Snapshots of South Sudan

From the air what is always striking is how few red roads scar the green

landscape of South Sudan. The country that is emerging from war looks
pristine, almost untouched.

A single majestic mountain stands on the horizon with a storm cloud thrown
dramatically about its shoulder like a dark veil. Small houses squat by the
airstrip in Juba, South Sudan’s capital.

In the hubbub of Juba’s tiny, crowded airport, Kenyan peacekeepers queue 10
deep and tired Christmas decorations twirl. A confusing baggage claim
system finally spits out luggage.

Men in long, loose shirts put their hands on people’s bags, possessively,
in the hope of earning a porter’s tip.

Under the sharp light outside, the motorcycle taxis perch at the corner,
one of the drivers in wraparound glasses and a black baseball cap,
squinting at the sky.

A decade ago, Juba was a town where the few hotels were constructed largely
of shipping containers, but that’s all changed. Little shanty towns huddle
beneath new hotels that have sprung up. The shacks have roofs of higgledy
corrugated iron, or plastic sheets slung over and weighed down with old

Flea-bitten, sand-colored dogs sleep on the side of chaotic roads. A goat
capers down a narrow grassy path. The growl of generators fills the air,
and exhaust fumes drift. A red flame tree paints the sky.

A school girl in a baggy uniform and oversized plastic shoes helps her
toddler brother over a dusty ditch. A motorcycle putters by with three
riders. A brown hawk wheels overhead.

Swallows swoop over the swirling brown waters of the Nile, as fat raindrops
splash from the sky. A boatman, his ancient, leaky wooden canoe almost
filled with water, paddles a few weary strokes with his broken paddle, then
bails out with a plastic container, paddles a few more strokes, then bails
out again.

Clothes pinned on a line sway in a torpid afternoon. A woman under a white
shelter made of plastic sacking makes tea, pouring boiling water from a
steaming silver kettle.

A bicycle rickshaw rigged up as a cargo van lumbers precariously around the
corner like some prehistoric beast.

A boy wanders by with exaggerated slowness, swatting away flies, carrying
an empty bucket.

A small child burrows into his mother’s lap.

A security official in military fatigues harangues a shabbily dressed man.
The argument drags on for several minutes, with the security man waving his
arms aggressively, and his victim standing passively, gloomy-faced. Two men
stride up to intervene. There’s more arm waving on both sides. The security
man seems to be working himself up. Then suddenly, the spell is broken and
he wanders away bored or defeated.

This is Juba, where everyone waits to see if the latest twist of a much
delayed peace deal is going to nail the country’s recent war.

– Robyn Dixon