In Juba yesterday, I sat down with John Duku, a onetime diplomat for the southern Sudanese ruling party who now works as a civil society activist. Over a freewheeling, 90-minute discussion, John, who's lived in Europe and Kenya and speaks a particularly vivid form of English, didn't answer my questions about the upcoming referendum so much as entertain -- with a string of metaphoric answers that mixed Africa with the West, the profound with the mundane.
It all left me slightly baffled, but it was more interesting than 99 percent of the interviews I conducted during my short time as a reporter in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
John, on whether southern Sudan would be willing to trade the disputed territory of Abyei, a key sticking point in negotiations between northern and southern parties, for other concessions:
"Abyei is part and parcel of southern Sudan. You can't ask me what Abyei means to me. What does your ear mean to you? What does your leg mean to you? You have one body; you would not accept it to be cut up."
John, on allegations that northern Sudan was being less than transparent in evenly splitting oil revenues with the south, as required by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement:
"We have this bottle of Fanta here. You say you will give me half. But then you take it to the other room and say, 'Let me divide it here.' And then you come back with this small thing (points to his Fanta, three-fourths consumed) and say this is your share. We are getting 50 percent of what, I don't know."
John, moments later, invoking the same allegations against the North:
"I am an African. I know a chicken has two legs, two thights, two breasts. I can come to you with the thigh of a chicken and say, 'This is your share of the chicken.' Maybe you have never seen a whole chicken. But me, I know that is not even one quarter of a chicken."
Finally, John, artfully sidestepping my question on whether a post-referendum southern government would include a larger role for political parties other than the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, and currently all powerful):
"There is this saying we have in many different languages here. They say, 'You don't name a child before it's born.' In the West, you have this technology of ultrasound. You know if it is a boy or a girl. We don't have ultrasound. We don't know what child is coming. So we don't make these decisions until the baby is born."