Friday, April 29, 2011

Nadir and Tim Join Juba Airport All-Stars

I ask the driver to take me to the Living Waters Orphanage on the other side of town. There is a tiny pitch there where my ex-pat soccer team meets after work. The orphanage has one of the few partial-grass playing pitches in Juba, though it's very small and mostly dirt and rocks. When we pull through the gate, a hundred \South Sudanese kids are running around, more than I've ever seen there, before. I smell bread baking, and see people milling about near the kitchen - some kind of meal night, maybe?

Though I'm late, I'm the first and only expat to arrive and my driver is uncertain about leaving me there alone. I tell him not to worry, hop out and shake some kids' hands. Some kids are playing soccer; they are very good. A couple of the younger ones (8 or 9 year olds?) played with us last week and were better, barefoot, then some of the adults on my team. Seriously good. Forty years of war but there is still football.

I wait around for 10 minutes after my driver leaves but don't see any of my teammates, nor can I find the guy who runs the place. I sought him out last week to find out about the orphanage. He brought me into his office and sat me down, formally, and told me its history. It has been there for 30 years and started as a home for kids whose parents were killed in the fighting. Now it's a refuge for children whose parents can't or won't take care of them due to alcoholism and/or other probs. The land and buildings are owned by the government but operations are privately funded. "We have some friends," he told me. The place is pretty run down though.

Looks like my guys aren't coming so I start hiking back home when one of my team-mates, Nadir, a Lebanese contractor, pulls up in his silver SUV. Nadir tells me Juba now is like Paris compared to a year ago, when there were just a couple of Kenyan cooking huts and no paved roads in town. Today there are Indian, Ethiopian, Chinese, Kenyan and South Sudanese restaurants, along with a brick-oven pizza place and a number of decent hotels with swiming pools and well-stocked bars. Recently an ice cream shop opened up.

We're driving toward my compound, both a little bummed about none of our guys showing up to play this evening, when we see a group of tall Juba kids in uniform playing on a sloping dirt patch across the street from the airport.

Nadir wants to try to play with them, and I'm up for it, though I can see they are all big young studs, not a player under six feet tall -- and they are very good, playing a fast-paced game of two-touch keepaway, tucked shirts vs. untucked shirts. We find the coach and ask if we can join and presto, we're in the tight grid, about 10v10 now. It's lightening paced, pinball keepaway, backheels and tricks galore but also some inspired one-touch combination passes, Barcelona-style tika-taka. Nadir and I hold our own though it's hard for us to tell who's who because some of the tucked guys have come untucked. We play about 30 minutes at a frenetic pace and when the coach calls time, it seems as if every single one of them wants to shake hands with us. I guess they don't have foreigners pop into practice all that often.

We are the Airport All-Stars, the coach tells us. We play every night. You play with us.

 We'll come tomorrow, we say.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Juba Mornings

