Author Notes: I was born on 27th October 1969
in Kampala, Uganda. After the Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the first civil
strife in my homeland Southern Sudan, I accompanied my parents back home from
exile. I studied at Palotaka and St. Theresa’s Primary schools. My secondary
studies were at St. Mary’s Torit-Juba and Comboni El-Obeid. At St. Paul’s
Khartoum, I read philosophy, social sciences (Diploma) and theology (Bachelor
Magna Cum Laude) till March 1998. I’m a Catholic priest. I work in Western
Kordofan and Eastern Darfur. Amna's Tears By John Oryem (Sudan)
Author Notes: I was born on 27th October 1969 in Kampala, Uganda. After the Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the first civil strife in my homeland Southern Sudan, I accompanied my parents back home from exile. I studied at Palotaka and St. Theresa’s Primary schools. My secondary studies were at St. Mary’s Torit-Juba and Comboni El-Obeid. At St. Paul’s Khartoum, I read philosophy, social sciences (Diploma) and theology (Bachelor Magna Cum Laude) till March 1998. I’m a Catholic priest. I work in Western Kordofan and Eastern Darfur.
By John Oryem (Sudan)
"But if your daughter
Has no manners
If she is so loose
That men sleep with her
Even in the grass,
Then, even if you are ill
You must go to the well
To draw water
And the nanga players
Will sing you a song…" Okot p’Bitek: Song of Lawino
The women plaiting their hairs looked as if they were preparing for something serious to come during the weekend. By midweek as usual, funeral rites, wedding parties, farewell parties and anniversaries within different communities were known. It was only in Mandela slum that southerners and northerners came to live together at the edge of the great city, Khartoum. The civil war, which was ranging in the south, affected both communities with natural divide, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Africans.
In Mandela slum, you could only know serious thing was going to happen when women begin to get busy preparing themselves like insects going for hunting. When Amna and other women suspended their legs in the air, one would have guessed, things were going to be tremendous that very day. Approaching the women at the place where they were sitting, Lado, Garang and Michael saw henna paste drying from the feet and fingers of the several women in company of Amna. The women kept on laughing loosely as their southern brothers came closer at Amna’s house. "Ah, their usual thing. Arab cultures have finished them," said Garang calmly.
When the three men had greeted them, the women kept their talks and laughter at high rate. Lily was the only one among them who was serious, trying to get Garang, Lado and Michael welcomed at the shelter in front of Amna’s house.
"Sit brothers, sit brothers." She kept on inviting them to take positions beside them. There was hesitation from the men as tasteless greetings met them at their initial entrance in the compound.
"Sit down, or you are proceeding..." continued Lily. It seemed other women were saying in their hearts; "let them go, drunkards who will spoil our market." The three men strolled away from the uninviting sights. From behind, they heard Amna shouting; "pour me some coffee." She had hidden the coffee pot under stool when the men arrived. Her friends knew how she always went to gather the rest of the girls when it was coffee time. In Mandela, when it was slightly past midday, the women who most of the time wanted to be addressed as girls, would begin to make statements; "I’m dying of headache." "My head is cracking." "I will bring sugar." "I will light fire and bring water." Finally the last one will respond; "I will finish the job, just sit and relax girls."
Soon after such complains, the women would assemble at Amna’s house to relief themselves with pots of coffee that must be accompanied by concentrated rumors and gossips of the previous day.
Ahmed Abdallah, one of the businessmen in Khartoum, a forecaster of misfortunes that befell the southerners, built long stretched mud houses that looked from a distant like train carriages. His houses were complexities of fermented donkey’s shit, mud, coconut timber, and sand. The fences were barely up to a man’s knee. Amna occupied a single room in his long dormitories. There, her six children saw their several fathers. Some of their fathers brought biscuits and sweets, which were given after careful selection for the kids. Amna their mother threw away some of their abusive fathers like broken sandals.
