POV

Global Odyssey: The Arrest

Our friend Eric Hill has a mission: “To visit all 194 U.N. recognized countries in world record time and film and document the exciting journey to show that awesome exists in EVERY country, especially with the people.” Eric’s journey will be one of full cultural immersion, while simultaneously raising funds and awareness in partnership with a variety of charity organizations. CBK will be reporting on his progress as he moves along. Check in next time for another tale from a great adventure.

Story and photos by by Eric Hill - http://gowitheric.com

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Before I started this journey, I knew there would be some rough patches, but hey, that’s part of the excitement. Plus it makes what follows the rough patches even better. After selling the motorbikes in Uganda, Kyle and I boarded a plane for the first time in a month on our way to Juba, South Sudan, and the next rough patch began.

Months earlier, South Sudan wasn’t even on this leg of the journey, but I met some South Sudanese guys at an African market in Salt Lake City. We quickly became friends and they invited me to stay with their family in Bor and their friend in Juba. Everything lined up easily right from the start. However, in the days preceding our arrival to Juba, communication stopped. We hadn’t been able to reach our contact in Juba for a few days and he was our connection to the family in Bor.

We boarded the plane anyway and crossed our fingers that he would answer our messages. No such luck. We arrived at a small chaotic airport. I took a couple pictures of the sign that read “Juba International Airport” and had my first taste of what was about to come. A guy in a military uniform walked right at me almost immediately and said firmly, “Erase dem now.” Even after I showed him the pictures so he could see there were no people or military or buildings, just the welcome sign, he still made me erase my only pictures I had so far. No big deal. I’d be getting more the next day. Wrong.

I met up with Kyle who had come in on an earlier flight and got some bad news: still no contact with our friends. Also we quickly learned that things were not so cheap like they had been everywhere else in Africa. The cheapest room in the city was over one hundred and thirty US dollars per night, which was way more than we were used to (like the four dollars split three ways for the room we got in Kenya). Apparently this was considered an active conflict zone and the hotels all came with heavy security detail that added to the cost.

I would have tried to meet some cool locals, but we decided to wait things out with our contact. I mean, our original plan was awesome: meet our radio DJ friend in Juba, we were supposed to be stay with a family up in Bor and possibly spend some time with the cows being moved by floating reed rafts down the Nile.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

While we sat getting some work done in the lobby of the Rainbow Hotel next to the US Embassy, we found out Bor was nearly impossible without U.N. security clearance because of the extremely high risk of kidnapping along the road there. Well, maybe we still had our friend and the cows. Suddenly it was ten at night, so we had to get a room. We only had Ugandan Schillings from selling our bikes and there was nowhere to exchange money and our cards didn’t work for some reason… Again.

We had someone offer to cover the room and we were once again saved by a local. Shower, sleep and air conditioning! I love roughing it, but these luxuries were welcomed that night. Kyle and I shared a bed again. This one had a pink mosquito net. We laughed about how crazy all of this came together. Then we two dirty, bearded men fell asleep on the same mattress surrounded by pink lace. It added to the laughs.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

The next morning we gave up on our original contacts and set out to create an experience worth the trip. We needed more than just a picture of a hotel bed! We got some motorcycle taxis to the Juba Bridge on the edge of the city. We figured we’d walk across to a village on the other side and try making some new friends.

Nope. I pulled my camera out again, took three photos, someone started yelling. A guy, probably only nineteen years old or so, in dirty civilian clothes started yelling “Picha no, picha no!” and firmly shaking his head and swinging his arm down as he walked towards us. I understood he didn’t want me taking pictures. No biggie. And as I was lowering my camera, holding one hand up and eyebrows raised as if to say, “Ok, ok, crazy man.” he pushed my camera down and grabbed me by the arm.

Who was this kid? I naturally yanked my arm away, and said something about not touching my camera, in some unpleasant tones. Then another slightly older guy came and continued to escort us firmly from the bridge toward a hut we had passed after we got off the taxi-bikes. We didn’t speak a word of each other’s language and things were getting heated quickly. I understood he didn’t want me to take pictures, but I also understood that he wanted to take my camera. When I refused to let him have it, he grabbed some hand restraints off a hook on the outside wall of the hut!

