimal in the sense of 'the least we can get away with to prove to our satisfaction that you can complete your mission'.

Take for instance the test I had to take to be issued a UN driving license. It consisted of two parts:

  • Pull out of parking space. Take a right turn, drive 50 meter. Reverse and back into same parking space.
  • Safely navigate a few hundred meters of Khartoum traffic, including two right hand turns.
While not a driving test per see in the normal sense, at least it'll demonstrate to the examiner if you know how to handle a car or not. And since having a national driving license is a requirement to apply for a job in the mission, why bother doing more? It would be a waste of resources.

However, once the driving test was done, the test of patience begins... you bring your driving test form - signed by the examiner - to one office to be stamped. You then bring your stamped form to a second office, where the information will be entered into a computer and the stamp will be countersigned. THEN you can bring the countersigned form to a third office, where the clerk will look at your form and print a credit card sized license with the information entered into the computer by the clerk in the second office.

Yay bureaucracy!

Monday 27 September 2010

Hot winds and home made spaghetti

A warm wind is blowing over Khartoum today... a small haboob (sandstorm) is signaling that the wet season is history and the dry season is upon us. Even the inside of the Norwegian House smell like hot sand.

Partly due to the weather and partly due to being bored of eating out every day, we decided to raid the pantry and see what we could up with - turns out one of my coworkers have an education as a cook before he joined the service. From the odds and ends we found in the pantry and freezer he came up with some excellent spaghetti and sauce.

The rest of the evening is going to be reasonable slow - a Norwegian Major in Afganistan have made some less than well thought out comments to the media, and the resulting shitstorm is subject to a lot of discussions between the us. Seems that wherever two or more officers gather, they talk shop in one form or the other.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Sunday is the new Monday

One thing that will probably take a little bit to get used to - if I end up being posted to the northern part of Sudan - is the fact that the weekend consists of Friday and Saturday. But since I don't know where I'll be posted yet, even though I have a few wishes, I've decided not to worry about it yet. As for why I don't know where I'll be posted yet - why, that is partly because one need to pass the driving test and the English Language Proficiency test first. The former I'll take this coming Wednesday. The latter I had today...

Yes, I do realize that such tests has to be geared towards the lowest possible denominator. Yes, I do realize that Norwegians and other Scandinavians have a better education in English than most since our native languages are spoken by a mere handful of people around the world. And yet I can't shake the feeling that a 8th grader from Norway would been able to pass the test with flying colours.

The test itself was in four parts:
  • Insert the missing word in sentences, mostly different tenses of verbs
  • Demonstrate that you understand a written test, by means of a number of questions
  • Demonstrate that you can give directions from point A to point B as given on a simple map
  • Write a short essay about your home nation - highlighting geographical, political and cultural issues - of fifteen lines or more.
The maximum time one can spend on the test is one hour - I finished early (as I always did on tests while I was in school) and filled the sheet on the last question. Results are posted tomorrow, and I need 70% or more to pass.

Also today we got issued the last of our gear; field bed, mosquito dome, sat phone, field rations, mosquito oil and fly paper. I'll do a "functional check" of the sat phone later today, after we have pizza here on the Norwegian House.

Saturday 25 September 2010

When in Sudan, eat as a European...

So far, my forays into Sudanese cuisine has been severely lacking...
so far our dinners have been Italian, Indian and generic European,
while lunches have been more of the same. Not that the food has been
bad - far from it; it's tasty, plentiful and rather cheap - but the
closest I've gotten to Sudanese cooking so far is the tasty bread our
Admin Officer brings home when he has to make errands early in the
It's hard to make sweeping statements after less than a week in a city
of 2.2 million (or 11 million, if you count the larger Khartoum urban
area), but it seems to me that the Sudanese middle class likes to eat
foreign food when they do go out - much like the average Norwegians
seems to prefer to not eat typical Norwegian fare (whatever that is
these days - best guess is frozen pizza) when they do hit the town.
However, based on what I've been told before I headed down here and on
what I've heard from the UNMOs that was heading home, typical Sudanese
fare varies considerable depending on where you are in Sudan. After
all, we're talking about a nation that is as large as western
Europe... it would be strange if it was a monoculture as far as the
food goes.
Some common themes seems to be beans and rice - which suits me fine.
Both are easy to cook, stores well and works with whatever safe
vegetables and meats I can lay my hands on.
To put costs a bit in perspective; eating out in Khartoum has run to
about 25 to 30 Sudanese pounds a day. Out on a team site I'll
apparently be hard pressed to spend 50 to 100 pounds a week on food.
One pound is 42 US cents.. so from our point of view things are fairly

Wednesday 22 September 2010

More training, more heat

A warm wind was blowing through the streets of Khartoum as we was waking to HQ this morning, bringing the smell of hot dessert into town. But even so I've realized that I don't sweet much more than I do at home in summer - the low humidity must have something to with it I think.

Khartoum is a city I haven't really gotten a great grip on yet...  it's warmer but less humid than Houston, got the dusty smell I recall from Malta in summer (only more so), and despite the hustle and bustle it just don't seem terrible busy. Most of the people we run into are smiling, and more than a few waves and says hello as we walk past. Despite being in a place completely unfamiliar to me, I can't say I feel ill at ease.

More training today, ranging from Public Information via MedEvac to how to report people breaking the UN rules and regulations. Most of it useful and interesting stuff, some less so. And for some reason it seems that the least interesting subjects are taught by the people with the heaviest accents, which makes it even harder to pay attention in class.

We were done a little earlier today, so I got some snaps of the area just outside the Norwegian House and the little garden in front of it.

