‘MY CUT-TOMB DIARY’: WHY THIS PIECE OF PEACE MUST TAKE MY PEOPLE BACK HOME NOW, NOT TOMORROW! (PART 2)
By Jon Pen
In Part 1, I had given you my account on the child discotheques, the ‘Sodom Thursdays’, and the like. In this part, I have serious testimonies, 24 of which are recorded in a book to be called ‘MY CUT-TOMB DIARY’T (prounced ‘Khartoum’). The meaning of that is explained in the last episode.
The experiences I am sharing with you here have now pushed me to recommend that the Khartoum Peace Agreement (KPA), now RARCiSS, be immediately implemented with the repatriation of our refugees and residents in Sudan, as well as from other countries of our rampant exile: allathese be done right away from the word go.
My two trips on the Civil Society ticket through the last three months to the South Sudanese peace talks in Khartoum have equipped me with enough firsthand experience to now wish we had flown back home with our Southern population currently loitering as street beggars and domestic slaves in Khartoum in particular and Sudan in general. From what I witnessed here (Khartoum), I shed tears three times in one week. And here are the reasons.
LEAVE THE SMALL FLIES AND CHASE THE BIG ONES!
This time around, I was at the open-air restaurant. The roadside kitchen serves local dishes, an alternative to the junk and exotic chicken of the big hotels. I was there with my friend, James. As we settled on our dish, the green flies that trailed the waiter ended up on our table. Half of my appetite was removed. We battled them off.
Not only that but my eating desire was terminally put off by a local waiter who just dumped a pair of bread on dirty and naked table. It’s not an offence but their culture. Gatwech informed me. Another character of interest was that special employee doing the whisking on the nocturnal flies.
Then came some street urchins, all South Sudanese. They were peaceful and almost kneeling to access the public water dispensers that are perched on metallic stands around. As these unacvompanied minors, mostly boys, lunged for this open quenchers, they get tempted to glance on the table for any eater who might have left some morsel around. Waiters sell the leftovers, so the pieces are not free, and must always be protected with an equal business zeal.
So as one waiter (I don’t know the name of a fly-chaser in Arabic) was busy swinging some anti-fly smoke, the boss shouted, “Leave those small flies alone and first go and chase away the big ones over there!” The young man picked up a brush and raced after the street Southerners or Janubeen as known in Khartoum.
On hearing that, I could not swallow the last mouthful of my chewing. Pictures of my Jesh Ahmar life of the 90s swarmed my mind and I found myself wiping tears from nowhere. And the chorus to all this is “Damn this war! My people must go back now and now!”
The following morning, on my 4-Star hotel breakfast table, two real flies flew in and landed on my plate. The previous evening scene came back on my memory. I cursed, took the picture, vacated the table and rushed back to my hotel room. Another round of concealed tears…!
The second incident in the same restaurant is this. A voluptuous Arab woman shouted to me on sight as I headed for the breakfast buffet. “Ya weled!” meaning “You boy, bring me ‘kis’!” I said I did not know the whereabouts of her ‘kis’ (plastic paperp bag) for carrying the leftovers of her breakfast home for her dog. She insisted that I fetch her the kis. I told her, “Sorry, madam. I am a client here. Let me call for you the waiter.” She scanned me from head to toe and back and forth. Look at her lips with the eyes of your mind now. In a heavy Arabic, she spat some words, “You? Staying in this hotel? For what?” And I was like sh*t, this damn war must end.
A COOK WITH LOW OR NO PAY
In the evening, during the South Sudanese teenagers’ funny party that I narrated in Part 1 yesterday, ‘Job’ (not his real name), the breakfast cook, approached me. He introduced himself in a very clean English. He is both Nuer and Shilluk by tribes. He completed his secondary education in the West Nile Region of Uganda. He ended up in Khartoum streets when he was suspended with other students in one of the Khartoum universities for not completing their tuition fees.
He started working in the roadside bakery. After gaining some skills, he got some voluntary job in a local restaurant and later got a ‘better’ one in this hotel. “I am the one who prepares your breakfast.” He was so humble but inquisitive. Cooks are not allowed to interact with the clients but he had to risk that for two reasons.
One, Job wanted to know how far the peace for South Sudan had gone. Restricted behind the hot doors of the hotel kitchen, he has no access to his most wanted news. “Brother, when will it really come?” He meant the peace. I told him thetwhole deal.