Men who visited Amna’s house were mostly northern Arabs who were descending from the city to Mandela slum to drink as Public Order Police, the unit that enforced strict Islamic sharia was not easily reaching Mandela slum. If the brutal police officers were there, the commoners would dodge them with ease between the shacks and carton houses. In Mandela, those who drink liquor were like fish in the river. The toughest thing the state was to deal with; was discouraging citizens by strict punishments for those who were caught drunk. Those caught with all sorts of beer were bundled into a truck and off to Omdurman prison. After sunset, the Arab men will rain into Amna’s house where strong liquor, made out of dates was brewed and sold. All the women became night concubines for the Arab men and few; well to do southerners who frequented Mandela slum. It was a disgrace for the northerners to be seen loitering with black, southern, Christian girls by their relatives. "The southerners are pagans, uncircumcised, don’t mingle with them." Who never heard this strong statement constantly said in Mandela?
As soon as an Arab man married a southern girl, she was to change her name and possibly consider circumcision immediately. Above all, she must embrace the new religion; Islam. "Junubia," southerner, that was how she was called as long as she lived in Mandela slum.
"Save yourself because if you remain a Christian, you will become firewood in hell." Other northern women and men trying to discourage southerners from the religion of their parents. As it was the custom of the northerners to associate all dirty things with the displaced community from the south, silence by the later had to be the final judge.
Self-enjoyment in Mandela slum was for both men and women. One has to fix himself or herself only in a proper group. Perverts. Army deserters. Criminals who steal in the three cities. Amna’s house was unique for girls and women who went there. For many girls got husbands in her house. Great number of women found occasions of leaving their husbands in her house as well.
At the end of each month, her latest man in a row, Amhed Taj would bring her rent fee. Some times during the week, he would bring sugar, soap, lentils and vegetables when he and his friends come for drinking. By 7pm, Sadia, Lily, Rose and all the girls putting up with Amna would begin to prepare themselves for some sexual encounters with several partners who come to drink. They would sit and smoke themselves with sweet smelling sandal-wood plus other concentrated incense. The smoking hole was at the side of Amna’s room. Sacred hole. The women would sit in turn on the hole that fits only human buttocks, twenty inches deep. The smoking hole worked well by gathering a woman’s back completely. Once she was on it, the sweet smelling smoke would rotate in the vacuum created, gradually penetrating a woman’s flesh. The woman smoking herself had to cover her naked body completely with a blanket so as not to allow smoke to escape except through her flesh. She would perspire gently while sweats escaping from her pores at ease. At certain moment, she can imagine what was to follow after her hard preparation. The hot smoke bath took half an hour or more, depending how she wanted to prepare herself for that fortunate man of her heart. When the smoking process was over in Amna’s room, the women would have become narrower and liquid reduced from their overused bodies. When the smoking hole wasn’t in use during daytime, it was properly covered with an iron lid. Children and chickens that were trying to come close to the smoking hole, were violently shouted at. Amna would be proud to see the women laughing happily at their state somewhere next to being virgins again; ready to present themselves to several men who came to drink at her house in Mandela. Men who slept with women who smoked themselves the night before, would expect some humiliation, not of their making, but people who passed near them would easily smell ‘women’s smoke’ on them. They have to bear the rest of the day with lowered heads. Revelations of nights well spent with spouses were very common in Mandela. Beer markets were booming despite the strict application of Islamic sharia by the theocratic government trying to control the sprawling Mandela slum at the outskirts of Greater Khartoum.
# # #
Among Amna’s children, there was a boy with Chinese features. "Chinese, Chinese, Chinese." Local boys called him that way. Sometimes they simply shouted; "China." His furious mother never bothered throwing stones at Mandela kids abusing her son. During such long wartime in the country, who never bore illegal child? "Sons of whores. You bastards. Children of dogs." She would shout at the children who gather in front of her house to insult her son. Amna often silenced her son with a package of Baraka biscuits from a grocery next to her house. "Eat Baba, I will beat them." The boy would feel happy after such concern. Amna’s son never even went to nearby kindergarten despite several persuasions by her neighbors and nuns running the school. It was a common knowledge in Mandela that; one of the Chinese men fixing Pipelines in Sudanese oilfields might have not intended fathering that boy. Like all other foreign workers, he only wanted to release his waist after consumption of liquor from Amna. Grueling work in the oilfields takes all human strengths and reduces certain senses.
