5th May. The road to Yida. The scars on the cliffs, you said, were bullet marks from 2011’s civil war.
I broke energy biscuits under the heat, a can beer in hand, I tried to read a book. Bored, we conversed for the next 6 hours. From the ongoing conflict to your own inner war of seeking identity. You recalled as an orphan how you were whisked to Loki then Kakuma camp, schooled in Kenya and later in Sydney under the wings of one of the Comboni sisters.
You talked culture. How your people (though split between the Arabic influence and Christianity)* would rather die defending their culture. Your father was an Arab that married a Tira woman who both died in 2011 when war broke out between SPLA/M and NPC; so your light complexion sometimes reminds you of the rift that exists between the two extremes.
“Why did you come back here?”
“I rather die here with my people than walk in pretense in a land I don’t belong. I went to school so I can help my people.”
I was moved.
On a weekend you walked me around the ridges and veins of the land. We sipped merissa from half-moon calabashes, supped on kisra and okra on occasion as we traversed the rocks and huts that have survived the Russian drones and fighter-jets for the last 15 years. You taught me some Arabic.
حو means the ‘wind’. [Of change the Nile bleeds for.]
مي means ‘water’. [The theory of non-interference/peace.]
تمهم means ‘fine’. [Still, life goes on.]
On mornings as the sun stretched its tongues out of the sky lapping the morning dew, I’d stroll for a cigarette down the dusty streets to tickle my brain nerves. Since you hate smokers, it was an excuse for me to be alone; to drink in the choking scenery of fat flies buzzing around a child’s feces like Antonovs. Images of kids playing butt naked outside shabby Samaritan Purse tents were reminiscent of Africa’s hallmark on foreign TVs and websites.
At Kauda, we bought mangoes, dry cauliflowers (with which to brew wine) and g-nuts to crunch on our rocky drive to Iban. We drove past carcasses of cattle that had been sloshed by bomb shrapnel on a recent attack. You muttered something under your breath.
“I’m travelling to the south tomorrow. You can come along.”
On 6th, we boarded the UNHCR cargo plane and taxied from Juba to Doro. Another sad story of the Dinka and Nuer tribes. This is Africa. Home. We spent mid-mornings sipping kerekede. Watching lizards erect their heads on rocks as they sun themselves, you observed,
“Animals only attack if they feel threatened or when they want to eat.”
Sometimes your eyes seemed to float.
“My people didn’t start this war. We helped the south become autonomous. The north betrayed us, segregated us. They despise our skin. It’s a war against our culture. It’s a war against our music, our land. The spine of the Blue Nile. It’s never about the oil and gold as YouTube claims.”
Your philosophy brought me to tears.
Such piercing reflections could only bring us closer.
*You later joked how it was possible to find a school kid with a Tira/Moro/Lera, Arabic and Christian name on his report card.