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Moments of Reflection

By David L. Lukudu (Sudan)


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I am a graduate of Makerere University Medical School, Kampala, Uganda; bachelor of Medicine and bachelor of Surgery (MBChB).

I come from South Sudan, Juba in particular. But I have lived in East Africa (Uganda, mostly, and Kenya) for the last 11 years, partly because of studies, but mainly due to the civil war in my part of the country.

I have completed my internship and am looking forward to practising as a medical officer in war-ravaged South Sudan.

Rain was still falling as Ladu made for his life across the forest, limping now and again; lightning flashed across the distant sky and thunder coughed away. He stopped; he could not continue any longer. His body was trembling considerably; rivulets of sweat competed with rainwater in trickling down his strained face; his heart was drumming uncontrollably underneath his chest; his breathing was heavy, deep, audible. He held his right thigh where the bullet had become embedded. He winced, “Ah! … Ah! … my God … my God …” Then his eyes fell back on the path he had passed - Oh, he thought. The grass had bent much; traces of blood appeared on them with his tracks showing on the muddy ground. A thought quickly appeared across his mind as soon as he had seen it - no, no, no; they would find the path, they would get him. Again he heard the rumbling and crackling of their guns. This time it sounded near, so near. “God!” He clenched his teeth, his fists, and made for his life once again, but he put more energy into it this time. His feet splashed the water in the tiny streams and pools along the way.

He came to a place where he found three groups of burnt huts that stood to his left; they had no roofs on them, their walls were now black with soot and cracked with age. Ladu paused. Perhaps he should run there, he thought, and…and… Suddenly he heard a very loud noise like that of an explosion. What could that be, he wondered. Thunder? Land mine? Oh, he had forgotten about the land mines. And then all of a sudden he remembered the zone - one of many – that the rebels had always dreaded and labeled Zone X. It must have been a year or so earlier that retreating government troops had planted the silent weapons, hurriedly, to safeguard their escape in one of the many battles for this strategic location, which they were losing for the second time around. It was now a rebel territory, part of the “New Sudan,” but no one had a map to pinpoint the dangerous spots - not even the captured government soldiers.  

God, he prayed, if only he could sail through in peace… What if the noise was from one of them being blown up? Would not they now kill him piece by peace when they got him? Would not he have been the cause of that? The cause…the cause… Again, fear gripped him. And then he felt new strength rush into his arms, his legs, his whole body. “No,” he whispered. They would not get him; he would not allow that. He continued his race, unmindful of the land mine field. He heard more guns and artillery in the distance opposite; why, he thought. He turned leftwards. Then he saw another group of huts - about four this time. He made for them. His heart continued its throbbing as his breath continued its heaviness. Then he saw them: an old man and a boy, it seemed. “Help!” he called out feebly. But before he could reach them he fell down on his face.


It was in the small village of Moje that Ladu used to live at first. How wonderful it was to be a child those days - innocent, adventurous and imaginative. It was a life of hunting birds with slingshots and small animals with bows and arrows. It was a life of plunging naked into the village streams with fellow village boys as well as those from the neighbouring ones. It was a free world. Ladu’s father had nine wives and still held seven after abandoning two. He was a well-known and respected village trader, one of those who could sit or share a table with the chief. He seemed to associate every harvesting season with a new wife. Of course, marriage those days was not a big deal.

So many southern Sudanese had lost their lives during the first civil war of liberation, waged in that part of the country by Anyanya One, from 1955 to 1972, and the people felt a need for replacing the lost. And thus marriage became an easy ceremony, because of encouragement and support from the relatives. It was also an honour in the village to have many wives. Ladu’s mother was the first wife. But his parents had not been in good terms ever since the family started expanding rapidly. Often they quarreled with each other and his mother would receive a thorough beating. He was a mere boy then and did not know how else to react apart from defending his mother with words, if he could, or with stones or rocks. But later he learnt never to defend her with stones or rocks lest they - both of them - should be sent away from the compound. And if that happened, where then would they go? Was there a place better than his father’s homestead? He learnt to defend his poor, beloved mother with tears that rolled down his cheeks again and again in rhythm with the sufferings inflicted on her.  

There were no schools in the villages those days and his father could only send Lemi, one of his stepbrothers, to Juba town since he believed that Lemi was the most intelligent of his five sons and would, therefore, not be a waste. The remaining four sons and eight daughters were to stay in the village. How could his father afford to send especially all the boys to school? Then Ladu’s younger brother disappeared from the village.  

