South Sudan #10: Car ride with David
Posted by Dr. Eric Vance -- Thu, 06/21/2012 - 10:09 am
In the stairwell outside the Vice-chancellor’s office, I asked David when I could meet with him to convince him of the value of my idea, so that he could try to influence the Vice-chancellor’s decision. It had definitely been my mistake not to have had David on board with the idea earlier. Everyone else had been so enthusiastic, and Theo had been such a great promoter that I didn’t notice that David hadn’t been fully briefed and hadn’t fully bought into the idea of training a statistician to communicate and collaborate with agriculture researchers to help jumpstart their research.
I pushed for a meeting as soon as possible because we were leaving Juba at noon the next day (Wednesday). Leaving to go home. Our meeting with the Vice-chancellor was the last thing we were doing for the Rebuild Higher Education in Agriculture (RHEA) project besides attending some more of the conference on increasing agricultural productivity in South Sudan.
In fact, I wanted to sit down with David then and there because I didn’t know if I’d have another chance. “Scheduled” meeting times on this trip have been more like “suggested” meeting times. But David had missed the university bus back to the university housing complex and needed to get home, so he couldn’t meet right then. After a little hemming and hawing he agreed to meet with me at 10AM Wednesday (yesterday), my last day in Juba.
I sensed that David wasn’t fully comfortable with having the meeting, even though he had agreed to it and confirmed it, so when we gave him a ride back to his home in the faculty housing unit in the outskirts of town, I made sure he sat next to me so I could talk with him.
On the 25-minute ride to his place, David conducted three conversations at once. Conversation one was me explaining my idea. Conversation two was David giving us all a tour of Juba by pointing out interesting things along the way. Conversation three was Maria asking him questions about some different topic.
The result of conversation one was that after I explained my idea to him, David remembered how he had consulted with a mathematician during his PhD work in Germany (he went to Göttingen, Germany for his master’s but didn’t kiss the Goose Girl because his PhD was from Kiel) and how useful it was for his research. He told me that he understood the idea and the value of it for his college and that our meeting on Wednesday would include another faculty member, Martin Baru, who I should talk with to get a better sense of the statistical needs of the Ag college.
The second conversation of David giving us an unprompted tour of the way to his home was much more interesting.
Brief background: In 1989 the University of Juba moved to Khartoum because the civil war between northern and southern Sudan made it too hard to continue university operations. As recently as 2005, Juba was a military garrison for the North. The Southern Sudan army (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army) never occupied Juba, now their capital, until after the war.
The northern Sudan army moved out in 2006 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and the south, which paved the way for South Sudan to become independent on July 9, 2011. In 2009 or so, the University of Juba moved back to Juba, but 80% of their faculty stayed in Khartoum and most of their resources and equipment also stayed in Khartoum.
The weird thing about Juba is that it might be the world’s largest town in that lots of people live there, but the only electricity is from private generators and there is no piped water system, except in the vicinity of the brewery. One of the university’s biggest struggles is how to house and feed all their students because of lack of infrastructure in Juba.
Anyway, when the faculty moved to Juba from Khartoum, they moved into trailer crates like the one my hotel is built from. The containers were housing units for the army or something like that, and were located way out of town in the bush. David said that two years ago you couldn’t even go out there after dark because of the constant threat of attacking bandits.
So on the ride out there, David told us about what we were seeing. The road was a dirt road, but really it was a mud road because of all the water trucks traffic. Trucks pumped water from the Nile and sold it around town, and maybe they didn’t have lids on the trucks because I always saw them splashing. All around Juba we saw hundreds of similar blue water trucks all over town, and they were all driven by Ethiopians or Eritreans because one Ethiopian businessman was able to corner the market on selling water.
We saw lots of roadside shops in front of a huge slum. David said that everyone there was a refugee from Darfur. The Darfuris have been fighting a long civil war with the (north) Sudan government, and many have taken refuge in South Sudan. These Darfuris have now cornered the market on charcoal. They go far away to chop down trees and burn them into charcoal, then transport them by bicycle back into Juba town. It’s a big environmental problem that all the large trees around Juba have been cut for charcoal, but the only other energy source is diesel fuel, and people don’t really cook with diesel.
David pointed out the former Sudanese “White House,” which was a military prison and torture house. He said that there is a mass grave you can visit right next door for all the South Sudanese torture victims.
As we got close to his home, David pointed out the brewery. As mentioned before, beer and water are possibly the only two items produced locally in Juba/South Sudan. David said that one of the first things the new Southern Sudan government did in 2006 (after the peace agreements) was to invite the SA Miller company to build a brewery. It was a way to thumb their nose at the muslim North, “See, we’re going to be our own country soon. We’re going to have beer and you won’t.”
As we drove through the gate to the university containers (which only have electricity from 7-11PM), David pointed out a guy washing his car. It was Martin Baru, the registrar for the College of Natural Resources and a faculty member in dairy science who will be studying at Virginia Tech for his PhD as soon as he takes the GRE, gets accepted in the VT program, and receives his US student visa. David said that the three of us would meet tomorrow to further discuss how training statisticians to communicate and collaborate with agriculture researchers can benefit the College of Natural Resources.