We are creatures of habit. Most often our decisions are less than tremendous – they’re exercises in functional efficiency, habituated patterns. I face an actual decision. A literal fork in the road. It’s unsettling.
Last week we discovered that Ethiopia has changed its immigration policy. They no longer issue tourist visas, except at the airport in Addis Ababa and to residents in their home country. Online, people reported month long turnarounds from the Ethiopian embassy in Washington. The only way for us to make it into Addis would be to fly in. Difficult and expensive as we have bicycles.
We’re cornered. We came from the south. To the west, the Congo is struggling after decades of war and a continuing insurgency. And they don’t speak English. To go east is to enter Kenya and end our journey early in Nairobi. That’s an option. Maybe the wisest. But there’s another option, to go north.
North of Uganda stands Sudan, the largest nation in Africa, it’s Texas times four, a land of desert, delta and brush, Arabs, Christians and animists. It too struggled with war. The South began rebelling in 1955. Peace came fifty years later, kind-of. Last year, 2011, the South voted to become on July 9th the world’s youngest nation.
There are many reasons to avoid South Sudan. The conflict was devastating. Less than 5% of rural South Sudanese graduate from primary school. There is no national economy, few paved roads (less than 50k / 30 miles), limited security, limited healthcare (e.g. three surgeons, total), limited governance, limited sanitation.
There is little official ambiguity, “The Embassy advises against any travel in or through Sudan due to the turbulent and unpredictable security environment.” The travel warnings are chilling. I’ve read them each a good dozen times. There are reports of banditry, violent crime, competing militias and growing threats of imminent interstate war.
People I really respect have advised me that to go north is reckless. What will they say, if I end up in a ditch jailed mugged dehydrated dead? The fool. I fear that. I fear that maybe I’m committing the people who love me most to anxious worrying. Or worse yet, to picking up the pieces. I fear that. To recklessly impose on others – there’s not much worse than that.
I have weighed my options. We cannot escape our history. I am born an American. To be born in South Sudan is so very unlucky, it’s to be born into war with few of the comforts of even 19th century modernity. And yet, we go through South Sudan – on bicycles – because despite that, I think we’ll be safe.
Cycling Africa, I’ve gotten the sense the cliché is true – that people everywhere have similar simple good intentions. It’s true that South Sudan is poor and that desperation and inequality cause violence, but at present there is less desperation and more hope than ever before. They believed in their cause so greatly that for fifty years they bared every cost. They are now one sovereign people. They have something to prove. I want to give them that chance.
We will trust as others have trusted us. Our fate is in the hands the people of South Sudan, to the open road – we ride onward. As electricity and internet will be lacking, updates will be few and far between. Wish us luck!