I am not an anthropologist. I’m not “trained”, I have no critical understanding of the theories or methodologies, and I have a functional legal background in interviewing, not a research one. I am also rubbish at “living in the community” – I’m a skinny-jeans-wearing, foreign-food-eating, boozing-and-dancing inappropriate nightmare.
Tag Archives: navel-gazing
Pithy comment on current state of privatisation of public health services in the UK? No, it’s Nelson’s Hides and Skins LTD.
I’ve had a lot of culture over the last few days in Juba. Now that I’m not officially an employee of the Rift Valley Institute in South Sudan – I’m now full-time on the PhD, finally – I’m putting in a lot of time (read, I’m still in the office at 10pm) on various consulting jobs, an article, and planning for moving my life up to Aweil next Thursday. And I’ve had time to do culture.
I’ve been reading Chris Mackowski’s blog about his first trip to Uganda, and realising that in many ways this is now a travel blog as much as a stream of consciousness journal about doing a PhD. Chris has had an interesting reaction to his post on his feelings about travelling to Uganda, where he discusses his hopes for personal development and eye-opening experiences.
One commenter said:
Africa is your chance as a PHd student to wake up? Sad.
There’s lots of detail in the South Sudan National Archives: I’ve mentioned this before. What I didn’t mention is how many women there are. Obviously any archive, when read properly, contains women’s history; despite the erasure and irrelevance of women to the vastly male writers of historical documents (until, hopefully, recently), it’s hard to completely get rid of an entire pesky gender. What I am enjoying though in the South Sudan National Archives, as they take shape, is looking at how a determined researcher – with a significant amount of time on their hands – could write a very interesting, if a bit scattergun, history of women in South Sudan from these records.
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.
I live in a suburb of Juba now, called Munuki, on the road to Godele, running out towards north of Jebel Kujur. It’s a really nice place, gentrifying fast with endless concrete being shipped in in the morning, and with new shops being built everywhere, and stacked onto older structures. There is a hot business in welding spiral staircases.
My safety is pretty reasonable. Munuki street life shuts down at about 9pm and I’m always in my compound by then, or getting a reliable taxi home. I live in one of the many concrete-and-razorwire compounds dotted around the streets surrounding Souk Libya, the main market, in a tiny concrete hut at the back of a local MP’s house. The MP’s nephew, a middle-aged SPLA sergeant, is on permanent, low-key duty, drinking tea, cooking beans and watching the house. I have keys for everything and more. It was a great find by my friend Richard Tongu.
While I know this, though, the more paranoid and contained sides of the “international community” here don’t. Most UN staff don’t know where Munuki is; the UN guidance on moving around outside the centre of town is bizarrely terrifying, like reading about a place I’ve never been. To me, I have a wonderful life, a separate bathroom block, a kitchen room being built and tiled as I write, a market two minutes away and a local trader across the street who gets out my standard order when he sees me: one Nile Special, one large bottle of water, three passionfruit and some rice.
I have a fabulous lifestyle here (in comparison to my likely future conditions during my PhD research year). It feels like the UN-style interpretation of Juba is about five years behind in Munuki, where I have Philip, Gonda and Alex making sure I get home every evening, I have my nails done weekly (extravagance!) by Joseph or Jimmy in the market, I splash out on cheese once a week, and I buy ridiculously frilly dressing gowns from the second hand clothes seller Lillian, to wear while cooking my falafel and rice in the evenings in the courtyard. Everyone here says that there is petty theft but very little robbery: the “Niggas” gangs who plagued Munuki have mostly left, moving out to Mia Saba and Godele where there are fewer GoSS dignitaries and armed compounds. The land disputes are mostly settled in the local court, which is relatively quiet now. There are serious problems – including massive local unemployment among my contemporaries – and I am still taking good care of myself; but I am currently bemused by the security rating of my very fancy life.