 The Admin Officer in charge of the House wants to take us out to eat again today... I think he is enjoying the company and showing off the places he has found. Nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Started training

Khartoum is... warm. Very warm indeed, The air has the smell of baked sand, which is probably what is causing the smell in the first place - Seeing as how Khartoum is in the desert and the sun shines straight down year round.

Yesterday - Monday - was my first full day in Sudan, and my first encounter with UN bureaucracy... there is a lot of it. Copies in triplicates, sign on the dotted line, go from office to office, and so on and so forth. Was almost a relief today to have a full day of training instead, even if we didn't finish checking in (we'll do that on Thursday).

Training itself was easy enough: lots of common sense, ground we covered back in Norway and so on. Off course, that don't mean it was boring or uninteresting, far from it. The instructors was very keen and their English was more than understandable. Only trouble was the guys in the back who couldn't keep their trap shut.

Khartoum itself is also quite interesting. If you take away the dust and the heat, it could be any major city in, well, middle east. It is somewhat weird to see shops with signs in English and Arabic... at least I assume it is Arabic - I can't read it. I did spot a billboard for Jotun paints - the largest manufacturer of paint in Norway. Made me sit up and pay attention.

We're currently living in the so called Norwegian House - a big house with room enough for the seven UNMOs that came down, along with the resident admin-officer and two staff officers working the HQ. Only downside? Ten guys, three bathrooms, do the math.

Tomorrow it's more training. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday 20 September 2010

Deployment day!

The following was written right after take-off from Frankfurt:
At this point I has been awake for almost 14 hours, and on the road for 12 1/2 of those... and I can tell. While the trip so far has been uneventful, it is taking it's toll - I'm quite tired. The flight fro Oslo to Frankfurt was no more than half full, but this flight is packed pretty full. I've only spotted two empt seats in the cabin so far. We're a total of seven UNMOs from Norway traveling at the same time, but we're spread all over the plane... shame, sine it might be nice to have someone to talk to about whats ahead. But it was nice to share a quick meal and a soda at the airport together, since the 'meal' on the flight to Frankfurt was... well... distincly not filling.

Germany - which I'm right above as I write this - is very green, almost as green as Norway is in spring. I drink in the view, realising that it might be the last big expance of green I see in a long time... more so if I'm posted to the northern parts of the mission area.

I worry for my mate... can't help to wonder how she's doing (logically, she's probably doing just fine, everything considered). At this pont I don't worry about how high the roaming charges are going to be - I'll call her when I land in Khartoum.

The rest is written as I lay in bed here in the Norwegian House:
The rest of the flight went smoothly, but that was to be expected... long flights are just long and dull. Arrived at Khartoum Airport, got our visas, fetched the luggage (all arrived in one piece) and traveled to the Norwegian House - our "home away from home". Got the brief brief, the quick tour of the house and the password to the WiFi... and that's all. Tomorrow we'll start checking in at the UNMIS Mission HQ - but mostly we start getting used to the weather. It's warm and humid for a 'wege.

Overall I'm looking forward to the job itself down here - I'm just NOT looking forward to being so far away from my family and home.

Friday 17 September 2010

Last (I promise) new gear

This time; A coffee mug! Or possible a coffee pot... or tea pot. It's for making and consuming hot, caffeinated beverages!

The makers of it call it a "travel press", and that nicely describes what it is; it's a coffee press that doubles as a travel mug. Coffee to go has never been more true. As those who knows Norwegians know all too well; we drink coffee by the bucket. So it was very lucky that my better half decided that she wanted to see if the local kitchen supply store had something else on sale still, because last we were there the travel presses sold for more than twice the price.

I have to admit; I'm testing it out right now =)
Oh, shiny!

Silicone seals, unscrews easily, leak proof closure - what is not to like?

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Papers please...

Travelling to Sudan isn't quite as easy as strolling down to the shop to pick up a carton of milk, and requires a bit more paperwork than taking a vacation in the that strange place Norwegian calls the South (ie; somewhere warm and not Norway).

It's even more complicated than going to the US, even after the latest changes to the rules for doing that...

Anyhow, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place today; I got an electronic copy of my ticket. So now I got my Service Passport, my little yellow booklet with my vaccinations listed, my Entry Visa, my Travel Authorisation and my ticket... and add to that the entry form I need to fill out in flight with the address I'll be reachable at in Sudan and you got it all.

Okay, I kept you reading long enough - what you really would like to know is when I'm leaving, right?

My flight out of Norway is Sunday 19th at 10:20 in the morning, via Frankfurt and on towards Khartoum. I should arrive in Khartoum at 22:55 at night, which would be 21:55 Norwegian time and 15:55 in the afternoon EST.

Due to the fact that I have to check in at least two hours ahead of time (flying international and all), I need to take the bus that leaves from Moss shortly after 05:00 in the morning. Seems like my deployment day is going to be a very long day...

Saturday 4 September 2010

Lines of communication and cake

Just in case not everybody is aware of it, the following is my lines of communication:
  • The blog is for things that are not private.
  • For things that are private but not time critical, there is email.
  • For things that are private and time critical, there is phone (satellite or UN copper)
  • And there there is snailmail
Also, today I was asked to swing by work around lunch time (I'm currently burning vacation days), so my fellow officers and civilian co-workers could have the chance to wish me a safe trip. Nothing fancy - thankfully - but touching nevertheless and much appreciated.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Schedule changes

As the date creeps closer, some things are slipping. Like, say, the date.

I got an email today - in response to a question I asked - indicating that I won't be shipping out on the 13th. But then I always knew that there was a good chance of the date slipping somewhat. The latest info is that I'm likely to ship out on the 18th or 19th - if the UN in New York gets around to sending my paperwork in time that is.

The good thing is that it gives me more time to get everything in order around the house, as well as more time to learn how to use my latest gear.