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.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Lessons learned - last post for now

It's been a while since I returned home, and I have had some time to think about a few of the things I learned while in southern Sudan and South Sudan, in no particular order:
  • First off, those of us living in modern nations with a working infrastructure simply don't get how well off we actually are. This applies for such things as roads, sanitation, healthcare, schools, security (police and military) and so on and so forth.
  • Speaking of roads; I will never say that Norwegians roads are bad ever again - there is something about getting stuck in bottomless mud on the "highway" in the middle of the biggest town in the area that drives home that fact. I will point out that Norwegians roads could certainly be better - we could afford that with all the money we are pumping out of the sea.
  • The Norwegian Military takes - overall - very good care of us while we're abroad, and the gear we have with us will cover pretty much any eventuality. Much of the gear I brought with me came home unused, some never made it down to Sudan. Compared to my friends from other nations, we're EXTREMELY well equipped - everything from socks and underwear to Class IV vests* and satellite phones.
  • Being away from home for so long is harder on the ones left at home - if you're out on duty you're busy, while they have plenty of time to think (and twice the workload to deal with at home too).
  • Arabic is very difficult to pick up if all your previous experiences are various Germanic languages.At the same time, stating that you're fluent in two (Norwegian and English), can understand and read two more (Danish and Swedish) as well as making heads and tails of one more if it's written down and I have time (German) looks pretty impressive on the UN CV...
  • Getting used to being home again takes longer than it took getting used to being away. Strange, but true.
  • Some people are on UN missions because of the pay check, some are not. Properly motivated and guided both can do excellent work.
  • The major challenge is the cultural difference - not between yourself and the locals, but between yourself and other UN personnel. In all fairness they told us this before we deployed, but it has to be experienced to drive the lesson home.

In retrospect, was it worth it? Yes... and how. It's been a long year, but a good one. Difficult at times, but rewarding. Lonely, but with many new friends. Slow at times, but passed quickly.
The Norwegian Defence Medal for International Operations
The UNMIS medal
And with that I'll close this blog for now - if I do go on a new mission I will revive it. If anyone have any questions, comments or remarks, leave a comment and I'll do my best to reply.
Thank you for reading!

*) To put our vests into perspective; the other officers opted to use the UN provided vests, which in theory is Class III. However, materials degrade over time, and personally I would not trust my life to the UN vests if there is a Norwegian vest areound. If the option is to do with no vest, then I would use the UN vest.

Monday 26 September 2011

Flying home

Just wanted to share a photo I took through the window of the plane during the last leg - roughly at the spot where we crossed into Norwegian airspace - click to make bigger.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Home at last

It was a very long trip home...

We travelled as a group of six Norwegians, which was nice since I had someone to talk to along the way. Getting to Juba Airport around 1400 local time (1300 Norwegian time), we got through the check-in and security check with no hassle - travelling in uniform does have it's benefits. Then we had to hang around in the departure hall until well past five in the afternoon, being warm and sweaty. For some reason that was beyond the grasp of any of us, our little group was split up on two different flights leaving with fifteen minutes between us. We found it strange, and even more so when we realised that both flights had enough free seats to fit the whole group twice over.

Our first jump brought us to Addis Ababa, where we had some food before going through yet another security check. Our next flight was to take off at 2300 local time (2200 Norwegian time), and once aboard we realised just how little the UN must have paid for our tickets - if we had been further back in the cabin we would been riding in the galley... and as I'm sure most know; being in the back means more noise, more traffic in the aisle and less rest. Between take off and landing I got less than half an hour of napping, but I did get to watch a couple of movies and read a fair bit.

Landing in Frankfurt, we had time for a cup of coffee and a bite before boarding the last flight - again I was in the back, with my back against the galley wall. The nice thing was that I got a row all to myself, so I could relax and read some more while listening to music. It ended up being the most relaxing part of the jorney home to be honest...

We touched down at Oslo Airport about a quarter to ten in the morning, but our epic travels were far from done... we were picked up at the airport and taken to a nearby military base for our medical debrief and the handing out of medals. Since I've been extremely lucky (and also quite careful while in Sudan) I got a clean bill of health - at least until the results of the blood work comes in. They fed us too; slices of wholegrain bread with stuff on them, just the thing I've been missing the last year (the only bread I could find in Sudan was white bread).

After pinning a medal on us they drove us back to the airport; some of us had a flight to catch to get all the way home, some of us had made other arrangements. I finally walked through my door around 1800 on Thursday, home at last...

Wednesday 21 September 2011

All dressed up with somewhere to go

My boxes and bags are all packed, I got my papers in order and I'm ready to go home. Today it is:
Three years is a long time, and it has been quite a ride at times. But I've been so lucky as to have the support of my family the whole time - a bit of foot dragging in the first few days from parts of it, but once it was clear that the other option was to be pulled into the maelstrom that is Afghanistan I got good and unwavering support all the way.
This year has been an experience and an education. I've meet some wonderful people, been places a Norwegian is unlikely to wind up by himself, seen good times and bad. I've battled the UN bureaucracy, and I've gotten away with things that I shouldn't - all in the name of building a good team and doing the mission. I've had bad days, and I've had good days. I've been in UNMIS, and I've been in UNMISS.
I've had a good year.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Stoopid 'net

It is kind of amazing, but never the less through: My internet connection worked better in Yei - which is at the back of the beyond - than it has the last few days in Juba - which is the largest and most modern city in South Sudan. Most likely it has a lot to do with the near explosive growth Juba have experienced; the building of infrastructure don't manage to keep pace with the growth in users.

