Saturday, 12 March 2016

Another… ‘Early Morning Run in… Juba’

Let's sing...

On a dark desert highway, hot wind in my hair
Warm smell of cow poo, rising up through the air
Ahead in the distance... back in Juba…




0645 hrs. Southern Sudan. Folks, we have the youngest guest runner to-date. Let me introduce 32-year-old ‘Otto’. “Otto, good morning, what detergent are you using by the way, those shorts have shrunk?” Otto self consciously tries to make his tiny Ron Hill’s appear bigger. We exchange greetings. Otto looks lean, he looks fit, he has a spring to his step and that certain boyish enthusiasm. This might well be a little slicker than usual.

When you run in a small group, or pairs, it can mirror life; you’re either the hammer or the nail. I wonder… damn, why didn’t I ask Fred, the chubby Swedish fellow…




Walk through the double set of serious looking security gates at Acacia Village. TIJ. This is Juba. Otto is compound manager. We turn immediately right and head north, along ‘Sandy Lane’. Already 28C, later a high of 42C. Run early, or not at all. Otto had suggested we run up Jebel Lodge. He said we could easily do it in an hour. Great idea I said, but let’s do my regular 35 mins circuit today, around the ‘hood’. Do the mountain another year…

Yes, back in Juba working a task with an old partner, ‘Ops’. I actually wanted 2 guest runners this morning, ‘Ops’ actually wanted more sleep this morning. We’re based 8 kms west of downtown. An ordinary poor district of Juba. This area surely has more heart. More soul.

We’re in Gudele II. There are no street names. I’m naming this first one ‘Sandy Lane’. An uneven dirt track. The houses either side are a mixture of brick and traditional. Traditional meaning mud and wood. There’s rubbish everywhere, mostly plastic.




There’s a virtual menagerie around us. Ducks. Chickens. Sheep. Goats. Dogs. Even cows with huge curly horns being led by youths. Poo everywhere. Plenty to take in. All senses engaged.

“Otto, that’s a strange nickname?” “What’s the story?” Otto tells me a tale from his childhood where some idiot takes out plenty of Europeans queuing at a chair lift. Bodies, poles and skis everywhere. ‘Otto’ is shamed, blamed and named, it stuck. The full name apparently, ‘Otto, you little bugger’.

A luack, ahead left at 10 o clock. A fenced off cattle area, about 40 of the huge curly horned variety waking up. Luacks dot the neighbourhood. Some kids stand on the fence poles gazing in. We turn right into ‘Sandy Square’, heading east. The sun rising majestically.


Plenty of kids in simple uniforms walking to school. A few vehicles too, mostly motorbike taxis – boda boda’s. “Kerwadja”, “Kerwadja”. The word follows us everywhere. Repeat it back, makes things worse. “Kerwadja”, particularly enchanting when the toddlers say it. A wall of sound… “White man, white man.”

Swing left and head north again. We’re on ‘Sandy Drive’. The sight of 2 white fellows, one of whom looks questionable, prancing through their district must be amusing. Apart from poo there’s the more pleasant whiff of charcoal as morning chop is prepared, also the occasional scent of sweetened chicory type coffee. I need my morning Joe…

Some children run and hide behind their mothers. For most, it’s “Kerwadja.” A few say “good morning”, no matter the time of day. Repeat everything and have fun with the kids, feels pretty interactive this morning.


 “I’m enjoying this run Otto, does Swedish Fred jog?” “What, never?” Forget for a moment about weaving Abba lyrics into the post… problem… at 12 o clock, ahead…

… stray dogs. Running in the evening can be preferable, when the pesky hounds have been zapped by the daily furnace, hotter here at that time than the devils waiting room. We’re quickly doing an impression from River Dance. Michael Flatley’s feet haven’t moved this fast. Couple of locals laugh and come to our rescue. They pick-up and toss baked poo to see the mutts off. I thank them… however, stop short of shaking mitts. Mutts and mitts, let’s push on…

Reminds me, Ops and I need to visit upcountry but options are limited. Many roads / areas are unsafe. Fortunately, yesterday I found a reliable helicopter charter company. The words of my oil & gas safety mentor, Randy Splash, echoed as I inspected the cockpit and rotors. “Safety. Safety. Safety.” Randy, this machine has everything; it’s in great shape. Randy, I know you’re focusing on one of those hoses, fret not, being replaced as I type. More importantly, need to manage these fellows down on price...