Two of other Amna’s sons bore typical Sudanese Arab faces especially their hairs. When Osman was born, her first son from an Arab father, Amna spent forty days and nights inside her narrow room in Mandela slum. Nature’s call only took her few meters away. "What is it that she is spending forty days and nights inside?" Many southerners asked. They never knew what stage of life one has to undergo in the world. "We southerners only spend three to four days after child’s birth." They murmured. When Khalid, the second son with similar previous features was born, the old process and ceremonies were done. "She is not ours now." Neighbors mocked her. One could not tell if the boys were sharing the same father. Comments went unabated. Amna’s only daughter was so close to her Nilotic father that, all other displaced children of Mandela loved her. Her father was one of the many groundnut farmers in Kordofan. He went to Amna only after getting enough money to convince her for few days. And that was the time when the girl was conceived. "My husband came from the south." Amna told her northern customers to scare them off for few days she intended to spend with that Nilotic man. Some Arabs might have definitely considered in their hearts that; Amna’s Nilotic husband of those few days was returning from a rebellion in the south. For ten years, he sent cloths and few coins occasionally to his daughter. In future, she must fetch him several cows probably back in the south.
# # #
What made life hard for Amna in Mandela slum was how to live between her three names and personalities that life presented to her. When pressed by her poverty, she would go to local Islamic Zakat Chamber offices at the neighborhood. There, she was known by the name of Amna Walid. The northerners who went to buy liquor from her renamed her Amna. The name proper for a black Muslim woman from the south. Few rations of sorghum, lentils and oil were distributed only for the poor Muslims. Though the food stuffs containers were clearly marked "EURONAID, OXFAM, WFP; the southerners were barred from receiving aid coming from their brethren in the west. Those with whom they share the same faith. The bearded officials were meaning business in the work that sustained their livelihood. After venturing there one morning, Amna found herself in front of an interrogating Zakat official.
"Hi woman, what is your name?"
"Hey Zakat office is for the Muslims only."
"Yes I’m a Muslim, a believer…"
"You said you are Amna who?"
"Amna Walid." She answered boldly.
The official took serious look at Amna as if he should throw her out of the magnificent compound.
"Our food is for Muslims, you Christians should go to the church…" he finally told Amna.
"I’m a devout Muslim. My parents were Muslims long time ago in the south." Insisted Amna.
"You southerners are only pretending to be Muslims."
"No sir, we are good Muslims…."
Amna’s seriousness was renown in achieving what she wanted in life. It worked. Her insistence and appearance gained favors of the officials.
Days would pass as far as her kitchen would be warm. Her children are silent in her room.
"Tomorrow will take care of itself. Allah is merciful." She said to those who asked her about her hardships in life within northern Sudan. "You have to learn how to survive in Khartoum." She would advise other women.
Mingling with millions of displaced southerners who were Christians in Mandela was an easy thing for Amna. For her, she was one. Nothing to worry about proving her identity to anyone who may dare ask her.
Few yards away from her house, she was an active member in the Women Committee of the local church springing up in Mandela neighborhood. Relief services, heath facilities and secured education for some of her children were perfect chances for her. The Sisters of Charity who carried out distribution of relief items twice a month never hindered her opportunities. Distribution cards were obtained from local church’s committees. Amna approached them with ease. Her skin color alone was enough to qualify her as a displaced woman from the south. Some of the members in the church’s committees were doubtful however about her double life. "But she is bearing Arab names. Black Arab. Malakia woman (those without trace of ethnicity. Arabised southerners). Not one of these double eaters?" Some officials asked themselves in low voices. After several questions before obtaining the pink card, Amna Walid proved herself to them as Anna William from southern Sudan. Confirming how her parents got matrimony in a cathedral back in 1968 in the south. When she was about to be questioned further, she cried louder;
"My name is Anna William."