In a couple more days it won't matter anymore, at least not for me. Tomorrow afternoon we'll be heading to the airport, and the day after I'll be in Norway. We'll be picked up from the airport, given a quick medical checkout and debrief before we're free to go home - with a bit of luck I'll be home for dinner.

Sunday 18 September 2011

The very last day of my mission

Today was the last official day of my mission in South Sudan, and it was a day full of frustration - mostly because the lock on the door to my door decided to break, and break in such a way as to prevent me from getting the door open. It took seven (!) hours for the landlord to send someone over to fix it, so my entire schedule for the day got messed up majorly.

My boxes and bags are repackages again, this time inventoried and signed off. Now I just need a cargo number from the UN, and I can hand them over to the AdmOff for further processing. Without the UN cargo number it can be months before I see them again... I found it better to get everything sorted out today, just in case.

I also got a bad case of travel fever.  A couple of days ago I would happily have stayed on a couple months more, now I can't wait to get home.

End of Mission Barbecue

Yesterday was pretty busy - we had a "going away barbecue" in the Norwegian House, and everyone had a task to do (and most volunteered for a lot more along the way).

Backing up a couple of steps: While the FHQ - and thus the Norwegian House - was in Khartoum it was a tradition that when a group of UNMOs / SOs had their End Of Mission held a more-or-less formal dinner at a high end restaurant, with speeches, handing over of medals, toasts* and so on and so forth.

Fast forward to the present day: FHQ has relocated to Juba,  therefore the Norwegian House has as well. And while there is plenty of pretty good restaurants in Juba, there isn't any that we're aware of that offers the requisite combination of good dining, privacy for a large group and reasonable cost**.

Logical solution: Do it ourselves - we're officers and UNMOs/MLOs and therefore fully capable of organizing something out of nothing.

A barbecue was borrowed, coal bought, enough food and drinks for 20 or so hungry 'weges was hunted down from a cross section of the shops and markets in Juba. My task was - along with a couple of others - to put meat and fowl on the barbecue and make sure it didn't turn into carbon... off course, I couldn't resist doing a bit more than that. So in the morning I joined forces with the group that went shopping for drinks and vegetables, then I pitched in a bit in the kitchen before I lent a hand in setting up the barbecue.

The barbecue was a rousing success. Enough food, enough drinks, and lots of happy faces. Speeches were made, medals handed out to everyone found deserving - in other words, everyone who have been in the mission for long enough - and most people were still hanging out and talking well past midnight. Lets just say Im getting a hunch it won't be the last barbecue in the New Norwegian House.

*) In Khartoum, toasts were done with non-alcoholic drinks off course.
**) Seeing as how the going-away-party is a semi-official occasion, it is paid for by the Norwegian House - which ultimately means it's paid for by our tax-money.

Friday 16 September 2011

Last working day of the mission

Yes, I did in fact get my package today - one "under armour" shirt (a cool-max t-shirt torso with uniform jacket sleeves) and one envelope with a birthday letter and a small present from my parents! Only took it about three months to get to me... way to go, MovCon. Fair is fair though, a lot of the delay was due to a severe lack of forward planning from UN.

Most of the morning was spent sipping coffee in the cafeteria down in Camp, waiting for our tickets and travel authorizations to come through - which they haven't so far. So me and some of the others decided to give up and return on Monday, walking back to the Norwegian House and have a simple lunch. Even though Sunday is technically our last day in the mission, getting into camp should be no trouble at all.

Tomorrow we're going to have a farewell party for the six of us that are going home, so this afternoon we'll have to go shopping.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Almost tangible package

In the continuing saga about my box I can report almost tangible results... while I didn't find it while I visited MovCon LogBase today, they called me pretty much as soon as I got back to the Norweigan House and told me they had found it and had put it aside for me. As an added bonus I spotted a bag one of the other Norwegians have been hunting for since June as well, so that's a win-win. We're both getting our long missed stuff tomorrow morning!

I was also told today that our tickets have been booked; leaving next Wednesday and flying much the same route to Norway as I did the last time I was on leave. So while it might been fun to have gone via Entebbe and cross out yet another country from my list of places to go, it's even nicer not having to learn the layout of yet another airport I won't come back to anytime soon. And I'll get to pick up a few souvenirs from Ethiopia as well... just like I'm planning to pick up a couple of t-shirts from South Sudan tomorrow or Monday.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Been a sort of lazy Wednesday

Only... not really. Yes; I didn't get too much done today, but getting it done took a lot of footwork. I started trying to track down my package I started out at MovCon down at the terminal, then wandered off to the MovCon office in the main camp before waking all the way over to the Logistics Base on the outskirts of camp... and then I had to go through several lists of stuff that just arrived from Juba on paper ("Computers? What computers?")...

Got lucky though; my box IS in Juba, but the container it is in arrived last Friday and have yet to be unpacked. And since it was stacked on top of two others... They will unearth it for me though, so I can pick it up tomorrow after lunchtime. I'm excited - apparently one of the things in the box is a birthday present from my parents.

After doing that, and having lunch with the other Norwegians in the tukul, I came to the realization that  I didn't want to sit around in camp until the others were done at work... so I walked up to the Norwegian House. 2.59km done in 28 minutes, on dusty and muddy dirt roads, surrounded by the locals, a burning sun in a cloudless sky, and around 40 degrees Celsius - my uniform was soaked with sweat when I arrived. Welcome to Afria - I'm most assuredly not from around here.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Checked out - more or less

In the great UNMISS scavenger hunt for signatures I'm done - a check out that "should" take five working days finished in two. Being organised and having all my papers in order helped immensely off course, since that meant I didn't have to spend the time calling the Team Site and have them send me this, that and the other.

