Everything posted here is stricktly the opinion of the poster and shall not be taken to be the official position of UNMIS, UNMISS, UN, the Norwegian Armed Forces or any other organisation whatsoever.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Lessons learned - last post for now

It's been a while since I returned home, and I have had some time to think about a few of the things I learned while in southern Sudan and South Sudan, in no particular order:
  • First off, those of us living in modern nations with a working infrastructure simply don't get how well off we actually are. This applies for such things as roads, sanitation, healthcare, schools, security (police and military) and so on and so forth.
  • Speaking of roads; I will never say that Norwegians roads are bad ever again - there is something about getting stuck in bottomless mud on the "highway" in the middle of the biggest town in the area that drives home that fact. I will point out that Norwegians roads could certainly be better - we could afford that with all the money we are pumping out of the sea.
  • The Norwegian Military takes - overall - very good care of us while we're abroad, and the gear we have with us will cover pretty much any eventuality. Much of the gear I brought with me came home unused, some never made it down to Sudan. Compared to my friends from other nations, we're EXTREMELY well equipped - everything from socks and underwear to Class IV vests* and satellite phones.
  • Being away from home for so long is harder on the ones left at home - if you're out on duty you're busy, while they have plenty of time to think (and twice the workload to deal with at home too).
  • Arabic is very difficult to pick up if all your previous experiences are various Germanic languages.At the same time, stating that you're fluent in two (Norwegian and English), can understand and read two more (Danish and Swedish) as well as making heads and tails of one more if it's written down and I have time (German) looks pretty impressive on the UN CV...
  • Getting used to being home again takes longer than it took getting used to being away. Strange, but true.
  • Some people are on UN missions because of the pay check, some are not. Properly motivated and guided both can do excellent work.
  • The major challenge is the cultural difference - not between yourself and the locals, but between yourself and other UN personnel. In all fairness they told us this before we deployed, but it has to be experienced to drive the lesson home.

In retrospect, was it worth it? Yes... and how. It's been a long year, but a good one. Difficult at times, but rewarding. Lonely, but with many new friends. Slow at times, but passed quickly.
The Norwegian Defence Medal for International Operations
The UNMIS medal
And with that I'll close this blog for now - if I do go on a new mission I will revive it. If anyone have any questions, comments or remarks, leave a comment and I'll do my best to reply.
Thank you for reading!

*) To put our vests into perspective; the other officers opted to use the UN provided vests, which in theory is Class III. However, materials degrade over time, and personally I would not trust my life to the UN vests if there is a Norwegian vest areound. If the option is to do with no vest, then I would use the UN vest.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Flying home

Just wanted to share a photo I took through the window of the plane during the last leg - roughly at the spot where we crossed into Norwegian airspace - click to make bigger.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Home at last

It was a very long trip home...

We travelled as a group of six Norwegians, which was nice since I had someone to talk to along the way. Getting to Juba Airport around 1400 local time (1300 Norwegian time), we got through the check-in and security check with no hassle - travelling in uniform does have it's benefits. Then we had to hang around in the departure hall until well past five in the afternoon, being warm and sweaty. For some reason that was beyond the grasp of any of us, our little group was split up on two different flights leaving with fifteen minutes between us. We found it strange, and even more so when we realised that both flights had enough free seats to fit the whole group twice over.

Our first jump brought us to Addis Ababa, where we had some food before going through yet another security check. Our next flight was to take off at 2300 local time (2200 Norwegian time), and once aboard we realised just how little the UN must have paid for our tickets - if we had been further back in the cabin we would been riding in the galley... and as I'm sure most know; being in the back means more noise, more traffic in the aisle and less rest. Between take off and landing I got less than half an hour of napping, but I did get to watch a couple of movies and read a fair bit.

Landing in Frankfurt, we had time for a cup of coffee and a bite before boarding the last flight - again I was in the back, with my back against the galley wall. The nice thing was that I got a row all to myself, so I could relax and read some more while listening to music. It ended up being the most relaxing part of the jorney home to be honest...

We touched down at Oslo Airport about a quarter to ten in the morning, but our epic travels were far from done... we were picked up at the airport and taken to a nearby military base for our medical debrief and the handing out of medals. Since I've been extremely lucky (and also quite careful while in Sudan) I got a clean bill of health - at least until the results of the blood work comes in. They fed us too; slices of wholegrain bread with stuff on them, just the thing I've been missing the last year (the only bread I could find in Sudan was white bread).

After pinning a medal on us they drove us back to the airport; some of us had a flight to catch to get all the way home, some of us had made other arrangements. I finally walked through my door around 1800 on Thursday, home at last...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

All dressed up with somewhere to go

My boxes and bags are all packed, I got my papers in order and I'm ready to go home. Today it is:
Three years is a long time, and it has been quite a ride at times. But I've been so lucky as to have the support of my family the whole time - a bit of foot dragging in the first few days from parts of it, but once it was clear that the other option was to be pulled into the maelstrom that is Afghanistan I got good and unwavering support all the way.
This year has been an experience and an education. I've meet some wonderful people, been places a Norwegian is unlikely to wind up by himself, seen good times and bad. I've battled the UN bureaucracy, and I've gotten away with things that I shouldn't - all in the name of building a good team and doing the mission. I've had bad days, and I've had good days. I've been in UNMIS, and I've been in UNMISS.
I've had a good year.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Stoopid 'net

It is kind of amazing, but never the less through: My internet connection worked better in Yei - which is at the back of the beyond - than it has the last few days in Juba - which is the largest and most modern city in South Sudan. Most likely it has a lot to do with the near explosive growth Juba have experienced; the building of infrastructure don't manage to keep pace with the growth in users.

In a couple more days it won't matter anymore, at least not for me. Tomorrow afternoon we'll be heading to the airport, and the day after I'll be in Norway. We'll be picked up from the airport, given a quick medical checkout and debrief before we're free to go home - with a bit of luck I'll be home for dinner.