What to Bring: A Mobile Journalist (MoJo) in Southern Sudan
[Warrap Town, Southern Sudan 38°C] When I started BurningBillboard.org, I began work as a mobile journalist. ‘MoJo’ for short because it sounds cool. You know, “MoJo Rising” à la Jim Morrison. A MoJo by definition must be autonomous and self-sustained, able to gather information, edit it and forward it for publication or broadcast; from anywhere, to anywhere. To do this, the MoJo needs equipment, media contacts and the ability communicate with them. The MoJo also needs to the capacity to edit and communicate the audio, video, photographic or text-based information. Mobility suggests that the equipment should be compact and easy to transport during news gathering projects. It also suggests that movement is perpetual.
Since I began this journey through Southern Sudan, I am indeed in perpetual motion. I have only returned to a place (Wau airport and the UNICEF offices) once. Otherwise, I’m moving ever forward, visiting new places with my gear on my back (or most often in the back of an Land Rover).
What does this MoJo carry in Southern Sudan? What is needed to do the job properly without being overloaded, without sacrificing mobility. So far, I’ve taken six flights in planes varying in size that seat hundreds or just over a dozen passengers. On World Food Program flights in Southern Sudan, passengers are limited to 15kgs in total baggage. This is their policy but in practice, my bags have yet to be weighed.
I sometimes wish I had different equipment, better equipment, lighter equipment but I made choices before leaving and the choices are reflected in the below photo of the equipment I brought with me.
This MoJo’s Equipment:
list of equipment:
1. One three-outlet two-metre extension cord + plug adapter
2. One 1000ml water bottle
3. One AA battery charger and one video camera battery charger
3a. Six AA rechargable batteries and three Panasonic video camera rechargable batteries
4. Panasonic PV-GS65, 3CCD miniDV camcorder
5. Pure Digital Flip Video minoHD
6. Twenty one-hour MiniDV cassettes
7. One Petzl frontal head lamp
8. One USB-camera cable (for both camera and microphone), One ethernet cable, One firewire cable
9. One Candle lantern
10. One notebook and many pens
11. One pair of binoculars
12. One first aid kit
13. Ten recordable DVDs for backup photos, video and text
14. One international press card
15. One MacBook Pro laptop computer with editing software: FlipVideo (video), Final Cut Pro HD (video), Audacity (audio), Adobe Photoshop (photo), OpenOffice (text)…
16. One ipod nano (to listen to familiar music on lonely nights)
17. Zoom H2 microphone (also used as USB memory key)
18. One nearly finished role of toilet paper (gotta find myself a replacement! FAST!)
19. Two cell phones + chargers + three sim cards (Safaricom: Nairobi, Gemtel: Juba & other towns in S.Sudan, Zain: Juba and other towns in S.Sudan.) On my business card that I had made for this trip, I have the following list of cellphone numbers: Zain: +249 (0) 909 043 138; Gemtel: +256 (0) 477 151 332; Thuraya: +88216 4333 5305; Safaricom: +254 (0) 715 657 317) ***see note below on the use of cell phones in Southern Sudan.
20. One Thuraya satelite phone + charger + one sim card
21. one traditional single seat wooden chair for meetings under the village tree.
missing in photo:
22. Sony DSC-W1 Cybershot 5.1 megapixel digital camera (used to take the above photo)
23. Three x two-Gig SD memory cards
24. Flip Video strapon-pod to hold camera onto a variety of structures
25. I wish I had brought my tripod, but I realized that I forgot it after my arrival in Juba. I was unable to find a tripod anywhere in the capital of Southern Sudan.
*** A note on the use of cell phones in Southern Sudan: Southern Sudan is a complicated place on many regards and telephone communication is no exception. First let it be known that LAN lines are nowhere to be found or rare at best. If there were LAN phone lines before the war, 21 years of conflict didn’t leave many behind. Most communication by phone is either by cellphone or by satelite phone. I say most because I’ve seen LAN phones but I’ve never seen anyone using them. Everyone is on a cellphone or two or three. And this is where it gets complicated.
Southern Sudan feels like a frontiere town during Wild West days, when large numbers of people arrived in a seemingly uninhabited place without modern conveniences. Entrepreneurs invariably competed to be the first to fulfill the needs of the population. In Southern Sudan, cellular companies are setting up their towers throughout the South and competing for customer affiliation.
Gemtel is a private telecom from Southern Sudan that, according to the Sudan Tribune received a franchise to use a Ugandan national code (+256) since 2006 by Uganda Telecom Ltd. The article states that Gemtel was supposed to stop using its country code in September 2008 but my Gemtel # still uses the Ugandan area code so it is unclear when their code will change and what that will mean for subscribers. Two other companies, Zain and Sudani use the (+249) code and both have a better distribution network throughout the south. If you have a Zain, Mobitel or Sudani simcard you can communicate between the two services but you cannot send or receive a call from cellphone with a Gemtel simcard.
Gemtel seems to have been the first to set up in Southern Sudan since the end of the war with particular focus on the capital, Juba. So many people have Gemtel numbers. Then comes Zain, the Kuwaiti Mobile Telecommunications Corporation, which according to Reuters, began setting up mobile services throughout Southern Sudan in late April 2008 that provide more coverage than was previously available. Mobitel and Sudani show up from Khartoum, which sell their cell lines only with a phone that cannot use another company’s simcard.
Communication by cellphone is only possible from within major towns in Southern sudan, so the moment you leave a town, you need a Thuraya satelite phone. A satelite phone can only receive or send calls if the phone is outside. If you are inside a building or under a roof of some kind the satelite signal will not reach your phone. Calling between Thuraya subscribers is somewhat inexpensive but once you try to call a cell or LAN line, it gets very expensive.
So if you want to communicate relatively easily, you need either one cellphone that can hold multiple simcards at once and one satelite phone if you travel outside of a town. Many people have up to three cellphones and some have a satelite phone as well. It’s a pleasure to watch people waltz between their phones or switch simcards in their phone depending on who their are calling. It is less a pleasure when trying to reach someone who is doing the waltz out of step with you. Oh, on another note, everyone buys prepaid credit for their calling needs, so many people have just run out of credit and are not near a phonecard distributor and will therefore be unable to call you back once they’ve missed your call because they were on another phone talking to someone else.