So I'm done walking around in the heat for now; only thing I got to do tomorrow is to head down to MovCon and hunt for that package that was sent to me in middle of June... with luck, it's here in Juba and not in Khartoum still.
The GPS track from my check out, click to make bigger. The main gate for the UN camp is in the bottom right corner. The outside temperature yesterday and today was around 35-36 Celsius... great weather to be walking on concrete paths among metal buildings!

Monday 12 September 2011

Started to check out

Most of today was spend chasing signatures and proving that the stuff I had singed over was in fact signed over - or in one cause, actually handed over to me in the first place. Got quite a bit of it done though, so I'll probably be finished checking out well before the end of the week. Won't get me home any sooner though...

Later we went for dinner at a local place owned by a Norwegian of all people, and had some pretty damn good pizza. I think it's the best pizza I've had in Sudan so far, North or South.

Drive through Juba and lunch by the Nile - the movie

The video is just long enough for a coffee break, so enjoy.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Lazy sunday

I got to play tourist today in Juba; first a few of us went down to the Nile (which is a river in Egypt, but more so in Sudan and South Sudan) for lunch on the riverbank. Afterwards we headed over to the Norwegian Embassy for a dip in the pool and some sunbathing, which is the first (!) time I've sunbathed since I arrived in Sudan last year. After all that we were so worn out we had to stop on the road back to the Norwegian House for another pizza...

Yeah, a lazy, touristy kind of day.

Which is kinda funny because ten years ago on the day I was also in a touristy mood, having just gotten off the flight to Thailand and all... just got to my hotel room, dumped down on the bed and decided to channel surf while relaxing on the bed for a bit - it was a loooong flight from Norway to Phuket Beach. The third or fourth channel was CNN - and they were reporting that about five minutes previously an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. Not a good start on my vacation...

Ten years is a long time... and I did have a good vacation in Thailand, just as I had a good day today. If the internet cooperates there will be a video up tomorrow morning.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Shopping in Juba

Due to a severe shortage of coffee - the fuel that makes Norwegians tick - some of the guys staying in the Norwegian House went on an expedition over to JIT supermarket in downtown Juba, most also taking the opportunity to grab some food for the next few days. In my cause, I picked up a pre-sliced bread and a jar of peanut butter, in addition to some crackers and a couple of cup noodles.

On our way back, we made a stop at the Juba Wood Market. The prices were decent and the selection was good, so I picked up a couple of souvenirs.

The New Norwegian House still have a few teething problems, mostly caused by the fact that most of the items from the Old Norwegian House still haven't made it down here. Even so it's a comfortable place to hang out and talk to other Norwegians, getting me used to taking my mother tongue again...

Friday 9 September 2011

Back in Juba

Been a long day... for some reason I woke up at five in the morning and figured I might as well just get up and get the last few things packed - even if I did take the time to give AC a good brushing and put the last few cat treats in a bow outside my door.

The helicopter arrived a little before it's normal time, but both me, the other Norwegian, the resident Canadian (going on leave) and one of my MLOs (also going on leave) were ready, so it didn't matter. despite the huge boxes that contain everything I own in Yei, we got the helicopter loaded and off the ground.

Juba is much the same as last time I was in town - warmer and muggier than Yei, and more expensive too. The Norwegian House is so full right now that I I have to borrow a room of a fellow officer who happen to be on CTo right now.

It was very emotional and touching to Leave Yei for the last time - but at the same time it is really nice to be going home for good - or at least for this time around.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Busy, busy

It is amazing how many things you need to do the very last day before you're leaving somewhere for good...

I started the day packing, then did some more packing before I headed over the YWAM school here in yei with some items; bandages, band-aids, disinfectant and suchlike for their little clinic, notebooks, pens and coloured pencils and more for their pupils... and enough US dollars for them to afford desks for their just finished classrooms and then some. They were very happy and grateful for the contribution - I just wish I could have stayed longer and done more for them... oh well, we have to do what we can with the time and resources we have.

After getting back from the school there was more packing, before my fellow Norwegian and myself went down for lunch with the BanBat officers. As always the food was excellent, and the company as well. I'm going to miss these Bangladeshi officers - I've learned a lot from them and they claims to have learned a lot from us as well. As the first Norwegians they have encountered, I would like to think that we have left them with a favorable impression. As we were getting ready to leave the table, they surprised us with a gift; we each got a really nice velvet UN baseball cap with BanBat-6 nicely embroidered in gold.

Later today (and tonight) I'll do some more packing - at this point I'm mostly moving stuff between bags - before my Norwegian friend, the resident Canadian, the two Indians from CITS and myself have a barbecue dinner in the MSA camp. After all the lunch with BanBat I'm not sure how much I'll be able to eat though...

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Farewell dinner

Over the months I've been here I've taken part in my fair share of farewell dinners - and today I was the guest of honor at the one held for my Norwegian colleague and myself. Lots of people showing up, from all the pillars in the Team Site (MLO, UNPOL, BanBat, Civil Affairs, CITS and so on) as well as a few guys from various NGOs I've been rubbing shoulders with the last year.

We held the dinner in the Blue, and he food - prepared by the cleaning staff, hijacked for the day - was plenty and tasty. After the food it was time for the speeches... and if half of what was said should be believed my Norwegian friend and myself have singlehandedly made the Team Site a better place.