One of my three loyal followers has asked me to describe a typical day here in Juba.
7 a.m.  Juba time (this is 12 a.m. for you guys on the East Coast of the U.S.) – My little battery-powered travel alarm clock beeps. I  bought the clock in Amsterdam airport. I hit the snooze button and think “What the hell am I doing here?”, usually my first thought of the day. I can see light outside the heavy beige curtains and hear people walking by on the street outside even though my AC is on. I hit the snooze every five minutes until 730. Not sure why I do this. Each snooze gets me closer to my first trip home in June?  
730 a.m. – Throw back the curtains, turn off my remote-controlled AC and go into my private bathroom, which smells a bit dodgy – I think it’s the toilet water. Turn on the water in the shower to get it hot. Sometimes there is just a trickle. When it gets hot, it’s boiling hot.  Kind of tricky to get it to a comfortable heat.  Recently the borehole for the house tapped out and we had to call a water truck to refill the water tank. Since then the tap water has smelled of diesel fuel. Brush my teeth (using bottled water) and get dressed, pack up work-issued laptop and docs.
8 a.m. – I go downstairs to the kitchen to grab a bite.  I am supposed to take my Malarone malaria medication with food, ideally something fatty. I have been fixing myself corn flakes (from Saudi Arabia) with boxed milk (from Saudi Arabia) and sometimes, PBJ on toasted thin, funny-tasting white bread from a Juba bakery, and eating that with my malaria med. I also take an immune booster and multi-vitamin. I make myself Nescafe instant coffee with milk, even though we have real ground coffee from Kenya and Ethiopia. I’m usually in too much of a hurry to make real coffee and I actually think I might like the Nescafe. Almost everyone else drinks tea. I’m not sure why I like the Nescafe, because it sort of tastes like boiled cardboard, but it has become part of my routine.
830 am – the driver arrives in one of the Land Cruisers for the second trip to the office compound (first one leaves right at 8 am). Five or six of us crowd into the truck with our bags. The people who live in my house are mostly Africans, a mix of male/female professional project managers or technical sector specialists from countries including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Southern Sudan and Madagascar working in either agriculture, democracy/governance, water/sanitation, education or community development.  The chief of party (Angola) and deputy chief of party (Bangladesh) also live in the house. Everyone is very smart, multi-lingual (except me), hard working, and kind. They take their mission – helping the war-torn people of Southern Sudan launch their new nation – incredibly seriously. My colleagues are humble, respectful, professional people.
845 – The drive to the office compound takes us by Juba airport and past water trucks, fuel trucks, people walking to work. I see women cradling babies, waiting to get into the Egyptian clinic. Smiling, skinny kids walking to school in pastel blue or green cotton blouses with Navy blue shorts.  Big kids holding the hands of smaller ones. Occasionally a woman in a long beautifully patterned dress balancing something in a large bucket atop her head while walking. Today I saw a woman carrying a stack of 15-foot long aluminum rods on her head. There is construction everywhere. A Chinese furniture store is going up lightning fast on the end of my street. We pass army trucks, soldiers, and men sitting on cheap Chinese-made motorbikes called boda-bodas.The bodas  are for hire, they will take you wherever you want to go in the city if you are brave enough to get on the back.
9 am – At the guarded, walled office compound I settle into my cubicle in a room full of eight cubicles. The place is owned by the Catholic Diocese and I think dates to colonial days, when Sudan was run by an Anglo-Egyptian cartel. It is  shaded by beautiful orange-blossomed jacaranda trees, huge green neem trees, with some red bougainvillea. There are enrormous dark gray boulders sticking up between some of the buildings; people sit on them and make phone calls. I boot up my laptop and check Outlook. Blissfully few emails compared to my Wesley House days.  I work on whatever report, bulletin etc… is requested. Attend meetings. The work is interesting. It is about setting up a new country, from scratch. How do you involve people in the decision making process? How are they engaged and empowered? What systems can be set up to do that? How do you help build trust in a new government when the old one bombed and starved you? How do you improve food security and livelihoods? We talk a lot about ox plows, pit latrines, boreholes and hand pumps, community action groups, transparency. Gender equity. There is A LOT of training going on – courses on democracy, governance, public finance, budgeting, human resource development.
1 pm  - Lunch time. We gather in lunch room for a meal catered by a hotel called Logali House, located right over the fence from our work compound. Usually chicken or beef dish served with rice, bread,  salad.  Occasionally after lunch I go hunting surreptiously in the dark laundry room, if the laundry ladies aren't around, for my lost laundry items. I found a pair of my underwear in a miscellaneous big bucket of anonymous clean laundry items, and stuffed them in my trouser pockets. I feel sneaky stealing my laundry when they're not looking but it's the only dignified way to get lost socks and underwear back. I do my own laundry now, easier to keep track of things.
Tomorrow: Juba Evenings  

Monday, April 25, 2011

UNMIS Dust Storm


I work all of Easter Sunday editing a big report. By 6 pm I am ready to escape the compound and get some air. What to do? Get in the Land Cruiser and drive to someone else's compound, of course. There's supposed to be an expat Ultimate Frisbee game at UNMIS - the United Nations Mission in Sudan. I played an Ultimate game my second night in town and did ok by keeping my throws short and employing an inelegant and loud yet effective two-handed clamper catch. I didn't want to be the new guy who drops the Frisbee, so I made extra sure with the clamper.

We climb down from the big Land Cruiser at the muddy entrance to UNMIS. This place is big and guarded, home to several thousand UN peacekeepers. We hand in our IDs at the front gate and put packs through a metal detector. Then start the long walk on flat dirt roads to the playing fields.

We get there - two Americans and a Brit, but no one else for Frisbee. In the distance we see some Bangladeshi soldiers wearing red and white gym uniforms enthusiastically playing volleyball together - there appear to be 25 to 30 of them on each side of the net, and they are having a good time. I was here last week at sundown when three Bangladeshi soldiers came outside to lower flags while one of them played a mournful military tune that sounded a lot like Taps. All of the Frisbee players stopped and stood at attention facing the flags while the bugler played.