"OK, OK, fine!"
"I’m the mother of Peter, Thomas…. Jane." She assured the committee members. She gave Christian names of her children to the officials.
"We know them. They play football here in the church’s yard." Said one of the members, fully in her support. A day passed with gain in life.
After each distribution, Amna would put the aging card carefully in her upper drawer, far from her children’s reach. The card would be waiting, to be touched again by ball pen from the Sisters’ hands in the next distribution date.
Living in Mandela neighborhood for a long time had shown Amna rise and fall in life that had tighten its grip on her neck, heading for the lower valley.
Several men and women consulted her to see their futures as she threw cowries in front of them after smearing herself with olive oil. Those possessed by spirits visited her regularly. "I’m a witchdoctor." She openly advocated. She sold amulets to several Arab soldiers who went to fight in the south.
Among her tribal group, several relatives failed to trace her after arriving Mandela slum from warfront in the south. Her parents’ names, her physical descriptions were all gone, not known by those around her in childhood. What jeopardized those attempts of finding her, were Amna’s new names. Back in the south among her tribe, she was called Amona Wilobo; the names were meaningful, respected and dignified. Her relatives who found her in Mandela did it after marathons of asking and risking themselves to odd questions.
# # #
The dry hot season of the north was a misfortune for Amna that April. When the news of her son’s death arrived Mandela’s neighborhood that afternoon, some of the men who went to work in factories around Khartoum center had reached home already. Measles had claimed the life of one of her sons with a complete surprise. It was fortunate that, few of the men had taken light drinks already that very afternoon. They were just "Cooling the heat of Khartoum," as they always say. Some people heard the news of the boy’s death at other beer places where they went to book some buckets of muddy sorghum beer to spend the rest of the day with joy and memories of the south lurking in their heads.
In Mandela, the stress must be chassed by the dying sun in the confused life of the slum. There was no sign of early return to the south yet. Dr. John Garang and his army were teaching northern Arabs in the deep terrains of south Sudan. The valleys and ravines besides meandering rivers of African ancestors were firmly behind the liberators in the south. The death of the child showed how much Amna was popular, loved or hated in Mandela slum. All those who rushed to her house expressed openly how the child should be buried before sunset. For new dawn must always usher with new private and public interests in Mandela. Burial tools were always at hand in Mandela.
When the nine gravediggers arrived at the cemetery at the edge of Mandela slum, there were few kids playing football as they did always. The kids concentrated kicking their FIFA ball, shouting and adjusting their positions. Sometimes their ball would cross inside the cemetery, falling among the old graves. One of them would dash gently into the cemetery and pick the ball. They will resume their sweet game again. They have known that courtyard next to the burial ground for a long time. Each afternoon, they went there except when it was raining or dusty. The number of cars, corpses and carts entering the cemetery rarely disrupted their games. The boys had dispelled even the fear of the dead in their minds.
Dead bodies came to Mandela cemetery in all forms. It was the only place where the rich and poor met; silence and permanence prevailed. Some days, people in the neighborhood brought dead bodies on low beds. Commoners would be disturbed as the dead passes through their narrow paths between the houses. Men would run to join the procession as if the dead were inviting them; "come and carry us, come and carry us." Majority of the population in Mandela followed strictly Islamic tradition of burial immediately after death. One could wake and see people in the cemetery even late at night. For most of the southerners who weren’t Muslim, they saw burials at odd hours as abomination and disrespect for the dead.