I got mixed feelings about going home. On hand it's like "home, hell yeah!"... on the other hand I'm leaving behind people I've worked closely with for the last year. And while it has been times I've been wondering how people can be so incredible dense and/or stupid, for the most part we been able to put our cultural differences aside and work as a well functioning team. As people are fond to say when we have been welcoming new coworkers to Yei; we're more than a team, we're a family in Yei. And this have been made even clearer with the people who gotten redeployed to Yei from other Team Sites after July 9th - the stories they tell shows us just how lucky we been down here. Apart from an incident which took place two months before I arrived, there has been no fighting and very little argument between UNMOs - but if the stories are to be believed that is not too uncommon in other Team Sites (after all, it only takes two to fight and ruin the mood of the entire team).

I think one of the reasons why Yei have worked so well is that it's always been a small Team Site - the smallest in South Sudan - and that the officers stationed here have realized that they cannot afford to act like idiots if the team is to function. With the new, leaner mission all the Team Sites will be homes of small Teams. Hopefully the experience we have had in Yei will become common on all the sites in the future.

Monday 5 September 2011

Winding down

My time in Yei is coming to an end - I caught myself mentally packing my bags today, dividing my belongings into stuff to pack and stuff to hand over to the resident Canadian for him to pay forward to whoever need some gear. Some things I'll probably leave at the Norwegian House in Juba for the same purpose, and some things will be useful for me at home and will therefore take the long way back to Norway with me.

It is a shame that my tour of duty is winding down just as it seems that the new mission is finally winding up... just my luck I guess. I'll have to apply for a second UN tour to Sudan to see how things will work out.

Barbecue and campfire - the video

Updated - should work now
From last Friday; barbecue and campfire, rain be damned.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Last Saturday in Yei

At least according to plan, that is.

Apart from the ever present paperwork it was a quiet day, which suited me fine since it got a little too late last night. The only excitement was a meeting with the County Commissioner in Yei, to keep him up to speed of what the future plans of UNMISS in Yei is - a difficult task indeed, since we don't even know that ourself yet.

Taking an early night, hopefully getting some good sleep.

Yesterdays blogpost...

... disappeared in a puff of smoke and a torrent of rain.

On Thursday we spotted frozen chicken at our regular supplier (if by regular you mean "gets a shipment in from Uganda now and then") and promptly decided that Friday was barbecue night! So we spent some time assembling our barbecue - stacking bricks in other words - and getting the coals good and hot. Just as we put our chickens on the grill the sky opened up, it is after all still the wet season down here.

Slightly annoyed at the powers that be, but determined to have a boys night around the barbecue, we rigged up a small tarp over the food and fetched rain gear for ourselves. Sitting around a fire out in the rain waiting for our food brought back many memories from when I was an active boyscout...

The chickens turned out just about perfect, and even after eating we were unwilling to give up... so we put some firewood on the hot coals and turned our little barbecue into a campfire under the tarp. The rain had enough and gave up after a mere three hours of trying to drench us, so we took the tarp down and kept going until it got way too late - or rather early, depending on your point of view.

A very good evening well spent in the company of good friends in the MSA camp. I'm going to miss these guys.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Time flies

Provided the current plan holds, I have just over one week left in Yei Team Site - and less than three weeks to my End of Mission...

Honestly, what happened to the last year? It's been busy, for sure, but it has gone by pretty fast even so.

Yesterdays blog post

I must admit that I forgot - not the blog post, but that we were invited to a second Eid celebration. So last night, when I finally got back, I was simply too full to sit down in front of a computer and make words happen.

I count myself extremely lucky to serve my tour of Duty in Yei. Not only is it probably the best Team Site in South Sudan, but I'm serving with great officers from across the globe - which allows us to sample the best of each others culture.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Eid Mubarak!

Or, for those less well versed in Arabic; Happy Eid ul-Fitr!

Ramadan is over, and such a thing must be celebrated. So we, along with everyone else in the Team Site, was invited down to BanBat to share a meal. As always, their food is simply wonderful; just spicy enough to make your tongue tingle, yet not so strong it overshadows the subtle flavors. BanBat in Yei has some very, very good cooks.

Other than that, the resident Canadian and I made waffles for lunch. In other words, not much to report on.

Monday 29 August 2011

I could never get the hang of Mondays...

It's been an oddly disjointed day today. Keeping busy, but no red thread to keep things connected.

While things are still not properly organised in Juba, we gotten several jury rigged solutions in place; enough to let us send the daily reports and deal with Leave Requests and the like. The Acting Senior MLO seems to be up at all hours, to judge from the varied time stamps on the emails I get from him. Another few weeks and it should all be working smoothly - by which time I won't be here no more

Today was also the day we sent two of my MLOs to Bor in Jonglei State to help conduct Air Patrols. In short, they get to go to a different Team Site, take part in daily air patrols for two weeks and draw 30USD extra per day for their trouble... If it hadn't been so close to my End of Mission I would have volunteered myself.

I've noted that my eating habits have changed. It used to be that I had bread for breakfast, bread for lunch and then made dinner around dinnertime (1700 - 1800). Now I have a bit of bread for breakfast, make dinner for lunch and then have a snack in the evening... it actually works quite well, but it's not a schedule I can keep up after I get home and starts working; two hour lunch breaks would be frowned upon.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Rainy Sunday

Sundays can be slow in Yei, and even more so when it's gray and rainy all day. To cheer myself up a bit I made "fancy" dinner - fried up some of the little sausages I bought in the Indian store, sliced some of the little breads in two, toasted the bread in the fat left over from the sausages and made little sausage burgers:

Saturday 27 August 2011

Shooting the shit

Yet one of those slow, yet busy days.

Todays big issue was sending two of my MLOs to Bor for a two week temporary assignment - luckily for me the two fellows I wanted to send (because they are trustworthy and reliable) were more than happy to go; the lure of seeing a different part of South Sudan was too strong to resist.