I started thinking back to Syria again when those members of Jabat Al Nusra had me by the arm accusing me of being a spy. This time however, I hadn’t kept my cool like then. I had reacted to what I thought was a kid trying to steal my camera and offered very little respect until now. I then tried to explain we’d happily just leave and even erase the pictures. I was so confused. I just wanted out of there.

I somewhat frantically called out to the slowly passing trucks entering the bridge to try to find and English speaker. “English! English!” I yelled out as Kyle and I backed away from the guys pursuing us. Luckily, one of the first drivers did. He stopped his truck and got out to help us translate. By this time, the second man had gone into the hut and come out with an AK-47. Geez, how did I end up here like this? Things didn’t calm down as quickly as I liked. Luckily, at least the AK stayed by the doorway of the hut and the restraints in the hands of the first guy and not around our wrists.

It turned out these were the guards of the bridge and it was illegal to take pictures anywhere without permission from the South Sudanese authorities. We offered to erase the pictures and just leave again, but that wasn’t happening. They radioed a man on the other side of the bridge who came over in full military garb. He spoke enough English to let us know in unquestionable terms that we were coming with him and we were going to hand over the camera, or else.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Good news: we got to cross the bridge finally. Bad news: we were now arrested and in custody of this military man for taking pictures illegally. He led us into a hut on the other side of the bridge. We were put on a bench in a sort of open holding room (as much as dilapidated two-room hut can have) with the military man guarding us.

Then we were led into the other room, a dark room where another heavily decorated military man sat barking at someone on the cell phone, paying us no attention. We were sat in two dirty mismatched plastic chairs in front of his cluttered old desk where my camera now sat under the hand of this man. I finally believed that these were people that represented the government, but that didn’t make me feel much better. I thought for sure we’d lose my camera and maybe end up in prison. At least the worstcase scenario didn’t happen.

The military man demanded to know why we were taking pictures of the bridge, scolded us for doing so, informed us that it is not allowed to travel outside the city without a South Sudanese guide, said we were lucky not to be going to prison, and told us to go back to the city and stay there. He let us keep one of the pictures (of tanks sucking water from the Nile) for some unknown reason and made us erase the rest.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Relieved, but frustrated we went back to the hotel with our tails between our legs and started looking up a way to leave South Sudan early. I was about to give up on a country for the first time. Before I clicked “purchase” on the ticket out, I decided to take a shot in the dark and ask the random people at the hotel if anyone knew anyone that could take us out of the city.

Long story short, a Chinese NGO worker called a South Sudanese man who we met up with later, who called his friend, Sharlis, who was starting a community way outside the city near the banks of the Nile. He happily invited us to come out to his home and stay in the village. This was a one in a million contact. Sharlis happily picked us up from the hotel. I guess I should have been a little skeptical at first, but the moment I met Sharlis, I trusted him. I think he was a bit proud to be able to show off the village and when we got there we realized why. The next few days were incredible.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

On the way along an unbelievably rough road, we were semi comfy in Sharlis’s white Toyota Land Cruiser during the three hour drive to the place they call Kudelee Village in the Terekeka region. We stopped for some milk from a tribe of Mundare people. They were straight up WILD boys. Most of them wore nothing but dust to keep off mosquitos. Completely naked. We gave them an empty two liter water bottle they came back with still-warm-from-the-cow milk.

Then we continued to the village. It was beautiful. Little adobe huts with reed roofs bunched together on the banks of the Nile River. The next few days were spent hanging out with Sharlis and his young family and the other native Mundare people from different tribes. We witnessed a very contrasting side of South Sudan to the conflict zones. Everyone lived in peace here. The kids taught me how to spear fish and catch Nile perch with a string on a stick. We played on the sand bars and hunted for Nile crocodiles. Once again, I felt like I had found a little piece of heaven.

Before I left I had gone from just a couple pictures to hundreds. From a chaotic city full of foreign NGO workers afraid to leave the hotels to a village in the jungle full of awesome locals, from almost running away from South Sudan to wanting to stay forever. I would really miss South Sudan and especially Kudelee Village.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

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