This was written a few days ago – just after I arrived in South Sudan. I’m now in Yuai, Jonglei, and have so much more to tell you… But for now, I’m well and I’m happy. Yuai is basic, but I have a simple mud hut, a bed, a long-drop and a shower. And now, even internet connection, albeit temperamental. What more do I need?
Juba airport. A mess. I arrived Monday afternoon, excited and apprehensive about all that lay ahead. Slightly intimidated by the amount of aid workers and consultants on board the small fly540 aircraft. Keen to meet the tearfund juba team and see my new life.
The plane landed and I followed my fellow passengers across the airport tarmac. A sensible plan…until the group of passengers split. Some heading to one side of the tarmac, others to the opposite side. In the absence of any official airport marshalls, I scanned the divided group of passengers, made a split judgement on which group looked the most sensible and stuck close to them. Not a bad decision: they successfully led me to ‘arrivals’ hall.
Arrivals hall is, I kid you not, not much larger than my parents living room. We were unfortunate enough to land just after a larger KQ flight, meaning the small hall was literally bursting at the seams. I stood bewildered, trying to find any sense of order within this swell of stinking, sweating people. But it was hard enough trying to figure out where one person ended and another began, such was the crush.
After a few minutes, I eventually figured out some vague presence of airport staff: there were three tiny holes in a wall where uniformed staff were evidently checking passports.; there was another member of staff manning another hole in the wall where bags were being chucked through; and just on the other aide of the hall I could make out a couple of heads behind some large tables who were opening bags of luggage and marking them with chalk.
I decided to make myself unpopular and push my way through the swarm reaching the serious looking man overseeing baggage appearing magically through the wall. He solemnly told me that yes, despite the evident chaos, there was indeed a system. Get in line. The Brit inside me tried to find the end of the queue to politely stand at the end. Turns out polite queuing will get you nowhere at juba airport. As a result I was the very last person to reach immigration. While in the queue I did, however, manage to successfully identify my driver on the other side of the hall, waiting patiently holding a tearfund sign. I gave him a small smile and he raised his eyebrows back at me – at least now he could find a cooler spot to relax while I fought the crowd.
Once I actually reached the hole in the wall for immigration it was a surprisingly easy process. He checked my passport and visa and deemed me OK to receive an entry stamp. By this point I was the last person in the airport. My bags were waiting for me in the middle of the hall where there had previously been a mass of people. A kind porter took pity on me and helped me lug them over to the small desk to be checked. The customs official duly deemed them OK by marking them with chalk and I was free to leave. The joys of juba airport behind me, the scent of everything new ahead.