I’m trying to work on a project for a January conference that I stupidly decided to do partly on “youth”. This is a nightmare topic – I know it, I wrote an essay for my MA about the difficulty and arbitrariness of the concept, for heaven’s sakes – and I’m kicking myself for picking it. My preliminary work (which is mostly sitting, angsting about the topic, and moaning about it to friends here) has been pretty stressful (she says, knowing she should be doing it now).
As happens when you’re trying to do a small research project on the side while really focusing on something else, the best research I’ve done so far is when I’ve got home, tired, disgustingly sweaty, covered in bits of archive paper (sorry – not intentionally stealing the archives, just bits that fall off it) and dust, and I walk down the short stretch of mud path that leads from the main road to my compound gate.
My place is next to several other wicker compounds, all housing about ten people and myriad assorted babies and children – not sure I’ve seen the same child twice yet. Many of the residents are young people, extended family members, young mums and young SPLA recruits, living on top of each other and corralling unassigned toddlers. I buy samosas for breakfast from my neighbor Diana, who sits and frys them with her aunt in the morning while having her dreads touched up.
I’ve only recently got friendlier though, staggering back from Mia Saba after Arabic lessons at 7pm, just as the light goes. This, I’ve found out, is when my little mud path becomes a small dance hall, shisha den, and whisky bar. I am now learning the finer distinctions between a variety of Indian blend whiskies, dubiously named “Best”, “Scottish Choice” or “Traders”, and showing up my intolerance for overly strong shisha (I blame archive dust for giving me mild asthma). I’ve clearly found “the youth” of Juba.
And these guys and a few girls, all my age-ish, are definitely what the politicians and press (and some JU students) describe as the “idle youth” of Juba. They don’t have the degrees or the English skills to wait outside the UN for the job listings. They sit around, they play poker, they drink spirits and smoke; they are mostly unemployed, some drive bodas when there is a motorbike around, and one guy is a Darfuri SPLA recruit. The ladies babysit, go to evening classes, get pregnant, and bitch. My Arabic isn’t good enough for this, but I’m learning interesting words.
For my research project, though, my new friends are demonstrating what other young people have described as the key characteristics of Juba youth: “waiting”, “striving”, “complaining” and “killing time”. They don’t know what to do; they do what they can; they could do more, and the government is the problem.