Laku, for that was his name, was two years younger than Ladu. No one knew to where he had vanished. They looked for him in the village, in the ones nearby, even in the forests, but they could not find the little brute. Where could he have gone, they wondered. Why should he go without warning? This boy…this boy…the children of these days… his mother thought and bitterly wept. Perhaps he had found his way into the gut of some wild animal…my son, my only other child. Ladu, when he saw his mother cry, wept too. He was hurt, but he was determined to help his poor mother. But how? How could he help her when they had looked for her son almost everywhere? What Laku did was not right at all…not right at all… Those who did not listen to adults, it was up to them, his father mused loudly. How those words made his mother weep the more!  

But time could fly indeed. Rainy seasons come and go. The Addis Ababa agreement of 1972 was abrogated - the southern “autonomy” was “thrown into the dustbin.” And Islamic Sharia laws were introduced into the constitution. The Arabs had betrayed the southerners. And the second civil strife was started after which the SPLM/A - Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army - was born. By then the civil war had not yet drifted to Ladu’s village; it was still far - deep in the south of southern Sudan, from where it had commenced. Laku was forgotten for a while. During the rainy seasons, he would go to his field when the grass was still wet with dew. He would work the whole day tilling and tilling the soil, of course resting once in a while, and would return home when the cocks ceased their crows and retire to bed.  

As he worked daily, Ladu would think of the plan he had hatched, about what he was going to carry out after his crops had ripened. Now and again he would run the thought in his mind, and he would experience a flame awakening in his heart. And the glow would make his heartbeats rise and fall with the movements of his hoe - he would go to Juba to work, to settle, to find Laku for his mother, and, if possible, to marry from there. “Why had I not thought of that earlier?” he would mumble to himself. When his crops yielded, he gathered a good deal of them - sweet potatoes, cassava, groundnuts and beans - and left for Juba.

The roads linking Juba to smaller towns and villages in southern Sudan were still functional then. Ladu found a place where he sold his crops. He rented himself a small hut, and thereafter started looking for a job to earn a living. Finally, he found work in a garage where he changed tyres, straightened damaged parts, renewed colours, fixed and dismantled bodies, coupled with other chores that came along his way. Later he came to leave it as he felt that apart from not satisfying him, it drained him of strength. He found another with Ali, a lorry owner and driver. They would travel three times a week to Luri and other villages not more than twenty miles from Juba. Theirs was charcoal business. They would buy sacks upon sacks of charcoal at cheaper rates from the villages to resell in Juba at higher price for profit. And on the way they would pick villagers who asked for lifts, not free of charge of course; with the onset of this catch-word called modernization, the tidal effects of its windfalls meant that there was nothing free of charge those days. It was a booming business. Again and again they would travel back and forth. Ladu was realizing his dream; he could get all he needed; he could get all he wanted. He loved his job, loved the town - actually loved the whole world.  

“Ladu,” came Ali’s familiar voice one morning, “I had two gallons of petrol and now they are missing from the lorry; where are they?” It was one of those days when petrol was so scarce and very expensive in Juba, and the black market was thriving.

“What do you mean?” replied Ladu, surprised and puzzled.

“I mean where are they? There is no doubt who took them! It was you and I who knew where-”

“No! Never! How could I have done that? How could I?” Ladu cut him short, “I would never! Never … we have worked together for months, almost two years. How then could I have done that?”

“No… just produce my gallons. You took them -thief! You thief!” Ali said. “You took the gallons-”

“I, a thief? You call me a thief!” Ladu, interjecting was injured by these words, and after a short pause, continued, “You … you …” he could not finish his words; anger blocked his throat. He jumped on the driver and hit him hard on the forehead, hit him hard, again, on the nose and blood began to ooze from his nostrils. All these happened in a swift moment and the driver fell down having had no time to defend himself. Later Ladu found himself serving a six-year sentence in jail. Why, why, why, he could not understand. Life in prison - he had never been through it, never in his life - was like hell to him. It was not only the food that he hated; the bare dusty floor that served as the bed; the filthy blankets; the strong stench of urine that pervaded the atmosphere; the bed bugs and the lice on the walls; the kinds of inmates; the daily routine - he hated them all.  