Two, he had a story to tell. About his job. He is paid a nominal salary of 2,000 Sudanese pound, an equivalent of 50 US dollars by the end of the month, but he always finds himself with a big balance of the month by the end of his money (broke). Taking away taxes, he goes home with 1,500 pound, about 35 dollars. This is meant to cater for his transport and family. He has a young wife.
FYI. The wife is not with him in Khartoum. She has been stranded in Juba for a great number of months. She went to visit the family and to also survey for opportunities for her husband and herself. The calculation for transport went horribly wrong. From Khartoum to Juba, the air ticket is slightly above 100 dollars. That was affordable. Oops, her return needs 300 dollars!
From Juba, one pays nearly three times the ticket from Khartoum to Juba. I asked why. He said the answer is simple from the Arabs. “You went away with our oil for your fake independence!” That answer is unofficial. The official explanation to these unfair fares and the race-based or faith-based difference is known to our Ministry for Transport and blah, blah, blah…
Take this home. Mr. Job must work for 8 months to secure a ticket for his wife! So by the time he has saved upto 300 dollars for his wife to fly to Khartoum, Dr. Riek Machar and the rest of the opposition leaders and we, the exiles, will have secured our tickets to fly to Juba. Eight months mark the end of the pre-interim period. I call it ‘trust building period’.
Therefore, why the hell should his wife come again to Khartoum and not the husband to go home? “That’s why I am asking you about when our peace will come, brother.” He pushed it back on me. I assured him two things: that I would try my best to connect him with my friend who owns a top hotel in Bor. The friend is also a peace delegate and has witnessed the horror that our people are enduring in the North here. I have not yet talked to him, anyway, but I will. The second assurance is that peace must come next week, and he, the self-tailored cook, has to go home by all means, even if not by oil means.
BROTHER, TAKE MY SINCERE APOLOGIES TO MY PEOPLE IN SOUTH SUDAN!
Two mad men roam Souk al Arabi. They are South Sudanese. One cannot talk, one can sing for nothing or something the whole day. The songs are a mixture of Arab love music and an SPLA revolutionary. To the Arabs, he sings love and religion. To the South Sudan see, he sings revolution and tradition. Out of abour 10 people he dances, only one can give him something, very negglible something! So he survives thus.
“These people are too much!” exclaimed one South Sudanese keeping a shop for an Arab trader. “My boss has asked me to pay them from my own wages, because they are Janubeen beggars, and moreover non-muslims.” He claimed Syrian and Yemen refugees get regular contributions from shops around here.
Having heard that, my heart bled. I called the noisy one to me. I was sipping my ghawa on a stringed stool from an old Nuer woman. I had no change for smaller notes so I gave him 50 Sudanese pound. Every witness there protested. “Why spoil your money?” Asked one South Sudanese coffee-taker. “This guy is ‘maarhas’! He used to kill Janubeen when he was a NIF soldier. Let him enjoy the curse from our land.”
I waved down the insolent brother. But the lunatic took note, came back to me and apologized, first for singing in Arabic. I told him I was not interested in his service. But he offered to sing in Dinka or Nuer, I told him, “Shukran. Come next time.” He bowed his head and turned round to go, then round and came back.
“My brother,” he raised the 50-pound note against the sun. “I last touched this money 10 years ago when I was a soldier.” He wiped his tears and I joined him on mine, too. He then asked me to convey his apologies to all South Sudanese for the sins he committed against them. He is one of the Janubeen who fought alongside the National Islamic Front (NIF) against the SPLA in the 1990s. He left while pointing into the sky.
Then I emptied glass and gave mama the same note. She handed me back 40.
SPLA’S FORMER FREEDOM FIGHTERS STRANDED AND GONE MAD IN KHARTOUM
Before I stepped away from this drama scene, she pointed at that man who obviously looked angrier than hungry. Enviously, he had picked a quarrel with me for donating to his enemy. They are both former rival fighters who are still enemies even in madness!
The silent sufferer is a former SPLA soldier. “He is your real brother. The other one is a maarhas,” one Janubi emphasized. Actually, I do not know the exact meaning of that Arabic term, which was also used by Dr. Garang during his political speeches to the army on those who collaborated with Khartoum Regime.
I handed him the coffee balance of 40 SDG. To my surprised, he turned round and thanked me in Dinka.”Yin ekee menh baai!” meaning “You’re the true son of the land.” I was told he is an SPLA soldier who came for treatment when he had a different sickness. Upon hearing his family was missing during the 2014 clashes in Panriang, and coupled with lack of money for rushing back home, his mind burst! I also learned the second day later at the same spot that he had sworn never to speak to any Arab. So he knows how to speak.
