The six week “extreme archiving” project is half finished this weekend, and our friendly expert Douglas Johnson has left for the UK. We have been very productive from a slow start: our colleagues here are more enthusiastic, or at least feeling the tangible sense of change about the place, particularly since we managed to get the most easily rescueable files out of the USAID tent that has housed them for nearly a decade.
The USAID tent was donated to the archiving project after the CPA in 2005, when the archive resurfaced in a basement of a girl’s school in Juba. Youssef, the archive manager here, says they had to leave the window of the basement open for three days before anyone was able to go in, because the dust was so thick. The tent is both filthy and falling apart, and since 2005 has been used as a repository of furniture, filing cabinets, a huge portrait of Nimeiri, a bed and some spare tyres. There is a clear rat’s nest in one of the still-stuffed sacks of documents, and I picked up a file two days ago only to have it dissolve into dust and mud in my hands, and to have my arms covered in termites.
We now have nearly two thousand boxes full of rescued files in the house in Munuki. They need sorting and cataloguing, but at least they are in province and district order, and the provinces are catalogued. There is a lot more in the tent – a lot of loose papers, some of which look clearly important but are like a 20,000-piece, 80-year jigsaw puzzle – and some more files. But we are well on the way to having a consultable archive by the time we leave, and also maybe – hopefully – leaving our local colleagues with a sense of hope and commitment.