Tuesday, September 6, 2011

3.5 weeks in Khartoum

Hello! I'm here! Remember me?

After almost 4 weeks in Khartoum, and a particularly crazy day today, I figured it was time for an update. It's hard to write one entry covering everything here so far, but I'll do my best to give a quick recap.

Colleagues (in Bathing Suits)

My very first evening here I saw many of my colleagues half-naked. The pool is the hub of social life in Khartoum. Still jet lagged, I made the social rounds at pool volley ball and trivia. I even ended up meeting the Charge d'Affair (no ambassador in Khartoum) and didn't realize who it was till a few days later.

Because of the generally small community here and security restrictions, your colleagues at Embassy Khartoum also quickly become your friends.  And I can't complain about that at all, cause the people here are generally great. Back when I was bidding, I told my CDO that one of the most important factors to me was having a good social scene and morale at post- and Khartoum is the place for that. Since it's a no-dependents post, most of the people here (both at the embassy and in the rest of the expat community) are young and single, which means a lot of people in the same boat as me. I was worried about getting a post where, at the end of the day, everyone goes home to their spouse and kids for the evening, but here it's happy hours, parties, pool time, and restaurant outings.

Since then, there have been many, many other pool days. Last week was an unexpected week off for Eid, and while I was in the office almost every day, I also made it to the pool almost everyday. I also went with a couple of the girls to get henna, and have just learned that I am allergic to bad quality henna. Looks great, itches like a snitch.

A Modern(ish) City

Khartoum itself is way better than I imagined. Despite the fact that the road I live on is unpaved, there is a lot of infrastructure in most of the city, tall, shiny buildings going up, and a busy and large population here. I arrived during Ramadan, which meant the city was pretty slow and shut down for most of the day. Now that it's done, things are livening up a bit and I'll finally get the chance to go out and explore more.

What never shut were the "fancy" places in Khartoum. Believe it or not, there are a few (very few) hot spots around town where you can get a croissant and a latte, fresh olive focaccia, italian food, and be comfy and air conditioned. The clientele at these places is almost entirely expat, due to the prices, and in former times I would have felt guilty about doing something so clearly designed for a non-Sudanese audience. No more. I embrace the latte. (And I have a 3x/week housekeeper. Who am I?)

My (two) job(s)

Of course, the reason I'm here is my job. But lucky me, I have not one, but two jobs at the moment. Before I arrived at post, I was warned that the only Consular Officer would be on R&R shortly after my arrival, leaving me as Acting Consular Chief. So yes, lil' ol' 3-weeks-on-the-job me is running the Khartoum Consular section at the moment. I was able to learn quite a bit before the other consular officer left, and the local staff here are absolutely amazing (and know how to do my job better than I do), but it's still a bit nerve wracking to be in charge. Interviewing for visas is hard enough (already I've made people cry, second-guessed my self for days, and, today, someone threatened to sue me...), let alone dealing with destitute Americans the need to be repatriated, organizing visas for high level officials to go to the UN General Assembly, handling all the accountable items, and taking care of a second country (Juba doesn't have real consular capabilities yet, so everything from South Sudan still mostly gets taken care of through us).

Jealous yet? Well, don't forget, I'm not actually working as a Consular Officer in Khartoum, I'm a Political Officer. And it just so happens that my portfolio is making headlines. And the human rights report is on the table.

And did I mention I've only been here 3 weeks?!

Overwhelming is one way to put it. But also really, really exciting, enjoyable, and generally cool. My boss is great, a very good teacher. As I said, the local staff here are lifesavers. And having the social support network seals the deal.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind so far, but no complaints.

More to come.


  1. FINALLY!!! I have been going through Diplomant-in-Waiting withdrawal.....glad to hear that all is well in Khartoum!!!

  2. Sounds like the work is challenging and rewarding - what a great thing. Can't wait to hear more from Juba.