By Jon Pen
My two trips on the Civil Society ticket in two 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 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.
‘THE SODOM THURSDAYS’
A war widow who chatted with me at a roadside tea place late night told me how her two daughters walk to work once in a week. And she ran short of the kind of a job her children do, except with a hint in a fading voice, “They work at a Jallaba man’s house…!”
A day later, one friend told me at a parish in Comboni that they in the church had a nasty name for one particular day in a week; ‘the Sodom and Gomorrah Thursday’!
On Thursdays, it is a tradition of most Arab men to release their wives to visit their relatives and come back after a night. That’s the night a ‘khadam’, say a houselp solely drawn from South Sudanese urban refugees and residents, is brought to stand in for the wife or wives. And they indeed ‘stand in’ the whole day, including a night, for everything!
Sometimes without a pay, and no court case for any abuse behind such gated communities of the afluent Muslims. After all these are Janubeen (South Sudanese) who first made international and bloody noises for their independence, only to later arrive back in form of women and children and rebel fighters.
THE UNDERAGED DISCOTHEQUES
One evening, I went out for a supper with my colleague, James Gatwech. In a Syrian refugee restaurant, black children, as young as 10, could be seen sprinting upstairs and downstairs. We grew curious and serious and attempted to also climb to go and see. “No, sit there!” warned a waiter or a supervisor.
Our curiosity revealed later that it is an ‘afla’, a disco or party. But why exclusively to teenagers and the underaged from South Sudan? No one was specifically addressed in our lone wonderment. There was no sense or sound of music up there, either.
No sooner had we cleared our table than three teenager girls raced downstairs and out to Sheikh Abdelrahaman Street. Another lot followed. Some boys came and sat next to us but one empty table, not attended to by any waiter (waitress is a taboo here)! Some two girls attempted in shift to take bottled water from the freezer but were disarmed of the precious anti-thirst weapons by a miserly waiter
Only an 8-year-looking Syrian boy ran the rrsrestaur orders errand in between. He came to us for a dessert coffee in the desert heat, for it is so hot that we could doze off there and then should we not keep energizing or so. I am, of course, a ‘coffeeholic’.
Then one thin stick-leggeded girl came back. She found us still cursing on their, especially her, dressing style. I am a party goer but this picture traumatized me. “Are we really in the Shari’a-numbed Khartoum?” I asked, but myself.
Syrian or Arab diners were laughing at the kids’ up and down traffic for much ado about nothing. Oh yes, the girl came back from across the road with a stone. “How can she collect and operate a weapon larger that her own head?” I asked James jokingly, but with a heavy heart. She laboriously ferried it upstairs.
Five minutes later, after some squeaky commotion, a Syrian boy brought it back downstairs, carried out a quick exhibition of the stone to his old boss and the rest of us, restaurant frequenters. As usual, their type of Arabic appeared to me like they were speaking in tongues. So he took it back to where it belonged, across the city street.
A bunch of boys and girls were coughing curses in a heavily-accented Arabic at one another on the four corners of the street. Then hurriedly, all the toddlers from upstairs were herded downstairs at such a breakneck speed. In a blink of my eye, a roller coaster bus pulled up at the restaurant’s gate. They scrambled for it and were crammed into it while exchanging both physical and verbal punches. It sped off our sight. It was now 10pm.
Could the child revellers be an orphanage? A black-only school? A foreign child racket? Or some South Sudanese aristocrats? It was a staggering population of between 100 and 200 infants and teenies and a handful of tweenies.
Now, our final answer, which was in a simultaneous chorus, goes like this: “our people must be taken back home now and not later”! In a holier-than-thou tone, we cursed the war and its authors and went back to our hotel with more stress than we had gone to dump.
A few days down the line, on our last Sunday, another crowd of teenagers appeared. My way from Comboni Catholic Chapel (I am a non-segregative Protestant) was clogged with hand-holding youngsters, if not love gangsters. I took it as a normal South Sudanese Sunday dispersion style.
No, it came closer to our Regency Hotel gate…until a group of rastas entered and stepped upstairs. That was our dining place. We wondered, this time aloud to both counters of the Reception and then in turn to the NISS operatives, who openly do the internal watchman’s thing in every hotel in Sudan.
I hear ours is headed there, too, as empowered by the Draconian NSS Bill of 2014, which naturally matured into a law when it overstayed the President’s signature on his table.
We later got a satisfactory answer when we asked the South Sudanese youth themselves. It was another ‘afla’. My Kampala-based friend, Amule Michael, of the NAS-Tabuley faction angrily crossed the ground floor from upstairs while we were chatting away the first half of our blazing night there. I shouted behind him and his eyes regretted why he came. They were duped as VIP entrants. “They told us that Queen Zee was going to perform here today. It’s a scam!” So he rushed after his outgoing friends.
There was no Queen Zee. I only saw some ‘Queen G’s’ being pulled up by their opposite pairs. At least, unlike in the toddlers’ disco, there was a pop sound this time. And the usual up and down traffic of the non-creative revellers.
James pinched a lift to his 5th floor room. Because of my daily diary thayI had to write a very morning, I was lke, “Kede let me go up and see.” I saw nothing but some recklessly dancing kids. Soon they were on their way down and out and about. Imagine a 1-hour party!
Then the usual road lining ritual by the unlike-pole pairs on some sort of suppressed youth affairs. The last time I woke up was 2am and, peeping through my room window, I could still catch sight of a handful of pairs negotiating late night taxi fares here and there.
However, the best part of this Sharia-run, if not ruined, city is that no dark corners for the youth to dash into for a smooth smooch or so. Unlike our Juba, hotels here would demand at the counter a couple to deposit their marriage certificate and passports before entering the room. Anything less than that, the lady goes to a unisex hotel, if any.
If one steals it by stealth, a street court will determine the case, but only on a lady. The boyfriend enjoys both ways: in the ‘illegal’ bedroom activity as well as (in case of a sadist) in the caning or stoning of the same girlfriend in the street. I pity the Muslim female world.
Oh no! Did I just say I pity the Muslim women? OK, I pity the more our South Sudanese women in the north. And that’s why they must return home, today and not tomorrow.
NB: Part II is coming tomorrow. But, again, our people in Sudan as well as out there, including me, this refugee writer, must be repatriated like today and today. Even if the politicians who are going to sign our peace this week are flickering another J1’s flare up, our desperate people must go back home, whatsoever. Well, this time around, the South Sudanese victims could participate in killing their leaders instead of themselves should war break out for the third round in 5 years.
Watch this space for tomorrow (Tuesday, 11 September 2018)