I ask why there are so many Bangladeshis - the UN peackeeping forces are supposed to be from different countries, right? My companions shrug. Apparently it's Bangladesh's turn to pony up a bunch of peacekeepers for Sudan. There are more than 10,000 UN soldiers in Sudan, some posted in the troubled area that will become the new border between Sudan and Southern Sudan in July, when Southern Sudan officially becomes independent. Many are out in Darfur.

No Ultimate game - canceled for Easter but we didn't get the e-mail in time. So we take a walk around a dirt exercise track hugging the perimeter of the embanked, fortified compound. There are tall towers made out of canvass blocks filled with earth every couple hundred yards, manned by helmeted Bangladeshis holding machine guns. Coils of concertina wire spreading out in all directions.

My companions know each other well and I am new, so they do most of the talking between themselves. I have uninteresting questions that  no one wants to answer.

Do you guys know what kind of tree that is?


It looks like a sea grape tree, but I'm sure it's not.

Polite pause before resuming their conversation.

Any idea what's on the other side of the bunkers?

Umm.....Sudanese landscape?

We see rain coming. The wind changes and we are a good ways from the sheltered entrance. A pair of 10-wheeled white-and-black UN tanks beep at us as they roll by. Fat drops fall and dust and small rocks sting our bare legs. Ahead of us the wind begins picking up curtains of dirt and sand from everywhere and blowing it across our path. We cover our faces with our shirts, turn our backs to the blasting dust and start running just before the rain begins dumping in buckets. We make for a thatched-roof bar with cheery Christmas lights ahead a hundred yards or so, and scramble inside. To my delight, Arsenal vs. Bolton is on a big flat-screen TV. We tuck into some Kenyan lagers and wait out the storm.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hash Race

I decide to participate in a foot race organized by the Juba chapter of the International Hash House Harriers. Hash members refer to themselves as a "drinking club with a running problem." The goal is to run a little and then drink a lot of beer. There are Hash clubs in nearly every major city on every continent.

The meeting spot for this Hash is at a hotel called Asante just down the dirt road and on the other side of one of the few tarmac roads from my company's residential compound. It is the first time that I venture alone on foot outside my concrete-walled, iron-gated, razor-wired, 24-hour guarded residence. I am a little nervous. There is much emphasis on protection of expats here, though no one I've queried so far is readily able to remember any expats ever getting hurt in Juba. What do I know? I've only been here for a week, I feel I should have a little fear.

The guy in charge of organizing this race is called Fucktard. Hashers are christened with a nickname and then drowned in beer upon completion of their fifth race. There are about 40 of us milling about in the hotel's open courtyard. Lanky Scandinavians, Brits, Americans and Canadians, and Africans from different neighboring countries - Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia.

I understand why our leader is called Fucktard as soon as he opens his mouth. He impatiently gathers us in a large circle around himself and demands to know if there are any first-time Hashers present. I can guess what's coming but step forward anyway, along with a young Dutch woman in grey sweatpants, two skinny young African women, and a stocky British guy. Fucktard makes each of us tell the group our name, what brought us to Juba, what country we're from, and why we are at the Hash. He tells the British guy that he looks dumb and expresses doubt that he can successfully answer all the questions. He skips over one of the young African women because she does not speak English. My guess is that Fucktard gets punched in the face a lot when out drinking.

We start the race. The trail is marked ahead of time by a pair of pre-ordained "hares" whose job is nominally to lead but also to confuse Hashers with the occasional false trail. Eager competitive types are penalized in the race - if they are the first to reach a spot on the trail marked with a chalk circle, they must run to the back of the pack, find the slowest runner and tag them. This is designed to keep slow runners from becoming demoralized or lonely, and to keep fast runners working harder than everyone else.

One of my reasons for running this race is to get out of the protected compound environment and see what Juba streets look like. The trail takes us down pitted, rutted dirt roads, copper-brown sandy soil with deep mud puddles filling in the car and truck tracks. Bamboo, tin and mud shacks on either side of us; small goats in tall weeds; dogs, ducks and chickens. There is also a huge amount of trash everywhere. The government does not have the trash system figured out yet. Piles of it are everywhere, some burning, filling the air with a not unpleasant smokiness. There are flattened plastic water bottles, flattened aluminum soda cans, shards of ripped up plastic shopping bags EVERYWHERE, bottle tops and blown-out sandals and shoes in the streets.

