Diary of an Adventure

Juba Adventures

Our water is so bad at the moment, I’m not sure if my hair is cleaner or dirtier after my shower.

My ‘adventurous’ pallet was tested by the breakfast Salah prepared that had elements of Egyptian cuisine in it. The olive, rice and onion dish, served with Spanish omelets was sharp and more than a wake up. For the traditional after the meal fruit, he served ‘Khoshaf’ with coffee. Dates soaked in milk. While certainly no date fan, it was amazing, if rich. Excellent for that 2am, jet-lag boost.

I have been a tad disappointed at the depth of colour in some of my paintings. Perhaps underpainting with contrasting colour is the reason? It makes my single session painting more difficult, as the underpainting has to dry. A couple of paintings on the easel. Small works, with the sunset skies, Turner tantilising, over Juba Town that are so amazing at the moment.

After a twelve hour sleep, I put my head down and did my painting before the patio got too hot. The sun has moved so that in the afternoon its in full sun. Great for drying washing, but not great for painting!

‘Juba Town’, from a photo by Elke. The road outside the UNOPS compound leading up to the banking sector. Remnants of Colonial Architecture remain amongst the emergence of glass and plastic. The painting a tad nostalgic and romanticised. Juba Town scrubbed clean by afternoon storms. An escape from the harsh reality of guns and cholera.

The Dave Brown guys have commented on three of the paintings I submitted. Great that they highlighted so many and we will see if I get to the finalists. They have also asked what are my three goals for my art, which is sort of troubling. Sometime around midnight, I decided on:
1. Art Gallery open with a curated Annual ‘Dave Brown’ type competition
2. Yearly mentorship program for local emerging artists supported by galleries in Knysna
3. Linking paintings with stories

I also sent a bunch of elephant pictures to the Royal Society of Wildlife Artists for a bit of variety.

The calm of Juba Town turned into chaos with streets blocked by soldiers conducting random searches. The crazy drivers the biggest threat as they remonstrated with the soldiers and confidently tried to squeeze their vehicles into nonexistent spaces. The traffic policemen were humerous in their efforts to disentangle the knots.

Afternoon jog in Juba 3 as the heavy morning storm prevented me going out at first light. The air still heavy with moisture, I slogged my way around the circuit, running the last section with a bunch of guys who I don’t normally see out. Nothing like testosterone as a motivator! My magic blue tape giving me a bionic edge.

A night of rain and its still raining. Still, I slept well in one of the transit rooms we now have here at the office for people who are only spending a short time in Juba. It was basic, but comfortable. The matress having seen too many bodies, with that natural hollow that had me mountain climbing to change position.

No alarm needed, as the call to prayer was strident. No excuse for those who did not get up!

Laundry sorted, coffee machine cleaned, and for a week, this adventure is done.

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Messing About with Paint

Juba Town

Oil on Canvas 30cmx40cm

From a photo by Elke. The road outside the UNOPS compound leading up to the banking sector.

Remnants of Colonial Architecture remain amongst the emergence of glass and plastic. A tad nostalgic and romanticised, its Juba Town scrubbed clean by afternoon storms.

An escape from the harsh reality of guns and cholera.

Diary of an Adventure

Juba Adventures

Early morning darkness. White canvas glaring. Waiting. Demanding. Images of New York City screaming from its surface.

Singing and drums from the camp with the sunrise. My feet pounding the road. Different aches. Last part, a walk to ease cramping in my shin of all places.

Painting of early mornings on the streets of NYC, reflected light in overnight rain puddles. Where only the homeless and the jet lagged roam.

A sky full of stars and frogs tuning for evensong. My laundry is sorted, although I can’t leave it on the patio overnight anymore as there are kids roaming around the place from the PoC sites, stealing anything they can. The bug screens not much of a deterrent.

The cholera outbreak compounding the uneasiness of the ongoing conflict in the country and the tension of living in this twilight siege in Juba Town. On the surface life looks normal, but its highly unstable and unpredictable. I guess its probably a bit like living with an abusive drunk. You never know what is going to walk through the front door. I’m evacuating ill staff again from the north of the country. Hopefully its malaria or typhoid. Who would think that they would be considered safer options! Madness.

My 2am waking up is starting to take its toll. Eddie left after our standard end of day debrief and wrap up after eight and I settled down with a glass of wine to watch an episode of House of Cards. At some point, I woke up to find that I had emptied the wine all over the couch! Fortunately the glass didn’t fall on the floor and smash. I only have two.

I managed to send off my submission to the Dave Brown Competition. Its the third time I have submitted my work, and although I haven’t ever made it to the final 12 artists, the comments have been positive. The best part is that they have a different panel doing the selection each time, so my work gets to be seen by a wide veriety of collectors and curators. Even if I dont get through, there is still a chance that one of them will like what they see.

