These army guys aren’t half as scary in the daylight…

That quote from the New York Times correspondent stands out for me on this past Independence Day in Juba, South Sudan.

But, as they say, let’s start at the beginning.

I’d decided to take a few days off from my research to head north to Sudan to witness a slice of history – the South’s long overdue secession from the North.

But after a nine hour bus journey that left my shoulders rubbed-raw from the perpetual potholes in the roads, I was questioning the choice of ‘vacation’.

My insides felt like they’d gone through one of those paint-mixer contraptions you see in DIY stores – I imagined my innards a nice shade of fuchsia that would complement any living room wall.

The long bus ride was broken up by intermittent luggage inspections – the one official took great pleasure in rifling through my bag and trying on various articles of clothing.

Crossing over into Sudan was surprisingly simple and soon we were speeding our way north.

The landscape slowly changed as we did so, steadily becoming more mountainous, dusty and arid.

My aching bones were thankful to finally cross the Nile and enter Juba.

Tight security preceding The Big Day meant that not only were many shops and roads closed, but boda-bodas were also not supposed to be running.

This is always interesting when you land in a new, alien town.

After being fiscally sodomized, I found a willing boda driver willing to break the rules to take me where I needed to go.

I thought that the next day was going to be a day off.

But my friend Thomas, who’s setting up a new post-independence newspaper, told me that if I wanted to take photos, and not get arrested, I’d need to go to the Ministry of Information to get a permit.

When we arrived at the Orwellian-entitled department it was heaving with journalists from all over the world.

BBC. Reuters. Al-Jazeera. ITN.

They were all there.

I wonder what a collection of journalists is called? I mean we have a scare of crows, a pack of wolves.

A ‘spin’ of journalists?

Anyway – after a few hours in line and a constantly evolving bureaucratic process we finally got our press passes, our permits for the day and our names on the list to be at a press conference later that night at which Ban Ki-Moon would be making an address.

The press conference itself was predictably late starting and the content delivered uninspiringly by a monotone Moon.

Heading home afterwards though was livelier. People thronged the streets, draped in the South Sudanese flag, hanging out car windows with only the incessant car honks drowning out their ululations until 4 a.m.

All those celebrating were closely watched by the groups of police and army posted at every 5 metres along all the main roads.

This was what had prompted the New York Times’ remark.

Bumping into these guys at night was a tad intimidating, but their faces quickly broke into broad grins.

Others had South Sudan flags poking out from their machine gun barrels.

The press pack was expected at the Ministry of Information early at 7 a.m. on Independence Day.

After our bags had been checked by a sniffer dog more intent on making new friends with the reporters, we were escorted to the Garang mausoleum where the event was being held.

This massive, enclosed field was already quickly filling up at that time.

The sun was already sweltering – and I’d forgotten to grab any water or breakfast.

But hunger and thirst pangs quickly evaporated as I left many of the other journalists behind to jostle for prime positioning in the press area, whilst I ventured out into the public areas.

This was far more interesting than seeing the dignitaries arrive.

People clapped, prayed, held banners, sang and danced on bare earth that was coloured green, black, white and red with South Sudan flags.

Some ambitious spectators clambered up trees to not only seek solace from the sun, but also in an effort to gain an ocular advantage.

My personal highlight were the dancers whose foreheads were marked with tribal, diagonal scars.

Their bodies were patterned with fine brown dust, which quickly blurred into sand-coloured rivulets of effluent as they jumped rhythmically to the drum beat

Their sweat poured off them, darkening the ochre soil.

It took me some 30 minutes to push my way back to where the main event was now underway.

But I found the over-zealous security guards and the press surges, which resembled a mosh-pit, too much in the intolerable heat.

Instead I headed back to where the real event was.

With the people of the new Republic of South Sudan.