As if that is not enough, the other evening, we met the real active SPLA officer at our late night chai place. He squatted behind me and James, so critical of his Arab neighbours on that spot.”Look, 4 spoons for what? That is why you have uncountable amputees here and so many cancer hospitals. Your Kenana (one of the Africa’s largest sugar plantations and factories in Sudan) is your permanent enemy, not the Janubeen.” He rebuked some Khartoumers who sat next to him. They laughed it off and walked of the scene.
Then he drove his ‘ambar’ (stool) towards us by dragging it with his butts in leaps. He greeted me and inquired which part of Nuer I hailed from. James has the traditional contour marks across his forehead. Mine were V’s which have disappeared with age. Grandma drew them in a blood-letting traditional treatment of measles in 1987.
Insisting on knowing mymbackground, I told him I was a mixer of Nuer and Dinka, both parents with their origins straddling the Lou and Hol borders. He asked for my name. I gave him the first and last of the four on my passport.
Yes, now I began to recognize him! He is one of the NSS officers that I last met in Juba in December 2012 before I fled to exile as my chairman, the late Karbino Kolen, disappeared on our way to the airport on January 31, 2013. I now began to grow bitter on him.
He failed to recognize me, but won my heart with his matter-of-factor conversation. He regretted that his Government is losing every gain they have made back to Khartoum, including hospitals for treating his diabetes.
“Look at my feet! We fought these people (Arabs) because they narginalized us and built the hospitals here using our wealth. Now we are still coming back for treatment here after we won our independence! He went on and on but we kept aloof for his background. But he was being sincere, anyway.
He introduced himself (name withheld) as an SPLA National Security Officer nursing a chronic illness. He is stranded in KKhartoum.A month ago, his name came among the promoted but has no means to go and claim his new rank. He boasted of having been one of those ‘taalimjiin’, military tutors, that trained the current vice president, Taban Deng Gai, John Luk Jok, Yasir Arman, Malik Agar, and so many. “If I chance to bump into one of them now, I will get a ticket direct to Juba.” He imaginarily threw his hand to the other side of the border. He joked he meets them daily but in the media.
However, he is haunted every minute by shortage of his medicines, return ticket, hotel bills, his 4 wives scattered in different places and 20 children in demand for education. I told him not to overburden himself with such unachievable thoughts at the same time. “Health first. Asign some blames to the leaders who caused the war and robbed your wives of their peace and failed to bring education to your children. Beny, you have done your part. Please, relax and look after your treatment.” I tried to counsel him.
Reminding my colleague on our to-do list of the morning, “We still have that pending meeting with Sarah Nyanath about our Diaspora roles in the peace impleImplement.” On hearing that name, the officer jumped up. “Oh God, I know that woman! Is she still alive? She is one of our freedom fighters. She was with me in Itang…, and there, and there, and there…till she went to train in Cuba. He went on with a long CV of our colleague. We told him she was our fellow civil society peace activist. He pressed his head with both hands, “How do I see this heroine? I can’t wait to go and greet her.” We told him that we would connect them.
It was now midnight. He was now emotional and diving deeper into their liberation history. He was even tempted to verbal draw their long map of the battles against the Islamists. So we now had an emergency to cut short the conversation, lest we both get ourselves into hot water in that hot weather.
Oops, sorry! Another episode has remained! It is just about the ‘THE BEGGAR VERSUS THE BAKER ON KHARTOUM STREETS’. The remaining part is also about how this book of 24 essays in 24 days acquired the title: “MY CUT-TOMB DIARY’.
Anyway, it is now late night. I will narrate and conclude these testimony tomorrow (September 12) with how I found myself and others opening up graves in Khartoum cemetery as we frantically searched for ‘Baby Peace’ that was alleged to have been abducted and killed by suspected ‘kidney kidnappers’.
This was my third round of crying with tears. Ouch, I opened my eyes and saw the streak of light spearing into my bed in my Regency room! It’s a new morning!
Good morning, my esteemed team of readers. Congratulations for completing this long and emotional story. I always believe readers are leaders.
NB: Watch this space for the episode (Part 3) of “MY CUT-TOMB DIARY’, while the rest of the episodes will come out as a book in October this year. I promise on the premise of your SS my readership and leadership.
… This link leads you to Part 1 in case you didn’t read it: https://weakleak.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/my-khartoum-diary-why-this-piece-of-peace-must-take-my-people-back-home-now-not-tomorrow-part-1/