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.

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.