JUBA - When U.S. Ambassador Susan Page arrived in South Sudan in 2011, the world's newest nation was celebrating its hard-fought independence and the world shared the hopes of the South Sudanese people for a bright future.
"Everyone was optimistic. It was vibrant and just lively," Page told South Sudan in Focus Managing Editor John Tanza in an interview Friday.
Three years later, as Page leaves her post as the first U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, the country has fallen back into war, more than 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes and nearly four million face severe food insecurity.
"It's really a bittersweet departure," Page said.
"It's really sad to see what's happening now, where the country is mired in conflict" and seven months of talks to end the fighting have delivered little of substance to help relieve the suffering of the people of South Sudan, Page said.
"We can only hope that the leaders will take charge and realize what they must do to save their own country and rescue the people of South Sudan," she said.
Page urged the world to be patient with South Sudan, saying the young nation faces numerous challenges as it builds its identity.
"It's not possible to do everything overnight," she said, noting that even the United States faced severe setbacks as it built its democracy in the 18th and 19th century, and fell into civil war nearly a century after its birth.
"It's taken us a long time and we shouldn't expect everything to be smooth sailing in the beginning" for South Sudan, Page said.
Remembering South Sudan's vibrance
Page said she will remember South Sudan as "a place that is vibrant with colors," and its people as warm and welcoming.
"There are times ... where I've eaten beautiful, fresh, ripe mangoes or seen the markets running, where I've seen the migration occurring peacefully," and people of different backgrounds "getting along," she said.
Page noted that although she will no longer be in South Sudan, the country will continue to play a large role in her life. Page has been appointed senior advisor in the office of U.S. Special Envoy to South Sudan and Sudan, Donald Booth. She hopes to use her new position to "push a lot of issues that have taken a back seat, especially now with the crisis going on," she said.
As for regrets, she's had a few, Page says. She would have liked to travel more extensively in the country, and was saddened when, at the beginning of the conflict, she had to oversee the evacuation from Juba of most of the U.S. embassy staff.
"I would love to see all our people back because there's so much we can do, especially in this time of crisis," she said.
"We've increased our funding markedly but don't have the people to do all of the work that is required. I have those regrets, but overall I've done quite a lot for the embassy and the best I could for the people of South Sudan."