Tall people (the Dinka and Nuer tribes people are among the tallest people in the world) turn to watch our strange assortment of mostly white people running in a pack through their neighborhoods. It occurs to me that one of the few times that locals will see expats out on the streets by themselves is during the Hash races, and how odd it must seem, with the two Hares in the lead shouting "On-On!" repeatedly, women in tights, guys with floppy hats and shorts splashing through mud puddles, stopping to examine chalk signs in the road, running this way and that.

We are regarded with a mix of amusement and interest. Children are the most curious - many of them run along with us barefoot shouting "Morning! Morning!" and squealing - they can tell something fun is going on. I can't stop myself from shouting "Morning! Morning!" back to them, looking back at them, waving and giving lots of thumbs up signs. It isn't morning, but "Morning!" has become a standard greeting by local kids to Westerners here.

We run through a subdivision of shacks - grids marked out by cut up tree fences, some empty grassy lots. There is some house building going on out here. A man is running power tools with a generator, working so hard he doesn't even look up to see 40 foreigners running down the muddy street in front of his home. Not much flora or fauna to describe. Papaya trees, acacia trees, jacarandas. I am surprised to see no vegetable plots. One one fence I see a dusty loofa vine. Ditches filled with muddy trashy water. There is no public water system and a very spotty, limited electric grid. Pit latrines and boreholes with handpumps for water. There is a campaign to stop people from defecating in the open.

I finish in third place, behind the two hares. The run was about five miles, and I am rewarded with a warm Tusker beer, brewed in Kenya. Fucktard gathers us up again and commences some drinking games that involve singing and require me and the other new Hashers to stand in the middle of the circle and answer more questions. I chit chat with a Canadian woman and talk to someone who runs a group called Confident Children Out of Conflict; they run a day center for homeless kids here. They are looking for sponsors for kids who want to go to school but can't afford it.

I jog back to the compound and settle in again in my womb like environment.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Entering Juba

530 am
For the final leg of my trip, to Juba, I'm flying out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. I get checked in and through Customs with enough time to look in a couple gift shops. In surveying cool-looking travelers, I have noticed that the carabiners I clipped onto my carry-on backpack, in hopes of looking like a rugged and experienced action man ready for anything, such as having to rappel down an airport wall, are quite wimpy compared to other people's carabiners, which are huge and scraped up, and actually used-looking. Mine are the cheapo kind people buy at gas stations to attach to key chains.  Theirs look like they get hooked to steel cables that pull Land Rovers out of mud pits.
On my company’s extensive briefing sheet for South Sudan, under the “things to bring” section, a bandana or a scarf for the dry season is recommended, apparently because it can get very dusty. It is the ONE thing I didn’t bring. I picture myself going Arab style with a white-and-red checked scarf. I actually find one in a store, but it’s as big as a bed sheet and I can’t picture wrapping the thing around my face - the volume of leftover fabric would mummify me. I also wonder about the wisdom of dressing in Arabic fashion in a place where Arabs and tribal Africans have been fighting with machine guns for 40 years. So I settle for a smaller one that’s only as big as a table cloth. In a dust storm with my tiny carabiners and large scarf, I should be ready for all contingencies.
The flight to Juba is full of people in business suits, young African men and women with BlackBerries, Android phones and laptops. Definitely some relief and development types too. There are some Chinese business guys. The man next to me is reading something on his Kindle. The flight is short and uneventful. As we descend into Juba, I catch a glimpse of the very wide, muddy Nile River and look closely for herds of large animals, a squirrel – anything.  But am disappointed. As we roll down the tarmac towards a shabby main building, I see some bright yellow and white-and-blue U.N. helicopters and planes. A few soldiers in fatigues with guns.
In the grass behind the U.N. aircraft is a chain-link fence topped with razor wire, but the fence has some gaps/open gates in it, and I see a few mud huts topped with conical thatched roofs, called “tukuls” on the airport grounds. People are living  in here, inside the airport landing area?
Outside, an unsmiling South Sudanese man holding a TIM MAY sign nods when I walk up expectantly, and leads me to a large white Land Cruiser with a 10-foot high black antenna mounted on the right side of the hood. He loads my bag into the back.
I will take you to the compound now, he says.

The tall antenna wobbles as we leave.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are You Peter May?


5:15 a.m.

Getting ready to land in Nairobi. Glorious aisle seat. I watch "Conviction" with Hilary Swank and almost cry in spots. I am exhausted and emotionally raw from missing Tahra and the girls. The anxiety, stress and excitement of traveling into the unknown is taking its toll. A diaper commercial now would wreck me.