The downside off course is that this leaves us with just enough people in the Team Site to conduct Town Patrols... even if I think we will manage to slip in a Welfare Patrol to Juba a few days before my Norwegian friend and I are to leave Yei to go to Check Out.

Later in the evening my Norwegian friend and I was hanging out down at the Blue with the resident Canadian, shooting the shit and in general having a good time. It's really nice to have some "neutral territory" like the Blue to hang out at; while we can (and do) visit each other for coffee and a chat it is subtly different to have a place which is no-ones home turf.

Friday 26 August 2011

BBQ night!

One thing I really like about the others who lives in the MSA camp here in Yei is that it's never hard to go from a vague idea to full tilt action. More or less out of the blue we decided around the time the helicopter arrived this morning that tonight was going to be barbecue night. Just because today was Friday, and that's all the excuse you need for doing something like that.
 Making fire - fire good.
 What else is there to do while waiting for the coals to get ready than to have a beer?
 Tiny little Indian beef sausages... one of the few meats I'll buy down here that is not alive when I bring it home.
 Getting in line for chow...
 Sausages, chilli, breads, mac n cheese, mustard, catchup, salad and more... a veritable feast!
And yet, with all that food, AC was mostly well behaved and didn't try to beg or steal.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

One of those days

It has been one of those days again - slow, yet busy. This morning we found an email in our inboxes, stating that the UNMO cell would be shut down - right now!

The rest of the day was spent trying to find out just who we are supposed to send our reports to from now on, in addition to making an updated Leave Plan for the next couple of months. Still not sure who to send it too - I might try to send it straight to the CMPO tomorrow.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Cats of Yei

Slow day today, with just three of us left in the Team Site - the four others went for a Welfare Tour to Juba.

Naturally, it wasn't just we who had a slow day:
 AC, doing her very best impression of a dead cat.
 One of the other cats - this one is one of the very few AC will hang out with.
Normally a very shy fellow, s/he was too lazy to run away today.

Monday 22 August 2011

Welcome to the UN

Before my eminent G1 was redeployed to UNAMID (aka Dafur), he had put the finishing touches on the leave plan for September and October. That's why I liked him as my G1 - very efficient and able to plan ahead.

Today? Well, someone at FHQ decided to change the percentage of MLOs permitted to be on leave at any given time... so I have to redo everything. Oh what great fun we have in the UN, doing everything at least twice.

To top it up we discovered that our large diesel storage tank have been contaminated with large amounts of water (probably because someone in Juba left the inspection manhole on the fuel bowser open during rain), so right now we're restricted to the fuel we have in our vehicles. Good thing we carry jerrycans around with us all the time.

So yes, I am a little frustrated with the UN right now. Still loving Yei though!

Sunday 21 August 2011

Sunday morning

I'm still getting used to being down here again - yesterday was a reasonable slow day, with the evening spent down at the Blue with some of my friends barbecuing chicken and drinking imported beer.

Today I should think about going shopping for some essentials, but i'll try to limit what I get somewhat. Now that there is less than a month left of my time in South Sudan, I should concentrate on eating up what I got and not on filling my larders.

Nothing much have changed in the Team Site, yet people are a lot more on the ball now that we've started doing patrols again. It does help to have some new faces too off course, the two MLOs we gotten from Malaysia are both competent officers with lots of smiles to share.

It is, I think, time to take a walk around camp.

Friday 19 August 2011

Back in Yei for the last time

Home away from home... that is what Yei has become over the last ten and a half month. And now I have just under a month left before my End of Mission, so it is kind of bitter-sweet to be back here after my last leave.

Nothing much have changed in the Team Site. A few familiar faces have left us - I meet with one of my team in Juba as I was getting ready to board, and one other on the helipad as I got of the flight as he was getting on - but also two new faces. Patrols have started again, and until we have a clear mandate from up high we're conducting them as we did before 9th July. We expect to have enough information to start changing the patrols around the same time as I leave Yei to go to check-out...

Other than that, no news of note. The flight from Juba to Yei was presumable uneventful - I say presumable since I was nodding off most of the way.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Once more in Juba

The flights were... okay. Not great, but not horrible by any stretch of the imagination. Mostly they were just boring...
First leg from Oslo to Frankfurt introduced me to the worlds laziest sandwich as the airline food: A miniature sub with margarine on, served with coffee, tea or softdrink of your choice. Small wonder I hit McDonalds at the airport to get something a bit more substantial in my belly before the next leg of the journey...
Frankfurt to Adis Ababa was a code share flight, so instead of Lufthansa I got to fly with Ethiopian Air. The upside of that is that since their planes are slightly older, they have the older style seating - which is a lot more comfortable when you turn a row of three into a makeshift bed. I got several hours of decent sleep out of that without getting a kink in my neck. Most enjoyable - even if I missed out on the onboard breakfast.
That turned out to be a very minor issue though - along with two fellow officers (one German, one from New Zealand) I had some pizza in the terminal while waiting for the turboprop to take us the last leg to Juba.
That last leg was uneventful until arrival... for some reason my bag was put aside for extra inspection, something which lasted until I mentioned that I was with the UN. At that point any interest in  my bag disappeared like the morning dew, and I could go out and meet with the AdmOff who drove me back to the Norwegian House where a bed was waiting.
The Norwegian House still isn't fully operational, for instance the kitchen is still not up to spec. So dinner today will - I'm informed - be Thai food at a good restaurant. And then I will go to bed and sleep like a log...

Friday 12 August 2011

Photos of the New Norwegian House

I've been a little slow updating my blog the last few days - but then again, I've been very busy being on leave!

