My Sundays here in Juba are sacred days, despite my embarrassed apologies to my compound-mates and neighbours when I decline their offers of church trips at 8:30am every week. Sunday is my only proper day off every week: it is pool day.
There’s a pool culture in Juba, and has been since the first swimming pool was dug (at the Norwegian Embassy, obviously) post-CPA. I have been a habitué of Nimule Logistics pool for the eight months; one of the oldest hotels in Juba, and located in the warren of Tong Piny by the airport and UNMISS main compound, those who want to look like old hands make sure they refer to it as Logistics rather than Hotel, a name from a previous era.
Poolside, by 11am there are swarms of mostly non-Southerners. The white crowd gets in early, stripping down and maneuvering umbrellas around the sunbeds. A host of old hippie tattoos see the light of day, outshone by the ex-army demining men with their all-over decorations (fewer butterflies). Two of the regulars have tattoos of Africa – as in, the African continent. By 2pm, most people are standing in the pool, frustrating the latecomer serious swimmers by blocking lanes. All hope of swimming evaporates by 3pm, when the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Libyan/Syrian contingents stop drinking and begin divebombing, and the few Kenyan, Ugandan and South Sudanese swimmers take to the shallow – and sometimes the deep – end to learn or teach others how to swim.
Mostly dull conversations about the internal workings of NGOs and Embassies – basically, who is sleeping with who, and who’s being a total nightmare lately – go on in and around the pool, but it’s also a popular site for business meetings, conducted in various shades of undress, and for reading charts and reports, and books about how bad aid work is.
I mixed it up this weekend and tried Juba Regency’s pool instead. It’s bigger, cleaner and women get in for 10SSP less than men – I wore my tiniest bikini so that they’d get their money’s worth, obviously.
I am definitely part of the pool-going elites of Juba. 50SSP is prohibitive; the cleaners at work get a monthly income of 50SSP per week (about $12). The huge cars, Macbooks and flash phones around the pool, as well as the plethora of sex workers swimming in underwear and hotpants and courting or keeping their regular (generally business) clients, is just one of the many extremely visible markers of the extreme income inequality in Juba. Inequality here is extremely visible; there is a tea seller outside Juba Regency who makes tea and chappatis for 1SSP each, next to the $70,000 Toyota 4x4s with government numberplates. There’s no subtlety here.