Lado, Garang and Michael remained firm organizing the burial process. The desert heat kept on knocking the faces of the gravediggers without mercy. The gravediggers never bothered the boys with their game. After clearing space at the edge of the cemetery just at the western wing, they began their hard work with the hard soil. Going deeper downward into the belly of the earth. A bucket of water was placed next to the dugout soil. Some people soon joined them to sympathize with the unfortunate events of death. Good Samaritans added spades, mattocks and hoes. When passersby who helped, lift their turbans to continue their journeys, they never say goodbye at the cemetery. But before leaving; they would simply say, "Blessing be upon you, may Allah give you patience and another life in paradise. May He have mercy to the dead." Those remaining behind were only to say; "Amen. Amen."
There were few fresh graves near the one being prepared for Amna’s son. It was almost seven meters from the last one bearing fresh fingerprints. The boy’s grave was to be dug next to the last one. The next grave was certainly, that of an elder. One of the gravediggers remembered hearing an obituary notification from a minaret across the street few days earlier. Whether it was Tuesday or Thursday, the guy couldn’t tell to other eager gravediggers. His limited information made it so hard for other people to guess whose corpse was below the fresh grave. The heap of that black soil couldn’t even say if a woman or a man was below the huge soil.
Some of the gravediggers were seated; others kept on wiping sweats from their faces. Lado who was Amna’s closest relative at the cemetery worked harder to bury his nephew properly. He and Amna were from the same clan back in the south. Amna however wasn’t a real sister to him. She constantly denied those who tried to interrogate her on her numerous husbands fathering her children without proper paternal responsibilities towards her offspring.
# # #
Lado raised his head above the grave to take in more fresh air. The soil below smelled some traces of past rains of last September. As he was preparing himself to be replaced by Garang, three men appeared in the vicinity. One was in turban and the two wore trousers and Indonesian shirts. It was not a surprise as they approached the burial site. Humans support themselves in death. From a distant, it seemed they were discussing the low price of groundnuts in the town. The rich businessmen wanted to lower prices after harvest so that the poor would sell their produce earlier, only to skyrocket the prices later on in the year. The man ahead looked familiar to the southerners digging the boy’s grave. He was in his 50s. Southerners and northerners mixed in Mandela slum. Christians became neighbors to Muslims, blacks and those of Arab stock shared the common demands of hard life. The old man was in flamboyant cloak; he appeared as if he was coming from pilgrimage in Mecca. Such men who were returning from Saudi Arabia would feel happier to extend their hands while greeting other people who never went to the House of Allah. The other young men who followed the old man appeared sympathetic and innocent with the boy’s death. The three men greeted the gravediggers and took a space. Few minutes passed, there was no indication that they were going to pick spade or mattock to help the tired men. The soil in Khartoum is hard especially in April. Lado sweated inside the grave, struggling with the solid soil. The three men looked at each other as if they had something important to convey to the gravediggers. Garang removed his trousers to replace Lado from the grave. Before he could pull off his trousers completely from his waist, the old man in white turban intervened to stop the gravediggers.
"Excuse us brothers." Ordered the man. Lado was busy gathering the refined soil from the bottom of the grave.
"Stop brother!" repeated the old man. All the other gravediggers were startled. They obeyed the man’s orders.
"Sorry people, may we know the name of the deceased?" He demanded with firmer voice.
"The child who died is Amna’s." Responded boldly one of the gravediggers.
"I understand, I too live here in Mandela, but…I know…."
"You are right." Said Garang.
"I mean the cemetery here is for Muslims, believers only." Said the elderly man.
All the other gravediggers were dumbfounded by the man’s statement.
"The mother of this dead boy has been with you here for long time." One of the gravediggers said from the other side of the grave.
"We know that fact. But this burial ground is not for southerners…not for Christians." Reiterated the old man.
"You mean the Sudanese soil is divided between Muslims and Christians?" Lado asked the old man.