As I was transferring files from my camera to the network storage on our home network, I came across the photos I snapped of the new Norwegian House in Juba. As mentioned, the term "house" is now a misnomer; it is actually a nice little compound. It contains a guard hut, a utility building, two accommodation buildings and the main building with offices, living room and kitchen.
 Bedrooms will now be one occupant only - unless you drag in collapsible field beds. Next to the bed, just out of the shot, is a small fridge and a wardrobe.
 Each room also features a proper desk and office chair, and as far as I understood a TV hooked up to the basic cable for those late night shows - also known as "can't get to sleep nights".
 In addition each room has it's own attached bath - no more queuing up in line first thing in the morning.
 A view from the middle of the compound. From the left: Guard hut. laundry room, two storage rooms, sheets drying, the car of the cable installer and the end of one of the accommodation buildings.
 The front of the main building. Living room windows on the left.
 From the left: Accommodation building, the back gate, the second accommodation building and the main building. The plastic chair under the tree is where the guard sits when it's too warm in his little hut.
 A better view of the accommodations. The opposite side is identical, giving a total of 14 rooms on the compound. One is set aside for exercise machinery and a second is the room where the cleaning crew can relax as well as store linens. So a total of 12 Norwegians can stay in the compound at any given time, which should be plenty of space.
 The living room. A little sparse so far, but considering the compound is barely finished that's to be expected.
 Another view of the living room. The kitchen can be seen through the opening in the wall - allowing whoever is doing the cooking to watch TV at the same time.
 The kitchen. Like the rest of the compound not quite finished when I visited. I'm quite curious to see what changes there are when I swing by on my return to Yei.
The stove was put in just hours before I snapped this photo... maybe when I come back it'll be plugged in so it works?

Saturday 6 August 2011


The nice thing about being on leave is that I can use my desktop, which is a fair bit better than my laptop at making panoramas. I had to reduce these in size quite a bit to upload, but they are still plenty big enough to see though - click to make big:
 Inside the helicopter, going on Air Patrol to Kajo Keji.
 The view from halfway up Kendi Hill
 Halfway random forest in South Sudan.
Taking a break along the road to Lainya.
 Our TOB in Lainya - the narrow view.
 The not so narrow view of our TOB in Lainya.
The view from outside the County Commissioners Office in Lainya.

Friday 5 August 2011

It is good to be home

I arrived home around lunchtime yesterday, and boy is it good to be home!
Yesterday was filled with unpacking and unwinding... it was a long trip home with almost 22 hours since I arrived at Juba Airport until I walked in the door back home. Well worth it though - it is really nice to see my family after three months away from them.
Future plans for my leave isn't much, apart from enjoying the two weeks I get to spend at home.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Almost home

The bags are packed, ticket and passport in my pocket and al I have left to do is wait. In a few hours time I'll be in Addis Ababa for the first time in my life, and just before midnight local time I'll be airborne and heading for Frakfurt. I'll arrive in Germany right around the crack of dawn, so it'll be nice to have almost two and a half hour there to grab some real food (the breakfast they servein the air don't count) and maybe do a little window shopping - one of my nepaese friends made a request on behalf of his son that I would like to honour>

The fight onward from Frankfurt to Oslo should only take two hours, which means that even taking into consideration the drive from the airport I wi be home around lunchtime. I must admit that I look forward to being home again... it's been about three months.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Quiet time in Juba

It has been a quiet day in Juba. The paperwork I was waiting for dumped into my in-box shortly after I got up, so I didn't have to go the UN camp to find it. With the day free, I ended up being the Acting Admin Officer's Assistant; in other words I helped keeping an eye on the local contractors installing the access points and the basic cable.

Later I went out with the acting AdmOff to procure various items... like a dozen lawn chairs and other outdoor furniture, as well as three Jerry cans worth of diesel for the generator. Later today we'll likely head out for dinner - yesterday I had a Chicago Beef, so I'm not sure what I'll have today. Depends where we're going I guess.

Tomorrow I'm out of here. I can hardly wait!

Monday 1 August 2011

New Norwegian House

The term "Norwegian House" has become somewhat of a misnomer... It's more of a "Norwegian Compound". Four major buildings in a large and fairly new compound, complete with armed guards and concertina wire along the top of the outer wall. The biggest building contains the offices, kitchen and livingroom, with a second small living room if people can't agree on what to watch on the TV. There is two smaller buildings with 8 and 6 bedrooms respectively;  eah with an attached bathroom. Lastly there is the utility building which have a laundry room, storage room and the technical room.
It is still a state of "just moved in" down here, but I've gotten one of the furnished rooms to use while I'm here.

Tomorrow I will take some photos and see if I can't get them online - in addition to getting back to the UN compound and get some more face time in with various people. If I have to spend a day in Juba, at least I can try to be marginally productive about it.

Sooo ready to go on leave

How excited am I about going home? Excited enough to wake up at four in the morning and not be able to get back to sleep apparently. Which would be less bad if I hadn't gone to bed sometime after midnight... oh well, I can sleep in Juba.

The helicopter should be here in a couple of hours... enough time for me to drink some coffee and hang around the office while making double extra sure I haven't forgotten anything important.

Sunday 31 July 2011

Awesome present

I was presented with a gift from one of my Nepalese friends today... most assuredly something a lot more awesome than the average postcard and little flag we tend to present to each other on more or less formal occasions. Handmade, to order and definitely not for putting in the carry on luggage:

Yes, it is what it looks like: a small kukri, also known as a gurka knife.

Sunday morning in Yei

Yesterday afternoon and evening I wasn't feeling my best, so I opted for an early night. The downside of that was that I was up and about again at four in the morning... oh well. More time to pack the bags for my leave.

