Together we walk in sisterhood

I remember that day in October 2007 quite vividly. She held my hands tightly, and her voice became a whisper. I could see her face turn colour, and I felt chills down my spine and felt this was bad news. It seemed like eternity before s finally hang up, and her first words were barely comprehensible, “there is a curfew”.

I remember looking at Justa helplessly as I tried to have the words sink in. Here I was barely a month into my work in Southern Sudan, and the idea of a curfew just spelled doom for me. I had never in my lifetime experienced a curfew. I used to hear stories from my mother about the curfews during the Kenyan colonial period but had never quite been able to comprehend what that meant. It was impossible for me to figure out how one can be restricted in movement yet here we were. Justa had received a call from her husband in Kenya wondering if we were ok ‘now that there was curfew’ in Juba. That was news. None of us was conversant with the Arabic language. The announcements of the curfew that were made in the streets escaped our attention due to the language barrier so here we were caught unaware about the curfew. We were yet to get to the official work station to access email hence when our driver indicated he would not be able to come, we had started wondering how to hire transport, and when we were still trying to figure this out the call came. We just held hands in fear and wondered what next? We started thinking practically, and we realised that we barely had drinking water in the house with only half a litre bottle between us so we decided to take a walk to the shopping centre and get some drinking water.

Once we got outside the gate, our neighbours warned us that there is to be ‘no movement’! “We just want to get to the hopping centre, about 500 metres away?” we explained to them. Juma, one of the men looked at us with pitiful eyes, am sure pitying our innocence as he explained that even the shops are closed and nobody is supposed to make any movement outside their home. Our neighbours were seated outside their gate and so we helplessly went back to the house. We didn’t know what to say or do, we felt a deep fear with the knowledge that we were far from home, the telephone network was jammed so we could barely communicate with our relatives in Kenya; we cold not access internet so we were stuck. We just held hands and hoped all will be well and started thinking and hoping for better days.

A thudding knocking at the gate sent us into panic until Magdalena, a Sudanese woman friend who treated us as her daughters called out. We opened the gate and she hurriedly told us that she had asked for permission from the army men guarding the area pleading that she needed to see ‘her daughters’ who were foreigners and one had been ill hence needed to make sure we were alright and make us know what was happening since we didn’t understand the language. She hurriedly told us to be calm, assured us that we would be okay and that if the military were to knock our gates we should open since they were looking for illegal arms. We felt better after that as we hurdled together wondering if the night mare would be over any time soon. Somehow as we held hands in fear, we felt at peace and even started laughing and sharing stories to make us forget this whole drama. Eventually we learnt from our Sudanese colleague and driver who came to pick us later that the curfew had been called off. I will never forget the feeling I had that day and the feeling of ‘want to be home back home’

When I came back to Kenya, I felt that I was finally home, safe Kenya, home sweet home until the worst post elections violence erupted in 2007/2008. For most of this period I was in trauma, dazed wondering what I can do to make a difference. I felt very insignificant and my experience though short lived in a post conflict nation made me even more wary. Having seen how conflict impacts negatively on a nation, I was convinced that the ethnic diversities and interests should be secondary to peace yet many Kenyans felt a need to support ‘one camp against the other’ It was really madness.

The high moment out of this depression for me was when we went as an organisation (YWLI) to distribute sanitary items to women, girls and lactating mothers in the IDP camps. We provided items that were mostly forgotten in the humanitarian aid, which included sanitary pads, inner pants, lessos and reusable diapers for lactating mothers. One woman commented that ‘only young women can understand what we go through, we have never got such kind of assistance’. At one time while in Molo (Rift Valley) the older women, were so happy with the lessos we gave them that they broke into a dance that I will never forget. As I joined them in the dance, I realised that in sisterhood we walk, we stumble and rise up and walk! It made the violence more manageable, the strength of sisterhood. After what we went through together, Justa has remained a very treasured friend.

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