My most miserable day
When asked about covering South Sudan and its journey to independence, a story that was largely reported as a positive event, photographer Goran Tomasevic had the following to say in a recent interview:
“Honestly, it was one of the most miserable days in my life. It was so disorganized.
The day before, there was still construction going on in the place where the Independence Day celebrations were to be held. Everyone had to queue for some press passes for maybe 3-4 hours but they gave press cards to NGOs and to everyone. Somehow, they managed to finish the construction but then totally screwed up with security in general. We didn’t know where to go. There were some stands up so we pushed here and there. They would kick us back and we would run around and they would pull us back again.
One moment, the bodyguards started to push everyone as they had invited so many people and they didn’t have seats for all of them. They weren’t hostile to the journalists but it was just so disorganized. It was so hot that there were people collapsing all around. I brought my water but there were no facilities anywhere – no toilets. The food was bad; everyone had problems with their stomachs. It was just a nightmare.”
“Honestly, no. They are still saying the same things: “Yeah, you have to understand we are a new country”. I asked a friend of mine who is there, “How long are they going to keep saying this? After all they have experience, they organized first elections, then a referendum, and now this and they didn’t learn anything.”
I knew before I went that it would be like this. I talked on the phone with my friend and he just laughed and said they didn’t do anything, that’s when I knew. The people though were excited; they showed up on the streets after midnight for the celebration. They were really excited and happy as it was a big moment for them.
Juba is maybe four or five paved streets. In the middle of the city you can find a herd of goats or see cows. Our journalist who is based in Juba rented us a room without a bathroom or toilet and it was next to the cattle market. But even for this room you still pay more than $100. You can have some toast for breakfast but if you want to have anything else, you have to pay another $10.
The food was so bad because they don’t have roads to transport in fresh goods. The airport is so small and it’s between 40-50 degrees Celsius (104-122 degrees Fahrenheit) all of the time. So, you can understand what sort of problems you have eating any food there. I was constantly sick. Nothing was fresh so you are running all night 250 meters to the toilet.
I was there two weeks this time. I used to stay longer but the conditions this time were the worst I had stayed in. Bizarrely, it was the first time I didn’t pick up any parasites or any amoebas. The first time I was there I picked up an amoeba, the second time a parasite. There are millions of mosquitoes that can carry deadly malaria. In neighboring Kenya they have a tropical hospital and when you arrive they say “Oh, you’ve been in Juba, come here and take this, this and this.” I was so careful with what I did this time or maybe I’ve just become resilient now.
If you want a positive story, perhaps we wait until I go somewhere else.”