Vehicle commandeering and important paper-waving

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is about my current trip to South Sudan and my efforts to conduct research in Juba:

Today I learned that charm, assertiveness, name-dropping, and important paper-waving will only get you so far. This morning, I had a research-related meeting at SPLA Headquarters at Bilpam on the outskirts of Juba. After my meeting, I figured I’d pop by the office of another gentleman whose number I had acquired the day before at another ministry. The whole time I’ve been here, people have been telling me that I needed to be more assertive and just show up at people’s offices rather than bothering with appointments. So that’s what I did. But it turned out that even though I had an introductory letter from one ministry to another and the names and phone numbers of the people who referred me to this guy, I didn’t have a paper trail of all these referrals. Doh! Lesson learned for the future.

So I’m waiting for my driver outside HQ, sitting around with the soldiers responsible for checking people in. They amuse themselves by trying to guess where I’m from and jokingly berate me for not having a military husband. When my driver shows up, I thank them for giving me water and a seat in the shade and hop in the car… but when I turn around, I find that three unarmed soldiers have opened the back doors and hopped in. I start to get worried because I don’t think it’s in my driver’s contract to give rides to random people, and I’m pretty sure there’s not a clause in there about who pays when the SPLA commandeers your vehicle. But my driver, who is the epitome of cool, calm, and collected says it’s okay and we can give them a ride into town. So I roll with it. When we get to the roundabout and are about to head towards Gudele, we drop them off and they go on their merry way.

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