"We have to respect all our religions." Said the agitated man. He thought the gravediggers were belittling him. All other gravediggers were now confronting him. The other two men who accompanied him became shy at the back. Silent. Another gravedigger who had remained silent cleared his voice and said;
"You man, we are divided in life, we are displaced here in the north, where can we find a piece of land for our dead? Even in death you want to discriminate us…you Arabs are strange."
"Keep quiet, we haven’t reach that far yet." Said Michael.
"How long, how long people?" He shouted while being pushed away by other gravediggers. Silence overwhelmed everyone after the man’s comments.
"Brothers I’m not saying that you people are bad. You have your customs and traditions. You are Christians. Get your cemetery but not here." He was infuriated. He was meaning what he came for. No one replied him.
"Let’s us finish quickly before sunset." Urged an annoyed gravedigger in the group. When the old man knew the strong determination of the mourners, he hurriedly announced;
"But Muslims and Christians can’t be buried together here."
The three men slowly slipped away from the anger of the gravediggers. Garang charged after them for a question.
"What is you name uncle?"
"I’m Musa Osman."
He refused to answer other questions Garang presented him. Though he was speaking alone, it seemed the man was representing higher authority not only in Mandela but beyond.
"The boys who were playing here before! One of them betrayed us. Accused us…" said one of the gravediggers to others.
# # #
Serious discussions pursuit among the gravediggers after the departure of the three men. Some southerners were always afraid even to fight for their basic rights. They would melt immediately at the sight of northerners who were considered to be members of the dreaded State Security officials.
"Today we shall see, how long shall we suffer in this land? Is Sudan not the land of the blacks?" Said angrily Athian Ngong, Amna’s immediate neighbor.
"Those are their usual threats to us." Responded another gravedigger.
"Now if all the Muslims and Christians are buried together here, shall they fight below in the ground?" Asked Michael.
"Who knows?" Inquired Lado.
Men possessed all things pertaining to cemetery in Mandela among the Muslims. Every male in the neighborhood was expected to accompany corpses to the cemetery. Back at home in the south, matured family members irrespective of sex, carried corpses. Dead bodies are washed thoroughly, dressed and put in coffins by elderly men and women.
Half an hour before sunset, Amna’s son was on his way to his final material home. His aunt washed his lifeless body thoroughly. Six other women including his wailing mother were trailing behind several men, heading for Mandela cemetery. Amna was not to see how her son was penetrating the soil that rejected almost all the southerners, displaced by war of liberation struggle. The boy’s death marked the beginning of non-native death in the neighborhood. After proper burial, the charismatic leaders of the burial retinue offered few petitions, dirges and eulogy fit for a child’s death. Water and perfume were sprinkled on top of the boy’s grave, with the remaining being poured to other old disfigured graves. This was a common practice of neighborly affection among the dead of Mandela slum. The grave swallowed the water poured on top of it hungrily. It was showing sign of cracks in nearest future. As required by tradition, all the gravediggers washed their hands and tools before departing to Amna’s house where many mourners had already gathered. Where the child’s head was pointing from below the ground, a poorly fashioned wooden cross was placed by one of his uncles. In the dusk, the wooden cross stood alone at the edge of the cemetery. Below the cross, the boy’s shaven hairs, shirt and an empty bottled of Bint Sudan perfume were placed. Michael wrote an inscription on a piece of cartoon and placed it on the wooden cross; PETER ABDALLAH, BORN: 1997 DIED: 2001 MANDELA, KHARTOUM.
Back at home, all the relatives and friends gathered to console Amna on the sudden death of her son that had occurred. Human beings who knew Amna in Mandela slum and beyond occupied a tent for men, shelter for women plus all other corners. All those who knew her since arriving from the south as a young girl were there. Preparations for spending three days for the soul of the boy was made quickly by those around her. Mourners came in between intervals; men, women and children.
What took place at the cemetery before the burial of the boy dominated the talks of the mourners for some time. When the third day arrived, food, drinks and more prayers were offered. Since it was only a boy’s funeral, there was no beating of drums. Those who traveled from parts of Greater Khartoum scattered like dried leaves from a burnt tree. All of them wishing one another; "may peace come quickly to southern Sudan."