Every morning he, together with some of his prison mates, would be awakened before the sun showed its bright and imposing face upon the blue skies and in a prison van they would be carried around Juba to do manual labour in public places. At times they would go and work at the house of one of the prison officers where they would do such jobs as washing clothes or clearing bushes. It was work, and more work as the prison warders, one or two, kept an eye on them. Ladu did not think of breaking away; how could he escape when Juba was such a small city. He would then be like those tiny black ants that used to bite them when they were still young boys as they lay naked at the banks of the village streams. After stinging someone, the ant would then make off. After it had run a short while, boringly one would stretch out a foot and smash it utterly. He would not do that; he would not try to escape, at least at that moment. He feared the eyes of the warders, with a rifle slung across their shoulders.  

He thought he was becoming weaker and weaker as the days dragged on. “Oh!” he would whimper, “I do not deserve to be here. Why should they throw me in like that? I had told them the truth…the simple truth. Why could not they listen to me? Curse on all of them! Curse on Ali! I will get this man. It is not in me to kill a fellow human being, but now I am determined to commit murder. I will kill Ali if I were set free!” He saw that he had done no wrong; he was wrongly accused of something he did not do, and they locked him behind bars. He would take his revenge on Ali as soon as he was set free, though that would be after six years. But six years was a long way off. Oh, how he hated the Juba Central Prison and everything about it - life, appearance, smells … everything.  

The civil war began intensifying and spreading all over southern Sudan, as well as the areas of the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile and Abyei. The powerful radio transmission from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, during Mengistu’s regime, was pulling more and more people into the revolution .The SPLA were capturing small towns and villages from the government’s hold, and the rebel territory, “New Sudan,” was expanding.  

He had no idea how the war was like. He only heard from various sources in jail that it was indeed a war of liberation, for the building of a new country, a New Sudan, which was based on equality, justice and freedom for all. It was a war for people like him, he thought, to save him from injustice. Why should he just be thrown behind bars when he had done nothing? Nothing. Nothing. He would yet be set free, he hoped, and he would fight in the war; he would join the rebels and fight for his rights. He heard that the liberators were capturing more and more towns in southern Sudan. Oh, bravo to them! he would praise in silence. Let them continue with the spirit. Let them free their people - their poor masses - from oppression. He wished he were with them. He pictured himself fighting in the front lines as a brave freedom fighter. “God!” he prayed, “Let me be set free! Let me be set free!” Although Godly activities were rare in jail, Ladu could not be deterred from turning to God in times of despair. And then the conflict began spreading to Juba, the capital city of southern Sudan.  

If the liberators could get hold of the city - which was not easy - they would have a substantial or significant base and the war would be virtually over: southern Sudan would be declared an independent state. When the first shelling of Juba came, Ladu was still in jail with four years to go. The place was being bombarded from two directions. The shells would come ding, ding, ding, ding, and would fall randomly: binging, binging, binging, binging, rocking the earth in the meantime. And the casualties were very many. And people’s hearts would be suspended from hooks of fright. Oh God! … The next one, would it not be our turn? Would we be spared? Most people turned to spending their daytime by the River Nile or other areas that were in the outskirts of the town only to return to their homes in the evenings when the shells had ceased falling.  

In comparison Khartoum was too far but very peaceful, and the only means of travel to there was by air, and those who could afford the fee for the few available flights made it to the capital city. Other lucky ones, who had “connections,” made it with less pay, or free, using military and cargo planes. And many did migrate to the north. Ladu and his jail mates, always guarded, were allowed to take cover in the prison compound or in the trenches and bunkers they had dug just outside the jail. But they learnt not to fear death: did not death come when God wanted so? Another wave of shelling came the following year, only a few months after the first. But this time it was more intense and the weapons seemed to be more advanced.

Ladu had served three of his six years. He was tired of prison life. He was weak, helpless and felt sick but he resolved that he must try to escape. He was fed up, totally fed up.  

It was one of those days outside the prison gates, in the trenches, that he made his escape. He hid in Munuki, a small town to the west of Juba. He would only come out at night to meet a few friends. He thought of running away to Khartoum. But how could he make it to there, he mused. Furthermore, he learnt it from friends who had been to the city - if there was a place better than Juba, or second to it, for a southern Sudanese, it was the village, one’s home village, because southerners, mostly Christians, were seen as foreigners, or even worse, in Khartoum, strange. He dropped the thought. He left for his own village with some friends on foot under cover of darkness.  