And yes, I'm going home for my very last leave! Heading out of Yei tomorrow, have to spend a day in Juba for "Administrative purposes", then heading home via Addis Ababa and Frankfurt on Wednesday. For once my bag will be heavier going than coming back too, despite having a long shopping list of things my fellow officers have asked me to pick up for them in Norway*, since I will be taking back a number of things I just can't see needing in South Sudan for the last few weeks of my Tour of duty down here. If there is a next mission for me down here there is quite a few things I'll simply leave at home I think... unless the mission parameters changes. Hmmm... might have to bring everything again, just in case. At least I'll be quicker about bringing them back to Norway if I find that I don't need them.

Most of the lists of who gets to go where have starting to trickle in too. Granted, there is a couple of names that don't appear on the lists for staying in UNMISS, going to UNAMID or UNISFA or the list of people being repatriated. Or in other words, some of the UNMOs have fallen through the cracks and are neither staying nor going. Juba is trying to clear that one up, but it might be a few days.

*) Electronics are cheaper - even with our 25% VAT - and more easily obtained in Norway than in most of Africa and parts of Asia, apparently.

Friday 29 July 2011

Waiting for a stamp and a signature

My updated Leave Request is currently at the CMPO - the UN equivalent of HR for officers. I'm pretty damn sure getting it approved will be no trouble, since a) They recommend that as many as possible use as much as possible of their CTO/AL, b) I'm not going to redeploy to another Team Site, and c) They pretty much told me so.

So with a bit of luck and the people at HQ getting off their duffs, I'm out of here by Monday, followed by a day ad a half in Juba before heading home for about two weeks. Not as long as some of my other leaves, but I am running out of both Annual Leave Days and time to be on leave; the last three weeks of your Tour of Duty you're not supposed to leave the mission area.

I also decided to treat my self to something nice for my last few weeks down here so I went ahead and bought a case of Stoney Tangawizi, the ginger beer I made a post about not that long ago. I can have one with my dinner every day I got left in Yei, and still have time to hand the crate in and get my deposit back on it.
If you're wondering about the missing four bottles they are in my fridge right now, getting cooled off.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Leave and such

Today is the day I was supposed to go to the airport in Norway and return to South Sudan after my last CTO/AL at home... so I guess it was fitting that today was the day that HQ lifted the restrictions on going home on leave. And not only lifted them, but suggested that more than the usual amount of officers can go home on leave. Oh, and please take as much leave as you possible can, would you kindly? Tomorrow, or possible the day after, I'll know if I will get home soon. My G1 is trying to get the puzzle laid out properly, so that everyone who wants to go on leave will be going, and for as long as they would like.

Also today we got the redeployment order for those UNMOs who will move from UNMIS to UNAMID - the mission in Dafur - and much to my joy two of my UNMOs who were slated to be repatriated will be allowed to finish their Tour of Duty. And while Dafur is most assuredly as nice as Yei can be, at least they won't go home and miss out on the MSA and other goodies.

Hopefully I will have even more good news tomorrow!

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Back to normal

The lists of who gets to go and who gets to stay is apparently "on their way"... in other words, they exists, but we are not allowed to see them yet.

In other words it is SNAFU here - just like it's been the last few weeks.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Sore, but worth it

Today was the day of the Big Welfare Tour - three cars, eight guys and 150 km of bad road each way. We we're out of the Team Site for almost ten and a half hour, and only a little more than three of those hours were spent in Juba.

Well worth the long drive and the sore back though; I got to talk to a lot of people who so far have been voices on the phone, did a bit of shopping at the PX and had a huge cheeseburger with chips for lunch.
 The mountain right behind Juba; lots of small quarries suppling the booming construction industry in town. Large rocks are turned into smaller rocks by people beating on them with large hammers. Sounds unbelievable, but I saw it with my own two eyes.
 A nice anvil-shaped cloud. Lots of those around, but not often I get to capture one on film.
 The less pretty side of a growing city; there is no official landfill, the dump trucks simply drive "far enough" out into the countryside and dump their loads.
 A bit further along the road back to Yei; grass so tall you can't tell what's behind it.
 Making a quick pit-stop on the road - the lady in the photo is a new UNPOL who asked to hitch a ride with us as opposed to waiting in Juba until the flight on Friday.
My haul from the PX - not a lot for such a long trip, but then we didn't travel to Juba just to go shopping.

Monday 25 July 2011

It's 94 miles to Juba...

...we got a full tank of gas, half a bottle of water*, it's sunny and we're wearing sunglasses.

Hit it.

Or in less convoluted terms; I've been talking to the UNMO Coordinator in Juba over the weekend, and gotten the green light for filling two cars with half a dozen or so people from the Team Site and take a day long welfare trip to Juba. There are several reasons why it's a good idea; not only can people visit the bank, go and complain to finance, buy things not available in Yei, get out of the Team Site before they get stir crazy and so on... but we can have pizza for lunch! Woot!

I'm quite excited for the opportunity to get back on the road again - we only done patrols within Yei Town since July 9th, and most of my guys are getting restless and more irritable** than what's good for morale. I'll also take the opportunity to visit a few people in Sector HQ, since it's good to have a face to go along with the name and voice on the phone. If I'm really lucky I'll get a bunch of new rumours to bring back to the Team Site!

One thing that is certain is that I'll be sore and bruised after the long drive - we plan on being back tomorrow evening and 300 km on the roads down here will be a killer, even if the road to Juba is the best road in our Area of Responsibility.

I'll bring my cameras. Pictures in tomorrows blogpost!