Cushmonitor.com Only Independent English Daily
No. 16342 Tuesday Nov. 28 2004 Price LS 1000 Overseas $1
Friendly neighborhood divided over burial:
A child’s grave was desecrated in Mandela’s neighborhood two days after
being properly buried by his family members. Earlier on, some religious fanatics
were said to have attempted…
AIDS: The dieses of our time: by Staff Writer
To mark this year’s World AIDS Day, the president of the republic
is going to have his blood screened live on the national TV by AIDS experts in the country.
Imatong Warriors humiliated!
By Chris Odhiambo
It was unforgettable night for Imatong Football Club after suffering….
# # #
A piece of an old newspaper flew passed the four men who sat under a shelter in Mandela slum, they were relaxing with bottles of strong liquor commonly consumed in the neighborhood. Between them, a bucket of muddy local brew stood standstill, waiting for the same mouths; cigarettes, snuff, plus other intoxicating substances lay in abundance. "We don’t live in this world twice!!!" stressed Kamal; formerly Kamilo Gore, one of the first southern Sudanese who claimed to be an expert of Mandela slum. "Mandela grew on my head. When I first came here, you were still chasing rats in the south. Dr. John Garang was still in Khartoum here planning for his revolution. Yes I was here before the civil war…" Kamal boasted all day long of his seniority in Mandela. He took special pride in his talks. When others asked him about changing his name; he always responded; "if you want to survive, you must change your names guys. Kamal here, Kamilo in the south."
Garang, Lado and Michael joined the drinking party. Mandela neighborhood at the outskirts of Khartoum offered consolation and regrets in life. The effects of civil war and economic failures were clearly manifested in the faces of thousands who trod back at sunset from the great city.
The local dailies were so manipulated that, the people at Mandela’s neighborhood used the newspapers for folding meat, beans, lighting fire, bread and finally ending at the latrine, doing the best job of wiping human exhaust pipe. Women at the neighborhood would go on begging early morning; "give me newspapers, give me papers." You would think they had curiosity for something serious, but the inquiry was only for personal reasons.
There were serious allegations that; the government had banned the usage of nylon bags to promote the sales of wasted tons of unsold newspapers lying in industrial stores. The national TV went on warning citizens on the disastrous effects on the environment caused by un-recycled materials. "Even your animals would die if they munched those nylons." Warned the officials from the government. "We are tired of their lies." People would reply back. Microphones continued to blare from the top of old Toyota pickup car from the Ministry of Culture and Information.
Only one man among the men drinking was interested in reading the piece of the old newspaper being carried by the wind. A woman or a kid might have dropped it from the fence across. "Give me that paper please." Demanded Michael. He looked around to see if a child was there to be sent after the passing newspaper. Finally, the paper landed on the wall across. Michael lifted himself and picked the piece. After sitting down, he began reading the headlines in bold.
Michael had arrived Khartoum from Juba in the south to pursue higher degree in agriculture. Why he ended up in Mandela not in Khartoum University, no body knew. He never wanted to talk about his background. His wife Kaku sent him sixty-seven letters from Juba. He never replied even one, nor did he send Christmas cards for his two children and their worried mother. "He is drinking in Mandela." People would tell her wife back in the south. Michael would pick newspapers from the hands of other drinkers as soon as they reached their usual drinking place.
As Michael absorbed himself in that newspaper, Lado, Garang and other friends were waiting. They would expect to hear which towns had fallen into the revolutionary’s hands in the south.
"Give me, let me see." Michael would say while unfolding the dailies.