Otto is like the Skippy the bush kangaroo, very springy, very chatty. He tells me he’s been in Juba 9 months and had been in the Territorial Army with 4 Para, as he went through university. Pace is good, I’m the nail this morning…

As we get deeper into the hood, the mix of houses turn more traditional. The kids don’t relent. I don’t want them to. Makes for a happy run. This is a poor area; no power, no water, few facilities. However, there feels a real sense of community. We enjoy a wonderful reception. This area most definitely has more heart and soul.

Has anything changed in South Sudan since the previous visit last Oct? Well… the peace process rumbles on. Country now completely bankrupt. Currency has been devalued more than once. Most business has folded. Little outside investment. Civilians being attacked and killed when supposedly under protection of the UN. Prices increase daily… but, hold the front page… the 2 main protagonists, who began all this in Dec 2013, are kissing and making up… what can possibly go wrong…

So. Really. Any hope? Strangely, I think there is. I feel more positive this time than 5 months ago. Maybe, it’s these simple folk here in Gudele II. Maybe, no further to fall. Maybe, leaders can put egos aside. Maybe, they can filter out bad advice from their ‘loyal’ courtiers. Maybe, cease vested interests. Maybe, forget splitting the country into tribal thiefdoms, sorry… I mean chiefdoms… to control territory and resources. Maybe, work together for the greater good. Simples. Maybe…

Finally, we’re heading at a good pace south along ‘Desert Highway’. Ahead in the distance, is there a shimmering light? Yes, all around us. “Kerwadja… Kerwadja….”




Here’s a young family from ‘Desert Highway’, the future…

Thank you to everyone in our adopted neighbourhood. Last Oct when downtown we often felt as welcome as a Jehovah’s Witness at the front door on a Friday evening. You know the drill; you’ve a second glass of something chilled, feet up… “you answer the door, I went last time…” 30 secs later… “Darling…,” a head appears around the living room door, “we’ve a ‘Code Red’…”






We’re pushing on now, heading up towards Mundri Road. The twin masts of the main telecom provider is where we’ll warm down, jogging steadily to the finish. The masts stand out along with the brightly pink coloured walls. The Zain tag line wraps this post nicely, Louis take us out…

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. And I think to myself what... “



Enjoyed this 28 mins run (35 mins previously), thanks Otto… great fun. Good luck to you & the team at Acacia Village. Stay safe. However, if my optimism is misplaced then please remember what my old drill Sergeant used to say when all else fails, “keep low and move fast,” he’d bellow. You might recall my old drill Sergeant’s wisdom from an earlier post, he said to always expect the unexpected. I miss him, he was killed by a low flying teradactyl a few years back, in Basingstoke town centre…

We opened with The Eagles? When I worked oil and gas there's a cycle of investment in any project. The final part was the exit strategy. In Africa we called this the ‘Hotel California Syndrome’, in that; ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…’ Exiting, for any number of reasons from Africa, can be difficult…

I’m exiting, for a weekend at least. Heading from Juba to Germany. What a contrast. An ‘Early Morning Run in… Nuremberg’, could well be on the cards… and soon…

Do pass on the link or put on your Facebook (sis?); www.roadrunnertns.blogspot.com

Wrap up warm, see you in Bavaria…

T: @roadrunnertns

P.S. Back to UK for Easter in a couple of weeks. Reminds me, I must drag my tight-fisted Scottish neighbour up a nearby Jebel…