We follow Siân Arulanantham, Head of Programmes Co-ordination as she visits South Sudan to identify leprosy issues within the country and create a strategy for progress.
DAY 2 – Arrival in Addis Ababa, then Juba
The cool breeze greeted me as I disembarked the plane in Addis Ababa. It’s the rainy season and Addis is on a high plateau so gets some of the most pleasant temperatures on the continent. I followed the transfer signs and a lady directed me to the other terminal for my flight to Juba. Having experienced the limited facilitated in the international terminal previously, I figured that the old terminal would not be the most comfortable place to spend 6 hours. Therefore a sign board that mentioned hotel accommodation for passengers with a transfer time of more than 8 hours caught my eye. I wondered if I could persuade airline staff that 6 hours is rather a long time too and I really need a bed. I joined the line and prayed my way to the front of the queue, thanking God for a safe journey and asking for a sympathetic receptionist.
As I sat in my hotel eating breakfast I rebuked myself for doubting God’s provision. I got a few hours rest, sent an email to my husband and then returned to the airport for the next part of the journey. The old terminal has a restaurant, so I made the most of eating tibs (lamb in spices) with injera (Ethiopian pancake-like fermented bread) for lunch. After a delay of another hour, ‘This Is Africa’, standing in the departure lounge, I started talking to the man waiting next to me. It turns out that he was John Kuku, The Leprosy Mission’s lab technician in Abiroff clinic in Sudan, on his way to the same workshop as me with his colleague Seela Kajo, the sister at the clinic. When South Sudan separated from Sudan flights from Khartoum to Juba were cancelled, they therefore had to travel via Addis Ababa and had an even longer wait between flights than I did. Unfortunately they had not had the benefit of a hotel room, so were rather exhausted.
Juba airport – I’ve travelled a lot, but this one gets the ‘most crazy airport’ award. All the passengers filed off the plane into a room not much bigger than my living room in which there is the visa counter, baggage collection, customs and passport control. There was no space to breathe never mind move! Having stood there for a few moments, nearly suffocating in the heat, I tried to work out how the system (presuming there was one) worked. A Canadian standing near me who works for the UN in South Sudan and who has done this before helped.
1) Do your best to get to the first visa counter window if you already have an entry permit (which I did) and hand them your passport, entry permit and $100 dollar note (that must be new and crispy). This is easier said than done as there is no such thing as a queue. The Canadian and I tried to weave our way to the counter window and eventually handed over our passports, etc.
2) Wait and wait and wait…… till they process your visa, noting that this is not necessarily in the order they are presented and is bit of a lucky dip. Just try to get your own passport back 😉
3) Next work your way through the crowd to the luggage area and locate your suitcase, praying that it arrived on the same plane as you did, which is not always the case.
4) Suitcase located, push and shove through the crowd with it and your hand luggage to the customs area. At which point, when you finally reach the official, if you have not suffocated in the crown and heat by now, he will hand search all your luggage and put a chalk mark on each bag. No such thing as security scanner here.
5) Now fight against the flow of the crowd to the immigration official who will check your passport, the chalk cross and allow you into the arrivals area.
6) Finally, find your baggage tag that you were given at Heathrow…. Ahhh where did I put it??? After which you will be allowed to leave the one room terminal and step foot on South Sudan soil.
Well, I survived and Yousif Deng and Wilson Lado our TLM South Sudan staff were there to meet me. John and Seela had also made it through, so we were ready to leave for the guest house.