My little video screen shows the path of my plane. Exotic locations are in the vicinity, underneath and east and west of me - places I've heard of but only in the newspaper, books and movies. There is Mombasa, Khartoum, Kilimanjaro, Mogadishu, Addis Ababa. It's not marked but it looks like the plane is flying south along the Nile. We're over Sudan, the biggest country in Africa. To get to the south part of Sudan we have to fly south past it, to Nairobi. There are a few international flights into Juba, from Kampala and Addis Ababa, Cairo maybe? But no direct flights from Europe, so I have to fly into Nairobi and then backtrack north up to Juba on a Kenya Airways flight.

We land in Nairobi and I obtain a transit visa and clear immigration easily after waiting in line for a while behind some laborers. My bag comes out quickly downstairs and I head outside where a phalanx of drivers, maybe 50 or more, are waiting, many of them holding up white signs with people's names on them. I see one that says MAY and under it, "Palacina." I stride confidently up.

Hi I'm Tim May going to the Sankara Hotel, right?

Yes please come with me sir. Takes my bag and we hustle outside to a nice SUV parked conveniently close by.

Not much to see on the road from the airport. People driving very dangerously. Herds of men crossing the road in chaotic lurches, trying to avoid cars and trucks. It is morning rush hour and hundreds of people are walking along the airport road, heading to jobs in the industrial part of town out by the airport. Many people are well dressed, slacks and dress shirts, the women in colorful dresses. We hit a bad traffic jam closer to the city and wait in bumper-to-bumper for 30 minutes when my driver, Luiz, who is an Arsenal fan, gets a call. He speaks rapidly in Swahili and then pauses and holds the phone to his chest.

Excuse me sir are you Peter May?

No I'm Tim May.

More rapid Swahili, now in apologetic tone into the phone and Luiz hangs up.

I am sorry but I must turn around.  I am supposed to pick up Mr. Peter May and he is waiting at the airport.

Can you just take me to the hotel and then go back, or can you send another driver for the other guy?

No I am sorry, there is no other driver. I must go back. If your driver is not there I will take you back into Nairobi.

We make a crazy U-turn out of the traffic over a dirt median onto a ramp, turn around and drive even faster, now, back to the airport. I can tell Luiz is worried. I may have cost him is job - but then I DID tell him I was TIM MAY. I should have asked him why the sign he held said Palacino on it.

I am worried, too. It is now about two hours after I landed, what are the chances my actual driver will still be waiting? Slim I thought.

We careen back to the airport and Mr. Peter May and I meet and have a good chuckle. He works for a French bank and has a sense of humor about me stealing his car. My driver is still there, too, politely standing almost alone, now, holding a very nice printed sign that says MR. TIM MAY, very clear for all to see. His name is Nicklaus, a Man U fan, and he is understanding about the pickup debacle.

He gets me safely into town, pointing out some things along the way. The guards at the hotel use a mirror on a long stick to look for bombs under our truck before they let us drive through.

I'm in Africa.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Going Dutch


10 p.m. Atlanta to Amsterdam

Tight squeeze onto monster KLM jet. People all around speaking many different languages. I recognize German, maybe some Arabic. For the first time on this trip I feel like a stranger. I find my seat and am dismayed to learn I will be sandwiched in the middle for the nearly 9-hour flight to Holland, where I will make the connection to Kenya. There is a trim little old man with silver hair and a tweed blazer in the aisle seat. When I excuse myself and apologize for needing to get by, he looks up but doesn't move, and I realize he does not speak English.

Is he Turkish? Albanian? Each of his movements is precise and slow the way people move in bed after surgery. When I squeeze past, he silently motions toward the luggage racks. When I tell him I will put my bag under the seat in front of me, he shrugs barely, lifts the palms of his hands in acceptance.

I find Black Swan on the movie screen and poke it. When Nina begins masturbating in her bedroom, I wonder about airplane movie etiquette. There is a 30-ish woman with braids immediately to my left, but I dare not look to see if she is viewing the sex on my screen, a mere 24 inches or so from her face. The little man, however, has definitely noticed. He begins flapping his lapels back and forth. I hear throat clearances and some shifting around in his seat. I hope that Nina will be finished soon and ponder ending the video. Maybe I can find some Everyone Loves Raymond.

I disembark in Amsterdam into the giant Lego environment of Schiphol Airport. I have instructions to find a place called "Yotel" inside the airport, a hotel where I can grab a shower and few hours of sleep during the long layover before my Kenya flight. I find it easily, register, and get a swipe card to get in.

