Just when I thought I had found another home away from my native home in the Eastern Ugandan district of Tororo and my second home in Entebbe in Central Uganda, South Sudan, the world’s newest nation “spat in my face” by some presage of an act prior to the eruption of violence on December 16 2013 (if you remember or read the account of what happened to me on a jogging routine out of Korok Guest House).
Being an expat in this country I have tried my best to make it less of an impediment for me to feel at home. To begin with, my skin complexion is as dark as most South Sudanese and more often than not I am mistaken by a lot of people to be South Sudanese. But the escalation of fighting in other parts of the country following the alleged attempted coup by a disgruntled faction in the ruling SPLM party in December, I am increasingly feeling like a stranger in this country as I am find less and less of the things that made me feel at home disappear.
Many of the young South Sudanese young men, both Nuer and Dinka are not seen any where in Juba or places like Bor. Before the events of December 2013, there at least three Nuer guards and two policemen at our office who were pursuing primary and O level education who often consulted me on several subjects and had become my friends and family here in Juba but I cannot find any after my return to Juba after the long Christmas break due to the conflict.
I had Dinka friends in Bor whose mobiles phones I cannot reach now and at least a brother of one colleague in Bor was killed by the White army in Jonglei State. Another friend who hails from Akobo County in Jonglei state and formerly reported for the New Nation newspaper from Bentiu and worked briefly for the American funded Eye Radio in Juba is now reported to be living in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
With reports of mass killings of civilians and gang rape of women in Upper Nile and Unity states, I cannot help but wonder with deep sorrow what might have become of the Ugandan nurses whom I met on my last trip to Malakal and the Kenyan business people in whose tavern close to the WFP compound I spent my last night in Bentiu. I keep thinking of the young boda-booda riders whose transport I relied on to get around town when I visited those places. What about my friends from Mombasa at the Freedom hotel by the River Nile in Bor where I spent several nights on my last visit there before all hell broke loose?
When we left Juba in December, I remember a soldier at a security checkpoint along the Juba/Kampala highway saying to us after searching us, that he wanted us to return safely back to South Sudan after peace has been restored. He added that the search was meant to stop those South Sudanese committing crimes in Juba from fleeing the country. Indeed we saw a number people who were stopped from proceeding to Uganda. That statement seemed to be an assurance that our return would be welcome and lately with the resumption of publications, I have returned my duties as The New Nation’s distribution manager but this place that I had increasingly become familiar with has increasingly become strange.
The vibrancy of life in Juba seems to be all gone despite the buses from Kampala to Juba still seem to be parked with people coming to Juba. There is a lot more bribery at the several police checkpoints along the roads. The traffic police have on several occasions issued our driver penalty receipts bearing less amounts than what they ask for and some of them just smile about it. There are no more weekend police parties at our guest house where I used to see both Dinka and Nuer officers revel freely with one another. My weekends at the office are just gloom and glum like this one when I have nobody coming around and I cannot go hiking or jogging in the neighboring bushes as I used to, for there is no human activity any more save for makeshift army barracks in abandoned incomplete houses and formerly busy kiosks whose owners are now IDP in the UN camps.
As now watch an Aljazeera Lifelines documentary on the eradication of the guinea worm in South Sudan – the only country in the world where it still exists and with many of its victims being poor rural folks whose plight may become worse if the conflict prevents health workers from reaching them.
I can only hope and pray that the Lord honored that prayer in Addis after the signing of a peace deal between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. May the Lord grant grace and patience to those working and praying for the peace of South Sudan. For now I can only remember the Christmas song, “The Christmas card” by Steven Curtis Chapman which kept playing in my heart as I reflected on the people of and situation in South Sudan when I traveled home to Uganda for the Christmas holiday. What a holiday gift the leaders of SPLM had given the people of South Sudan!