Monday, June 24, 2013

Aweil, South Sudan

Aweil Suburbs

I finally made it to Aweil on Friday afternoon. It took an hour and a half on a United Nations Humanitarian Air Service flight. We had a very smooth trip – the lone cabin attendant gave us water in plastic cups, but there was no movie or airline Magazine to read.

This air service exists entirely for aid workers in Africa, and here in South Sudan there are aid workers and NGO’s and foreign charities of one sort or another on just about every street corner. There are even several different MSF’s, as the organization is structured in such a way as to prevent it becoming one massive bureaucracy, with all the attendant inefficiencies and potential for waste. Each “MSF” operates more or less independently of the others and is responsible for its own projects and regions but they have shared procedures and protocols and the hierarchical structure of each part is identical. There are something like 26 MSF projects in South Sudan but only 3 are the responsibility of MSF France.
At first this might seem like unnecessary duplication of multiple layers of bureaucracy but its obvious that at each level what is focused on is the practicalities of getting aid to where its needed rather than struggling with  structures and processes as these have already been worked out. Each sector is identified by where its main head office is so there is MSF France, MSF Spain, MSF Holland, MSF Belgium and so on. I have been recruited from Sydney but its not MSF Australia but MSF France that I am working with – actually there is no MSF Australia or MSF USA or MSF Japan even though people are recruited from all these places. At Juba when I arrived the other day the first MSF T-shirt I saw was on someone from MSF Spain but they weren’t waiting for me or in the least bit interested in taking me to the MSF France base. It took me a while to find the right MSF guy.
Arriving in Aweil
It was much easier on arrival in Aweil. The airstrip is unsealed orange soil. I noticed a wrecked plane off the side of the runway identical to the one we were landing in but and there are no terminal buildings, just a sort of car park with people and vehicles scattered about.  A group of 5 people, some with MSF T-shirts approached me and I had a brief chat to the woman I was replacing.  In lieu of the planned 24 hour overlap between my arrival and her departure, lost because of my failure to arrive the day before, she gave me a report and some written hints and tips and suggestions about how the place was running – and then with two others of my “welcoming party”, headed for the plane and ultimately, in her case for home in the USA. The rest of us headed into town and the MSF compound in the regulation white Landcruiser with MSF Logos on the side and a large flag at the front.

As usual the compound is behind a big guarded sliding steel door and the perimeter is a high wall with razor wire on top. Inside there are lots of small buildings, offices and huts and uner a huge leafy tree a central open sided dining and socializing space with  tables and chairs,  filtered water supply, a bookcase, freezer and basic lounge furniture with large cushions scattered about to relax in.  Wifi has been set up in that area, and theres a sound system. Nearby was the kitchen, where except for Sundays, all our meals are prepared by three local women. I was shown the fridges and storeroom where food is kept, the offices and latrines and showers (cold), the laundry and finally Apartment 13, which will be my home for the next six weeks. It’s a 5m by 5m concrete room with a shuttered and screened window front and back, a couple of plastic tables and a chair and bed with mosquito net, an electric fan and a 3 shelf storage cabinet covered with wire netting. What more could I need?

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