My Yotel room is modeled on Japanese "capsule" or micro-hotels and is smaller than my bathrom at home. The bed is on the floor, under a low overhang. A small, light-weight desk folds out from the wall across from the door, and I can touch the door and the wall opposite, at the same time with my arms stretched. I can almost reach the toilet from bed. The chair for  the desk is actually a tiny stool that folds up and hangs from the knob of the door. It is a little claustrophobic, but I take a shower and sleep about two hours.

I video Skype home from the Yotel -- my first time using Skype outside of home in Key West -- and am relieved it works and that I can see everyone - they're doing great in New York, but have colds. I pack up and prepare for the next leg, Amsterdam to Nairobi. Grab some sushi and coffee and find my plane at gate F1, a Kenya Airways Boeing 777, black, red and green with "The Pride of Africa" emblazoned on one the side.
I cannot understand most of the languages at the gate. Africans in business suits, some white Europeans with backpacks probably headed on safari. It is 4,153 miles to Nairobi. We will have to fly either over or around Libya, where NATO is dropping bombs, to get there. Here we go.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Clearly I am a security threat. A one-way ticket to Kenya, with a visa for Sudan in my unsigned passport, but no Kenya visa, and no ticket into Sudan. Conversations are happening ahead of me amongst security personel. They have taken my backpack off the conveyor belt. They are pointing and moving toward me in a pincer formation, closing in..... What would Jason Bourne do. Jason Bourne would kick some airport ass, get his granola bags back and

"Please step over here, Sir."

I am made to wait inside an incubator-like glass isolation chamber, shoeless. My dress socks have no holes in the toes, for once. Regular non-threatening passengers on their way to normal places like Atlanta and Chicago zip by me and collect their carry-ons. I make as if everything is cool - yeah I'm in the incubator but I do this all the time when I travel. Yeah I LIKE waiting in the incubator in my socks.

A skinny pimply young man in an ill-fitting uniform asks me to step out of the incubator and over to a white line. He has one of those cricket bat metal detectors and asks me to raise my arms. Then he launches into an airport schtick that he must have rehearsed a thousand times in the mirror in the bathroom of his mother's house, where he surely still lives.

In an overly loud voice, he asks in a monotone rapid fire drill sergeant tone: "Sir I'm going to ask you this once and only once but do you have anywhere on your person any laser pointers laser rockets or laser guided missiles any rocket launchers M150s AK47s Glock 9s or Smith & Wessons of any caliber any pocket knives nunchuks or Chinese flying stars explosive devices kalashnikovs..." you get the picture. When he was done I just asked him if he was done and put on my shoes.

Miracle of miracles, I have made it into the waiting area.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On my way


Narceline drops me at Key West airport. Tahra and the kids gone already to New York. I'm as prepared as I can be. One suitcase and a backpack. Takes me approx five minutes to figure out how to swipe my passport through the automated check-in computer. Trying repeatedly to jam and slide it across the wrong crack in the machine. Pit and forehead sweat already. I am befuddled. Where's Tahra - she would know what to do here. Fleeting thoughts of abandoning trip - too hard, too hard.

At ticket counter with human, a minor victory: big bag weighs only 46 pounds. This means I can offload four pounds of granola and trail mix made for me by Tahra, from my backpack, and put it in the suitcase. Brief awkward scramble as I pull down heavy luggage, open and transfer the weighty goodies from my backpack into suitcase. Sunglasses clatter out of shirt pocket and slide across the floor as I bend over. All of my carefully selected possessions for the next eight months are suddenly exposed in the airport glare to ticket lady and passengers around me; underwear, socks, granola all together - SO WHAT? It's ok if food touches clean underwear. I force the fat ziplock bags into my hard shell and haul it back onto the scale: 49 lbs, there you go. Adrenalin pumping from passport swiping struggle and ugly repacking incident.

"Sir, where is your visa for Kenya."

"They told me I don't need a visa for Kenya, that I can get a transit visa at the airport in Nairobi."

"They who?"

"The people I will be working for in Sudan." I say with confidence, though I realize this is ridiculously meaningless. More pit sweat. Much more.

She looks dubious but folds my passport and sends me on.

I have entered the security line. There is a new problem. I am headed to one of the countries on the official U.S. List of Nations that Sponsor Terrorism, but I have neglected to sign my new passport. I have become a suspicious actor.