musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Monday, November 7, 2011

That was Juba Good!

In Manhattan, Zagat decides how up to snuff restaurants are. Rankings and recommendations are based on exhaustive taste tests (how do I get that job?), restaurant decor, service, cost, etc. as identified by discerning customers and other foodies.

In Juba, the capital of the world's newest country, we have a similar rating system. However, like most things in a place where dodging cows on the drive to work and contracting typhoid from bottled water are routine occurrences, the system here is a little more 'shoot from the hip' than the science with which high brow midtown yuppies decide which pizza place is the most authentically Genovese.

Here we have a rather simple ranking system (from worst to... well... not worst) that can be broken down as follows:

"You went where for lunch?" - This lowest of the low ranking is typically reserved for the place just around the corner that you had recently mistaken for a brothel (or maybe you weren't mistaken after all...). If there are tables, they are crudely constructed from recycled toilet seat covers. Animal bones lashed together with a thin layer of goat hide on top serve as seating apparatuses. Order a water, a coke or a tea, and they'll be the same color. Only the most extreme (or delusional) aid workers are brave enough to eat what appears to be pieces of rat droppings mixed in with what was probably, at some point in the production cycle, rice.

"Meh" - 'Meh' is one of my favorite descriptions as it's pound for pound impact is impressive. You might be surprised how telling those three letters can be. Usually a step or two above 'you went where for lunch?',  'meh' denotes the place that is sufficiently local for you to feel like you're living the hard life while still not likely to result in a medical evacuation. A restaurant or activity gets a 'meh' rating generally if it is something that you normally wouldn't do even if someone paid you to, but given the limited options for emotional and gastronomical entertainment available in a place like Juba... sure, why not?

"Juba Good" - Finally we have arrived at the reason I thought of this post in the first place. In short, 'Juba Good' denotes something that would normally be bad to mediocre in the 'real world' but is considered wholly acceptable under the circumstances. Undoubtedly there are many global variations on this; for example, an urban legend in Iraq tells of a clever (or, as my mother would say 'smart aleck') pilot who congratulates the women on board for no longer being 'Baghdad Beautiful' upon arrival in Dubai. A very useful description, people to whom you give such a review will automatically know exactly how to temper their expectations to avoid disappointment. "Juba Good" covers a decent range of options, from places that offer more than just fried goat on the menu, to places that actually have a menu, to the Chinese food place in a shipping container that is really not that bad. Wholly acceptable. Really not that bad. 'Juba Good'.

"Legitimate" - The holy grail of reviews for Juba (or Monrovia. or Gode. or Norman). If something is described as 'legitimate' the music stops and everyone pays attention. We all want to know what, if anything, is being described as legitimately entertaining or legitimately tasty. A place on par with a Subway or Chipotle (mmm Chipotle...) would get such a rating in Juba. To qualify, the place would need real wooden tables (plastic fraternity chairs are an instant disqualifier), some sort of planned (i.e. not dirt) flooring, prompt/effective service (although this is usually one that can be overlooked if the food/atmosphere are 'Juba really good'), and fine cuisine that makes you immediately text all of your friends bragging about how you just had the Best. Nile perch. Ever.

Sadly, the longer one spends in a place like Juba and as former standards of restaurant cleanliness, resentment of bugs on/in the food, etc. declines, the more things get categorized as 'legitimate'. These are also the people that are most likely to experience culture shock when entering the Cheesecake Factory for the first time after months in Juba. 

So beware, newcomers, of sliding standards amongst veterans. And, when you squeal like a 9 year old girl the first time you see a rat the size of your head crawling across the kitchen, remember that you're living a life that's about as 'Juba Good' as it gets!