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.

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?

Thursday 21 July 2011

Unexpected bounty

When the Canadian left the Team Site last Friday, he left a load of food with the remaining Canadian... so much that he decided to share with the other Norwegian and me. Looks like I don't have to worry about food for the rest of my stay here after todays haul:
Canada is most assuredly a bi-lingual country... the things that looks to have only English text on them have French on the opposite side.
It was unexpected, but far from unwelcome... thank you, and safe trip home!

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Yet another day in Yei

No, still no news on what will happen... welcome to the UN - nothing works.

Other than the near daily frustration, it have been a quiet day. The weather was nice, so I grabbed the chance of an afternoon walk around the Team Site without having to step in puddles all the way.

Later in the afternoon I had a nice talk to the UNPOL Team Site Leader - seems he's going to loose a large number of the UNPOLs currently in Yei, but he'll get replacements for most of them, eventually. At least he knows a little of what the future will bring for his team, which is more than what I can say for my team.

Monday 18 July 2011

Still no news

Today two of my team left us for their scheduled end of mission, one Beninese and one Russian. Both good guys, and both just recently transfered to us from Abyei. As I told them during yesterdays little going-away-dinner; they came to Yei too late and left too early.

For the rest of us there is still no news - persistent rumours says we may expect something towards the end of the week. Once we know who will stay and who will go they will probably open up for leaves again... probably. If it don't happen within the next couple of weeks I'll barely have time to go on leave before my time here in South Sudan runs out; we're not allowed to go on leave the last 21 days before our end of mission, and my mission officially ends on the 18th of September.

Somewhat frustrated

Yesterday was supposed to be the first full day at home, on leave... but as I mentioned they cancelled all leaves after July 9th and promised us that we would get more info in a timely manner.

Guess what? It's been over a week and we still don't know for certain who gets to stay and who has to go... and no words on what will happen to our earned leave either.

So yeah, I'm frustrated and annoyed - and I have to keep the morale among my team up too, since they are frustrated and annoyed as well.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Group photo

Due to the cancellation of leave until further notice, we have the entire team in the Team Site these days. What better time for a group photo?
 The entire team of UNMOs in Yei Team Site
The TSL was also a popular subject to photograph....

Friday 15 July 2011

Saying farewell to good friends

One of the Canadian UNPOLs left Yei today to go home... which is sad for us but good for him since he goes home of his own volition. I figured that the least I could do was to make him waffles for breakfast, since he (and the other Canadian, who is staying) loves the waffles I make.
 Breakfast outside. tasty waffles, good friends... what's not to like? The guy to busy taking photos to enjoy the waffles is the one who left today.
Up until today there have been a balance between the Canadians and the Norwegians in the Team Site... now the Norwegians have the upper hand. Picture taken on the helipad, as we were waiting for the passengers to load up.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Quiet day

It's been a fairly quiet day so far, since we're still in the phase between the end of one mission and the start of another. The four UNMOs who are being repatriated will be allowed to stay in Yei until Monday, to their great delight. Off course, that means there is time for more going-away-parties; tonight the Indian Signals are having one and as the TSL I'm invited. It seems like one of the major functions of the TSL these days is to represent the outward face of the UNMOs... not that I'm complaining.

Farewell party for UNPOL

Four of our UNPOL friends are leaving us - read: are being repatriated - on Friday. Sadly, among them is one of my good Canadian friends. So yesterday evening the UNPOLs threw a farewell party for them, and even if most people left as soon as the free food and drinks were gone, the two Canadians and I ended up hanging out in the Blue until almost midnight... basically just shooting the shit, having a few beers and complaining about the way we are moving from one mission (UNMIS) to the next (UNMISS).

Also yesterday, five of my UNMOs got their marching orders for Friday as well. One of them - the other Norwegian - got the message that he should stay in the Team Site anyway less than five minutes later, and the rest we will probably be able to put off until Monday. That would be good; not only will people have more time to pack and transfer responsibilities, but if four UNMOs and four UNPOLs with all their belongings were to cram themselves into one helicopter... overload for sure.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Stuff is finally happening

For the last few days we've been ordered to stand down - no LDP, no SDP and not even any TP... that is Long Duration Patrols, Short Duration Patrols and Town Patrols respectively.

However, we gotten two bits of news today that shows that things are slowly starting to move again. Firstly, the redeployment / repatriation from the sectors up north (ie: the ones that are not in South Sudan) is starting. Secondly, we're starting doing TPs again - even if it's clearly patrols for the sake of patrolling, it'll get us out of the Team Site again and that's good for the morale of my guys.