*) None of the people going are smokers, so a half pack of cigarettes would be kinda pointless...
**) Mind you, the often lacking and always changing information we receive from Sector must take a lot of the blame for that.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Been very thoughtful today...

First off, the news from Yei; Forget what we told you yesterday, here is more information that we'll change again tomorrow... Welcome to the UN.
Yesterday we got some solid news at least, names and dates for those who were supposed to go home for repatriation (a fancy word meaning the UN won't have you working in the mission no more). Today we got official word to disregard yesterdays list since FHQ (Force Head Quarter) don't even know who is supposed to stay and who is supposed to leave - never mind who is supposed to go to the new mission in Abyei.

However, most of the day have been taken up by the normal Sunday activities (housework and laundry) and thinking. And with the attacks in Norway on Friday, I have had a lot to think about... and I would like to share at least some of it with everybody:
On one hand it's been hard to be so far away from home when shit like this happens, since I can't do anything. On the other hand it has actually been good to be so far away - since there is nothing I could have really done if I had been home either.
Home grown lone wolf terrorism is something that is very hard to protect against. Like the Oklahoma City bombing in '95, all it takes is one crazy idiot with a severe lack of empathy and a delusional world view. But it is my hope and my belief that this will not change Norway or Norwegian society. We might improve on the security, we might be better about keeping an eye on the extremists... but I think Norwegians will still be Norwegians, warts and all. We cannot and should not let terrorists - either they are lone wolfs or orgainsed - dictate how we live, think and behave. We cannot and should not wrap ourselves in a cocoon of checkpoints, regulations, and surveillance and believe that it makes us safer. We cannot and should not let this change whom we are, deep down.
I have to hand it to the Norwegian Prime Minister... I don't always agree with the things he says, but he put it very pointedly and clearly in a press conference on Friday evening: "You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy, or our commitment to a better world." "We are a small country nation, but a proud nation. No one shall bomb us to silence, no one shall shoot us to silence, no one shall scare us out of being Norway."
There is a poem written by the Norwegian poet Inger Hagerup in responce to another act of terror, that I feel summarises many of my - and I dare say; other Norwegian's - feelings in response to the acts of terror we witnessed on Friday. It's called Aust Vågøy and was written after the German occupiers in Norway had razed the village of Telavåg, sunk all the fishing boats, sent the male population to the concentration camps in Germany and imprisoned the women and children. It was meant as an act of terror to scare the Norwegian population into submission...
It didn't work - or rather, it had the exact opposite effect. And that is the effect I hope and expect will come from this recent act or terror as well; instead of changing Norway to what the terrorist had hoped to create, it will just strengthen Norway as have been up to now.
Aust Vågøy

De brente våre gårder.
De drepte våre menn.
La våre hjerter hamre
det om og om igjen.

La våre hjerter hugge
med harde, vonde slag.
De brente våre gårder.
De gjorde det i dag.

De brente våre gårder.
De drepte våre menn.
Bak hver som gikk i døden,
står tusener igjen.

Står tusen andre samlet
i steil og naken tross.
Å, døde kamerater,
de kuer aldri oss!

Aust Vågøy (Translated version)

They burned our farms.
They killed our men.
Let our hearts beat hard
Again and again.

Let our hearts strike
with hard, painful strikes
They burned our farms,
they did it today.

They burned our farms.
They killed our men.
Behind every man who died this day
Thousand's more still stand.

There stands thousand more together
In complete and utter stubbornness.
Oh, our dead friends,
They'll never break us!

It loses somewhat in translation, like poems often do, and finding a good translation was difficult. But I hope the intention behind stands out, even so.

Going away party?

A large number of the UNPOLs are being redeployed to other County Support Bases* within South Sudan, and as such they wanted to have a going away party Saturday night. Along with the UNPOL TSL I offered to keep the Blue open if they organised the rest - like we done in the past.

How many of the UNPOLs came? Try one - and he came two hours after the party was supposed to start and had no idea where the others were.

At least my UNMOs can organise a party... On the other hand, the Canadian UNPOL TSL, the other Norwegian, one of my Peruvians and myself had a nice evening just sitting around and talking. The weather was cool and comfortable, and Mother Nature turned on the light show; we had a major thunderstorm on the horizon.

Friday 22 July 2011

Way too much on my mind

In addition to all the other stuff going on - or rather not going on - in UNMISS these days.... well, as I'm sure everyone knows by now this thing happen (yes, it's a link - click on it). A frigging terrorist attack in Oslo, Norway. May be organised terror, may be a lone wolf - I don't have enough information to make a guess either way at this stage. The latter is actually the more scary option; you cannot protect against crazy.

It does hit close to home though. I grew up in that city. I walked those streets more times than I care remember. I slid down the poles in the fire-station right below ground zero on a couple of occasions (class excursions)...so it not only hit close to home but these things shouldn't happen in Norway. Norway tends to be this little fairy-bubble of peace and sanity. Bombings is something that happen other places... not in Norway.

Yeah, mind is kinda full right now. Which is why I'm not convinced I'll get much sleep... there is nothing I can do about it, but that's part of the point. There is nothing I can do about it. If I've been home I could at least donated some blood or something... I'm rambling, I know.

Oh well. Norway have lost it's innocence. Lets hope we don't loose our minds over this matter and repeat all the mistakes the US did after 9/11. All we can do now is to let the police do their work and see what hard facts they can bring to the table before we do something ill considered. So I'll ask all those who read to cross their fingers and join me in hoping for the best. Pray if you feel that will make things better. And lets all work together for a better, saner world where this won't happen again - in Norway or anywhere else. After all, isn't that what I went down to Africa in the first place for?