After sweltering days, the air over Juba Town is full of bad tempered storm clouds. Like a dog barking at a gate. Full of bravado, fierce and noisy. With nothing to follow

Diary of an Adventure

Washington DC Adventures

Unsurprisingly, given my excellent sense of direction, my twenty minute walk to the Philips Collection turned into a two hour afternoon walk through the park that is Massachusetts Ave. Dazzling white azaleas, with a sprinkling of pink blooms. White legs (mine are almost tanned in comparison) with shorts hauled out of bottom draws. Pent up energy, exploding from dogs. Street side tables packed with conversation. Relaxed and clean.

I found the work by John Martin at the Phillips (Directions obtained from a couple of helpful concierges) compelling. There was an amazing painting by Marsden Hartely that I went back to look at a dozen times. Its a tiny work painted in strident primary colours that obliterates the concept of soft neutral times to add vibrancy. The American Exhibition had seascapes to inspire my work when we get to Knysna. A subject I have fought with on every canvas of sea I have painted.

My feet almost in the distance chewing, pavement pounding gait. A few blisters still a nuisance, initial steps a lurching shuffle.

Birds to wake me through the open balcony door of the hotel room. Traffic still quiet as day breaks. Starbucks fix, the sound of a women’s painted nails clicking on her laptop keyboard. Almost as fast as Kirsten!

The Institute for Peace has the most incredible building as its home. The design is breathtaking and the quality of the finishes staggering. One aspect looks out through the trees to the Washington Memorial as a reminder of what happens when peace fails. The translucent domed roof links two buildings, emphasizing the fragility of bridging hardened attitudes. Transparency and inclusion highlighted through the open glass ends of the domed section.

From the picture window at the Pret on K Street, I have the constantly changing amusement of the work commute. The 100% environmental guy, who has a plastic container on the back of his bicycle divided into recycle zones and a rolled up yoga mat on his back. The homeless women with her life in the dozen carrier bags around her, standing at the Starbucks counter drinking coffee and eating sandwiches purchased for her by those grabbing the all important take-away coffee that you have to carry with you like a magic wand. The oblivious, text messaging walk that still manages to negotiate the grid on the pavement.

Dinner with Sheena. Excellent salmon and muscles, with a Finger Lakes, Pinot Noir from New York. A shower before the short walk up the hill to the hotel. The sky that stunning twilight blue.

Diary of an Adventure

New York City Adventure

Macy’s. Fleeting madness on their One Day Sale to search for the elusive wide fitting shoes that only seem to be available in America. The assistance as knowledgable and useful as I’ve previously experienced. A special visitors discount. Grateful escape to the tranquility of Bryant Park behind the Library.

My moment of fame on NY1 TV, as I passed the protest outside the Embassy of Nigeria for the abducted girls.

Central Park. The Boating Pond. Cherry blossoms in the wind. Music and sunshine. Spring blooms. Impossibly green grass. Blisters and bruised feet. Knee complaining. Achilles wondering what it’s been put through? Brooklyn pale ale. Breeze cooling pink faces. Graceful white yacht sails.

With images from The Goldfinch in my mind, I made my way up the staircase at the Met, turning left at the top to take me through to the Impressionists. In a daze of wonder I moved between Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet. The collection, overwhelming. Tried the William Kenridge exhibit. Couldn’t sit still watching what seemed like a badly made Charlie Chaplin movie with broken sprocket, lurching images.

Grand Central food market. Amazing how what seemed incredibly exotic a dozen years ago, has become normal. Still special, but not exotic. Underwood Pinot Noir a great companion wine to the seared salmon.

I’m sure the cleaning people at the hotel will think they have arrived at the home of street person. Broken shoes, old clothing, empty boxes and shopping bags piled in the corner. Some I’m sure still with Juba dust!

Breakfast at the all American Andrews Coffee Shop. Stewed, brown coffee. Formica table tops. Booth seating. Heinz ketchup. Frenetic. Bright. Noisy. Subway rumble. Far too much. NYC.

Diary of an Adventure

New York City Adventure

t has a particular smell. Dazzling strobe lights. Head splitting sirens. Everything feels larger. I’m moving a few seconds behind everything. Leaves, a hundred shades of green, with the odd maroon maple. Scarlet tulips in street side planters. Fountains and parks for weary feet. Already feeling the effect of hours walking on hard pavements.

I stood clueless gazing at the lift panel keyboard. No simple Up or Down button. Was there a security code required? I held the barcode of my temporary pass to the strip of green above the keypad. No reaction. Back to the security desk. Enter the floor number the helpful response. Correct number pushed, and a lift door opens. Lift whizzes past my floor. Back down and try again. Slow to understand that when entering the number, the display shows a letter which indicates which lift. Pushing the 0 to return to the ground floor doesn’t work here, as the ground floor is 1!

Salad lunch from the Armenian. Part of the city that hasn’t changed. Disappointingly the chicken was dry and the lettuce reduced to a semi-compost state. They also seem to have forgotten that lettuce isn’t the only salad ingredient available.

