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A blog by Paul Bettings

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  • Writer's pictureAlana

The Resonance of a Pandemic (II)

Part 2

Alana currently lives in South Sudan and is running a development projects across the world newest country. Alana will be regularly contributing to the Photo Road to speak of her experiences and her travel in the Global South.


Alana in Sudan sitting by a window

From March to June 2020, I spent weeks in Canada on my own. I have also quarantined twice in my apartment in South Sudan. Both are comfortable and have internet, so my experiences are fairly similar, except for the sounds, that is. Here in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, it’s the mix of racket and tranquility that remind me that I am a foreigner, even in the midst of COVID-19. It starts early in the day.

The sounds I hear

Before the sun rises, I hear a repetitive chant from the nearby mosque. While it was a little hard to get used to at first, I’ve come to appreciate it as a gentle way to get up. Oddly, it now serves as a reminder to get up and try to do something purposeful with the day.

By 7:30, I can hear the housekeeper roaming around in the hallways. Most of the time, I am already up and ready to go, but sometimes I quite lazily work from my bed. Our timing is imperfect. I almost fell on my ass when I noticed her cleaning the outer side of my frosted shower window. (Yes. There is a window in my shower.) Inevitably, she will get a call while I am trying to Zoom and then I have to play with the mute button throughout the conversation.

If I head out to the office, about once a week, I’m struck by the number of phones ringing off the hook that no one seems to answer. It drives me slightly mad when I hear phones left unattended and ringing at full volume with obnoxious ring tones. It’s never a calm melodic ring tone, but sharp and offensive. Like Colombo or Nancy Drew, I will one day solve the mystery of why people intentionally choose the highest decibel level of ear vomit for their phones.

Local South Sudanese villagers sitting under a tree in the shade.

Throughout the day there’s the school that sits beside our office. I like children in structured environments, like church, school, Brownies. I don’t like kids when they freestyle and I certainly have no patience for them after 7:00 PM. (Now you can judge). Twice in my life, once in India and now in South Sudan, I have had the pleasure of having an office adjacent to a school. The sounds of masses of children playing, yelling, crying and singing continues to be a delight, but those sounds stopped for weeks on end when COVID-19 cases started rising and public gatherings were banned. Instead, guys of all ages play soccer on the grounds everyday until the sun sets. I’m not sure it if it is curbing the spread of the disease, but they are having a ball.

The time I retreat back to my apartment coincides with the start of a church service of sort. About three to four times a week a Pentecostal pastor or deacon starts speaking in tongues for extended periods of time. In start contrast to the gentle morning prayers, these are exhausting, angry staccato sounds. I imagine the preacher in a Richard Simmons style calisthenic fit, jumping up, dancing and waving his arms around violently.

By dinner, the air is full of honking horns. They’re not like New York City or Nairobi where drivers seem to have a general angst about the lack of movement. From what I can determine, Juba has traffic norms, instead of traffic laws. It’s not uncommon to see people driving confidently on the wrong side of the road or reversing for extended distances without consequence. The honking in Juba is more like a swear directed at a specific individual (another car, a boda boda, a tuk tuk, a goat or a pedestrian) unexpectantly crossing their path.

After dark, Juba gets quiet. By 8:00 the sounds of traffic are intermittent and by 11:00, I can only hear the hum of my neighbour’s air conditioner. Much like in Canada, on a few sleepless nights, I have stepped out on the balcony to enjoy the absolute stillness. One thing I have never heard in Canada is a cacophony of dogs barking and howling. It’s usually between 2:00 and 3:00 and sometimes it sounds like they are in polite conversation and other times it sounds like a turf war. While it usually stops after 4 – 5 minutes, it’s concerning because I rarely see dogs in the daytime and because animals tend to sense danger before humans. What’s out there? What do they know that I don’t know?

As I get used to the noises of my everyday, I’m also trying to figure out even more interesting noises and turn-of-phrases that are new…for instance:

Finger Snaps: On a good day in optimal conditions, I am not good with names. I choose to attribute this to sleep deprivation. In our office names have different value. For example, many people have names based on their tribe and clan resulting in siblings and cousins having very similar or identical names. So, then people also have the name they are called in their family. Then there are the names that appear on their official identification, of which there could be many. Sometimes the Christian name is the first name and sometimes it serves as a surname. In our office, a person’s email address and the name they use personally and professionally could all be different. I’ve come accustomed to using polite phrases, like “Excuse me.” or “Do you mind if I interrupt you?” to get people’s attention since there is a good chance I won’t get their name right. I was shocked to hear people pointing and snapping their fingers and colleagues to get their attention. Of course, my first reaction was to judge people who would treat someone in the office the same way one might call an obstinate dog, but who am I to say anything. People don’t’ seem to mind and I haven’t been smart enough to graduate past saying “Hello, Sista”.

The word “Pick”: As a result of war and displacement, many South Sudanese were educated in Kenya and Uganda, so for this one I will blame the neighbouring countries for the overuse of the English word “pick”. “We will pick you at 9:00 AM.” “I called, but he didn’t pick his phone.” “The system is automatically picking the wrong codes so we’ll have to talk to IT.” After a few weeks of hearing the ubiquitous use of the word, shockingly, it slipped into my vernacular. It’s like the word “y’all”. Both are horrifically wrong, but somehow, very clear and efficient.


The Resonance of a Pandemic, Part 1, was posted on May 13, you should read that post before this one but maybe it's too late since this is at the bottom of this post. Either way, read it anyway, it's also a great post.

Are you travelling, do you have experiences you would like to share about your experiences overseas either about the pandemic, or not of course. Please contact me here.


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