When the men were drinking, some of them had to be constantly on the watch from the Public Order Police. Under that shelter, the strict Islamic sharia couldn’t allow them to drink freely in the open as they did in their homeland, Southern Sudan, Nuba Mountains or Darfur. In Mandela, like rest of northern Sudan, consumption of alcohol was illegal. The men would plan to meet under that shelter after coming from the city, traveling the twenty kilometers by various means commonly used by the displaced; donkey cart, rickshaw, lorries and footing for the majority. Garang who had gone to look for some stronger liquor met the wrath of the police on the way before reaching the shelter where others were waiting. As he was trying to make some tactics for escape, one of the policemen pressed him down by the neck.
"Stand on your left leg please." He was ordered.
"Don’t open your rotten mouth."
"You still ask me why?" Shouted the officer.
"Sit down." Ordered another officer, pushing his button on Garang’s face.
"But what did I do?" Asked Garang fearfully.
"You still talk?"
"No commandant." Responded Garang.
The officer was happy when Garang addressed him as Jenabu, officer. Any NCO called as an officer, would become happier at such flattery by those found drinking or drunk. In courts, forty lashes at one’s buttocks were inescapable even by sheer chance of smell by any member of the police force.
"Don’t ever drink again. But see us something quickly." The officer who caught Garang told him.
By the time Garang reached at the shelter where he was earlier, the rest were still drinking, as soon as they saw him, everyone fled. Before they disappeared from the shelter, Michael had broken them the news he found in the old newspaper he had picked. Boldly written in the headline; the grave of Amna’s son was badly desecrated by some religious fanatics. All the women selling things rushed to the cemetery to see the devastation done on the grave of the boy. The cross, inscription, and all other things laid scattered allover Mandela cemetery. Broken beyond recognition. Dogs that live in the cemetery uncovered most of the soil around the grave. They reached for the boy’s soft flesh.
In the emptied Mandela market, flies hovered over various cooked food in open restaurants. Women serving those drinking left for the scene of that destruction. The cemetery was a distant away. Eagles were flying freely with meat, bones and intestines as their owners were away.
"They have done it. They have done it." Women commenting on their way back to the market.
"How can we say we are one if this has happened today…" said another witness.
On the sixth day of the boy’s death, before the tents, chairs and other utensils borrowed for the funeral rite could not yet be returned; Amna’s sorrow began to increase. Her close relatives refused her in the past because she took up strange life in Mandela slum, associating herself only with those who changed their tribal and Christian names to Arab ones. Her parents disowned her because she slept with many red men who had no considerations for in-laws. They were the men, when driven by passion for sex; would do it in front of anyone or just pull those southern women inside mud houses and finish the job. After few minutes, tiny rounded sweats would be dripping down their heads after emerging from inside.
That very evening when Amna was trying to return to her roots, deep sadness befell her like a donkey that was left to die in the bush. As she sat on a dusty mat at the corner of her hut, in the company of few other women, a lamp kept on burning in front of them. Amna supported her head with both hands firmly fixed at her chin. She remembered how Arab men manipulated her, assimilating her into their ways of life to the point of changing her names. She had lured many southern Sudanese girls into marital traps that ended up with murky inter racial cohabitations. She was the first victim of her scheme. Amna’s tears were dropping while the lamp was trying to be blown away by the strong wind penetrating her mud house helplessly. The women who sat near her were discussing common events in the neighborhood.
"These southern men should not go to collect dead chickens from the poultry to pollute us." Sadia said, while despising her southern brothers, whose traditions permitted eating animals and birds that died naturally. The northern Arabs who went to Mandela to drink never ate meat in the houses of their concubines for fear of being animals not properly slaughtered according to Islamic way.
"Amna, forget about all these, Allah will give you another boy." Encouraged Lily, one of her acolytes she groomed to takeover from her one time in life. Amna’s name and the incident of desecration of her son’s grave were spoken of allover Greater Khartoum and beyond. The helpless southerners displaced in millions throughout northern Sudan, had only their hands folded after their analysis of the event at Mandela. Cush Monitor, the newspaper that reported the incident never saw light of publication in the country again. Dead like Amna’s son.