Aweil is very beautiful, in a completely different way. I really like Central Equatoria, particularly now the rains have started in earnest and everything is bright, fluorescent green, but northern Bahr el Ghazal has something otherworldly about it.
I had four and a half days in Aweil, by WFP flight, to see whether I liked it. It was an expensive hop up – the UN Humanitarian Air Service doesn’t come cheap, at least not for student budgets – but I needed to break my fears: of starting research, of doing interviews, of going to entirely new places, of being totally out of my depth. That’ll be the next year of research work, all those things, so I might as well start getting used to it.
I stayed with friends of a friend, all bachelor men with wives and babies tucked away in villages. This was a huge help, and so much better than hiding myself in a UN or NGO compound. I’d already found out the names of two of the biggest returned Khartoum resident areas around Aweil town, and quickly popped into UNHCR to see whether they knew of any other ones (only one more).
Saturday and Sunday, I went to both of these big settlements in turn, meeting chief’s courts, having tea with people, finding commissioners and generally sitting about. I was warned off Apada – the huge, post-2008/9 “returnee” settlement a good half hour outside Aweil in the scrub – by the head of UNHCR. She told me there was a lot of politics going on there, and that they had brought political organisation from Khartoum. This was obviously perfect, and I got on better with the people in Apada than in Maper and Rumtit. The interviews turned up titbits that make my toes curl in a silly historian way. I think things could work out there. I’ll go back in May or the beginning of June; my new friends are looking for a safe place for me to live in Maper, with returned Southerners from Khartoum. I’m still scared, but very excited.
p.s. that’s the railway line, going to Khartoum.