There were no vehicles traveling because the roads were impregnated with land mines. And there was no need to fear wild animals, for their numbers, which used to be large, had become reduced significantly. Ladu felt like having been reborn. Back in the village, he saw that the war had not spared him; his home was in ruins; nothing was left of the olden days. It was just burnt huts and secret land mines, here and there; very few souls; desolation. No one could tell him what had happened, but he inwardly knew that there comes a time when a man had to endure sufferings. Many had lost their beloved ones and many more would still lose more of their people. He felt certain heaviness within him. Why should he lose all his people? What had happened to his mother, father, stepmothers, stepbrothers and stepsisters? Was it possible that they were all dead? Or were they already refugees in a neighbouring country? He had nothing to do; weeping or mourning could not help him.

He joined the rebels to fight for equality, justice and freedom. He was a brave fighter. He gave the best he had for the cause, for the revolution. They captured more villages and smaller towns just as they captured soldiers too. They would subject some of the POWs - prisoners of war - to lengthy questioning: why they said or believed the war in the south was a jihad on their part and not a civil war waged by those who took up arms because of being marginalized and underdeveloped in their own country, was it how they generated support from the Islamic or Arab world, to which they mostly pretended they had no answers. Of course, they all pointed to the fact that they were members of an army and they carried out orders from above, and were not they, the rebels, committed to a similar code of conduct? But nonetheless all things standing in the face of this war, the freedom fighters would sometimes find something to smile at as they discovered ordinary metallic keys hidden safely in the pockets of some of the captured men, or tied like amulets around their arms, for it was a belief amongst some of those who saw the war as jihad that in case of death in the battlefield, these keys would guarantee entrance to Janna, Heaven!

As the civil war raged on, it became one more of those battles for towns and villages in southern Sudan, the areas of the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile and Abyei though some were firmly held by the rebels while others were in the hands of the government of Sudan’s army; while yet others kept alternately falling in the hands of both sides. There was the so-called “dry season offensive” which the government of Sudan’s army kept launching every year in rebel areas. There were also the regular, random aerial bombardments of rebel territories by the high altitude, Russian-made Antonovs, resulting in massive and widespread civilian casualties, forcing migrations into refugee settlements in the neighbouring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Occasionally, bad calculations by the Antonovs would result into bombs drifting as far as refugee settlements within the Ugandan territory.  

During one of the many battles with the enemy troops in one of the villages, Ladu hit a soldier on the head with the butt of his gun and as the victim fell, he recognized him, at first by the long scar on the left side of his neck, as his brother Laku. The scar had been as a result of an accidental shot by Ladu’s arrow when they were still young boys. But that was long time ago, before Laku disappeared from the village. “Laku?” Ladu called. “Oh, no! Laku… my brother…my only brother… Why? … Why? … Laku…” then Laku could not utter another word; his eyes remained shut.  

Ladu picked up his brother and carried him towards one of the huts in the village. One of his comrades who had a bitter experience with the government of Sudan’s army, having lost all fingers in his left hand in captivity, but was lucky to have escaped, stopped him on the way - why was he protecting the enemy; where was he taking him? “He is my brother-” but before Ladu could finish his words, the comrade had already pushed the government soldier off him, saying, “This is a betrayer - not your brother...he is on the wrong side of the war… He is a Jallaba!*… They do not even keep a single one of ours as a POW -” and he sent riddles of bullets through Laku’s belly, as he cried in agony. This maddened Ladu - he could not believe that what had just happened had taken place. Was he seeing it in a dream? Had his brother, his only remaining kin, been killed right in front of his eyes? His throat was hot with anger and his eyes were wet with sorrow. He emptied a magazine on his comrade’s chest and he fell down as he wriggled in pain. Why should he kill his brother, his beloved one, his only remaining relative?  

Then Ladu turned and made for the nearby forest. Ta-tat! He felt a bullet hit him on the right thigh. “Oh no!” he cried as he dropped his empty Kalashnikov and disappeared behind the trees and bushes. Suddenly, the threatening rain, which had made the sky appear pregnant all that time, began to drop, slowly at first, then faster and faster as it picked up momentum.


Ladu opened his eyes; from the ceiling above him, hang sooty locks. Two unfamiliar faces stared at him; one old, one young. The hut reeked of heavy smoke - “Agh!” he felt streaking pain in his right thigh. Where could he be, he wondered. Home? But… he tried to say something but no word could form on his lips. He closed his eyes again and tried to recollect how he came to be there. Suddenly, the door was kicked open, and two men in camouflage uniform and guns in their hands stormed in. 


* This word means a bloody Arab in southern Sudan.

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