At this rate we might even know what we're supposed to do in the new mission by next week!

Monday 11 July 2011

National Staff Separation Celebration Party

A good thing cannot be celebrated enough - so while the Welfare Committee arranged a party on Saturday, the National Staff Association arranged for a second party on Sunday... with food, music, speeches and the works. And off course they hadn't bought enough drinks, so we had to open the bar halfway through the party... by the time we closed the bar again (at one in the morning) we were sold out of everything except the hard liquor.
 The MC for the evening was one of our language assistants.
 Many people wanted to tell us how happy they are to live in their own country.
Our BanBat doctor, relating how he vividly remembers when his country achieved independence.
Dancing with joy.
 More dancing.
 Still dancing.
Yes, still at it - their drum was an upside down garbage bin.
Another video of the dancing.
 And so on.
 They kept going - even if dancers came and went, the dance kept going.
 Apparently the broken off branches symbolise something or other... but no one could tall me what.
 Last of the dancers.
 Parties is for everyone, even if we're fast asleep on Mummys back.
 Lots of people.
 We had to move the foosball table outdoors, but people played at it anyhow.
 Just some shots of the crowds
 It was a nice evening with no rain for once.
 Lots of people indoors too.
 The DJ - African music all night, turned up so high that the speaker sounded like crap.
Didn't stop people from dancing though.

Celebration in the Blue

Saturday we had a Independence Party in the Blue, with lots of food, music and happy people. Started out with a nice bonfire too... Quite successful, and just the first of two we had this weekend. Pictures of Sundays party tomorrow.

Sunday 10 July 2011

New nation, new flag, new anthem and more

A new nation needs a new flag and a new national anthem. So allow me to present them for y'all's education:
The flag of the Republic of South Sudan, previously used as the flag of SPLM/A. it is very similar to the flag of Kenya, which is to show the strong ties between the nations. It is a white-fimbriated horizontal tricolour of black, red, and green with a blue triangle at the hoist charged with a five-pointed gold star. The black is said to represent the South Sudanese people (Sudan means "land of the black"), the white stripes symbolises peace, the green is for the fertility of the land, the red stripe the blood shed for freedom and the blue triangle symbolises the Nile. The golden star shows the unity of the states of South Sudan.

The new national anthem is officially called "South Sudan Oyee!" - a phrase that could be translated as "Hurrah for South Sudan". The lyrics is as follows:
Oh God,
We praise and glorify You
for Your grace on South Sudan,
Land of great abundance
uphold us united in peace and harmony.

Oh motherland,
we rise raising flag with the guiding star
and sing songs of freedom with joy,
for justice, liberty and prosperity
shall forever more reign.

Oh great patriots,
let us stand up in silence and respect,
saluting our martyrs whose blood
cemented our national foundation,
we vow to protect our Nation

Oh God, bless South Sudan.

The official version with music and song can be found here, or at least could be found when I wrote this. Or just look at the embedded YouTube video below:

And lastly, you can't have a new nation without a coat of arms. And while I'm admittedly is biased towards the Norwegian lion rampant on a red shield, brandishing the Axe of St Olaf... well, the one approved by the South Sudanese Government isn't bad looking at all:
An African fish eagle looking towards it right shoulders with outstretched wings, standing against a traditional shield and crossed spears, and holding a scroll in it's claws with the name of the new nation. The eagle symbolises strength  resilience and vision while the shield and spears represents protection of the new nation.

So there you go - three interesting factoids about the worlds youngest independent state.

South Sudan Independence Day Parade in Yei

As promised, here is the video I made of the Independence Day Celebration at Yei Freedom Square yesterday. I had to render this as a fairly small size to be able to upload it in a timely manner over my somewhat flaky connection... it's almost one hour long, so you might want to grab more than just a cup of coffee before sitting down to watch.

And while no one in the parade would win a marching competition anytime soon... well, that is not what this is all about. This is about a people and a country that have struggled for more than 50 years to have their voices heard, and now they are the masters of their own house so to speak. Sounds like a pretty good reason to throw a parade  to me - and Your Excellency, our Parade is endless!
Pretty much everyone in town was at Freedom Square - it was packed.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Separation celebration

As the Team Site Leader and local VIP from UNMIS, I had to go down to Freedom Square and take part in the official program to celebrate the creation of the 54th independent country in Africa. They managed to only run 30 minutes late on their four hour program - partly by cutting out every single break... so it was four and a half hour of standing / sitting and watching. Very interesting though, and I wouldn't missed it for the world.

A movie will be uploaded later; after I made it.

Tonight we will have a party on the team site for the UN and invited NGOs.