Rainy morning. Grand Central Station for the shoe shine and to visit the Tiffany clock. As per the script, a women runs across the concourse in her red dress, suitcase obediently trailing. An ancient couple arguing on the staircase as to which platform, and shouldn’t they be at Penn Station?

The ability of New Yorkers to balance their day long caffeine fix, umbrella, bag, mobile phone and open doors, with only two hands, impressive.

Something surreal about standing in the Security Council chamber that has been part of so much history. The focus, to prevent the 40million deaths of the two World Wars from happening again.

On the streets this early, only homeless, policemen, joggers and jet-lag insomniacs. Mist playing between the spires. The smell of coffee and superheated air from Starbucks. Gentle Jazz and country music, perfect.

Diary of an Adventure

Juba Adventures

Juba Town is crazy with streets full of traffic. Shops open and well stocked. Street side restaurants busy and people all over the place. Tents erected for weddings and the soccer fields have nets attached to the goal posts. Players jog around the field and go through their warmup drills. A semblance of normality, within which, even the speeding military vehicles and convoys of new armoured personnel carriers don’t seem out of place. Dogs are back on the streets, slowly exerting their dominance on life.

Sunrise jog, managing to do an extra loop. The first time I have managed that for almost a year. Hopefully my Achilles will survive. Back at the house, I found that I had locked the keys inside. I looked to see if any of the windows were unlocked, which of course they weren’t. However, I knew that if I could get up to the emergency window bars, I could undo the lock and at least then see how to get through the glass window.

I had to wake Eddie to get guys from the office to bring a vehicle with its roof rack so we could get up to the window, as its almost three meters from the ground at that point. Sher arrived, and we undid the lock, only to find that there isn’t enough space between the window and the barrel bolt to unhinge it. A bit of force sorted that and we could swing open the bars. A combination of cunning and a progressively bigger hammer, finally had the glass of the window removed and we could send a skinny, flexible guy through to open the door. We did damage one of the shrubs getting the vehicle up to the house, but for the rest nothing was actually broken.

American style brunch, with pancakes (made with a special milled flower from a Whole Foods type place) and Canadian Maple syrup. Phones and radios chirping constantly with updates on the attacks in Bentu and Nassir. Both which seemed to have fallen to the government forces again. All holding our breaths that there won’t be a new round of atrocities. Fighting around the PoC adding to the tension and volatility of life in Juba Town.

Don’t see a lot of birds around Juba, with the Marabou storks and yellow billed kites the exception. Occasionally I have seen a coucal when I’m out for my morning jog, and the odd owl silhouetted against the sunrise. To this, I can now add the unmistakable blue flash of a malachite kingfisher and crowned plovers.

The laundry is sorted, the coffee machine cleaned and my bag is packed. Ending, for now, this adventures.

Diary of an Adventure

Juba Adventures

Up early, still dark, frogs and cricket sounds slowly giving way to birdsong. It’s perfectly still. Music, faint in the distance. Lacing on my running shoes, I can see the neon green stripe, which means its light enough to head out for my jog. No real painful bits this morning, which enables me to push the pace on the downhill section of the loop, almost getting to running pace. A far cry from my awkward shuffle normally associated with my jog. Must be that magic blue tape?

On the easel, I’m at war with my portrait of Mina. Subtle tonal and colour shifts across her face. Reflecting a bubbling personality honed in harsh world of domestic labour and a will of iron. Must be the iron will that is giving me such a hard time!

More violence rocks the country, with Juba Town eerily deserted. Fighting within the SPLA and reports of renewed ethnic killings have spread the crisis into another two States of South Sudan. While the recruitment of child soldiers isn’t a surprise, the apparent scale of the recruitment is another alarming story within this already mind-blowingly senseless war.

A rude awakening in the middle of the night, when a bunch of clouds surrounded the house and then clapped their hands, hard, shaking the building. A few tears of laughter from the clouds, before they headed off to repeat it at another house.

The morning, humid for my jog, which meant I spent half the day oozing moisture as my body struggled to cool down. A spare shirt a necessity.

From Rula, an Arabic spice called za’tar. Thyme, with sesame seeds, it’s used with olive oil and bread. In Juba Town, I’m using it on cheese with Provita.

A fiery evening in Juba Town. Eddie has this habit of asking for extra chili when he orders his food, particularly on the pizza he selects that already has amounts of chili included. With my dinner order, they obviously decided to be customer focused, and proactive, loading my pizza with chili. Fiery it was!

Each morning, they move the cattle out from their evening stockade alongside the main soccer stadium, to their pastures along the river bank. I wanted to capture the fiery sunrises we are getting in Juba at the moment, as well as the uniqueness and central role that cattle play in the life of the South Sudanese. Hence I kept the cattle herder insignificant in the painting.

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Juba Sunrise
Oil on Canvas 60cmx50cm