- Posted February 27, 2011 by
Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Sudan
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Your photos from 'Inside Africa'
Homecoming, Part 2: Forgotten
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
I went to visit Nyibok again today, who had arrived in the bus from Khartoum earlier in the week. She was digging in her trunk, taking out her last few clean items of clothing for her children. Her face opened into a smile as I came near.
“You remembered us.”
She has 6 children, 2 of which are twins (photo 2). She has a kindness about her, and I was drawn to her immediately when I first met her. She talked about her journey to Khartoum as a little girl, remembering seeing others “slaughtered and caught with the bullet.” She lost her mother and her father on the way. She has seen tragedy as a child that she can never erase. Yet she carries herself with strength and grace.
Her family has settled right where the bus stopped, under a small acacia tree. Her husband has gone to look for grass to build their shelter.
I asked her how her first night was back in her homeland. "We are happy to be back. But it was very hard for the children,” she said. “Our children are hungry, and we don’t have food. We were told there would be food. We are almost out of what we brought with us,” she says with a concerned tone, pointing to a dwindling bag of beans.
Many of the returnees are still sitting on their beds in the open, surrounded by piles of their belongings. Some are resting in the heat of the day with their children, others like Adut are braiding hair. As I talk with them, they echo Nyibok’s sentiments.
“It is bad in Khartoum, I will tell you,” said Adut, concentrating on her daughter’s hair as she skillfully braids each piece (photo 1). “We couldn’t plant there, and we were paid badly. We are better to be here, but we are worried about food. We have come with no food from the north.” She pauses and looks up at me. “How can we feed our children? It feels like we have been forgotten.”
I hear more accounts that the returnees were told that they would receive food and water once they arrived, that there were many organizations to take care of them until they settled in and began planting. But here, that is not the case. There is not enough room to plant and harvest, and the water situation is getting dire.
In another nearby returnee camp (video 9), a crowd gathers around the water point. From afar, you can see the lines of jerry cans, extending out from each side. Row after row they form, thirsty women and children waiting their turn. Some let their jerry cans hold their place in line as they roam around the camp to take care of other business. The number of cans continues to grow as the sun gets higher and hotter.
I count 323.
I come upon Abuk (photo 5). She looks tired. She is crouching down by the tap, her head resting on her hands as she waits for the clean water to fill her jerry can. She is there with her sister-in-law, Akol.
I ask her how long she has been waiting her turn. She tells me she arrived at midnight. I look at my watch. It is 11:30 am. Nearly twelve hours later, and she is just beginning to fill up her can. “We have been back from Khartoum for one month, and there are still issues with the water, and with food. My whole day, every day, is taken up by gathering water. And still, this will not be enough. I will have to come back later. I can only carry so much.” Akol chimes in. “What will we do in March and April when it gets up to 50 Celsius? We will need more water…,” she looks away. “I worry that one day, there won’t be enough water here.”
Abuk finishes one can and puts another down, the edge of her floral wrap drags in the muddied water surrounding the tap as she readjusts the tap.
“Much is better now here in the south. We have freedom, all we did was work, sleep, work, sleep in the north. But this water situation,” she pauses as she tsk tsks and clicks her tongue, shaking her heard. “It is very bad. When I left here, water was not a problem. When the enemy came in, they destroyed our wells and water points- everything ruined. We hoped coming back, things would be restored.”
As she continues another woman named Augom comes up and begins drinking thirstily out of her jerry can (photo 8) . I find out her tribe is indigenous to the area, and hid in the bush for many years during the war. Her wells were ruined, and now she makes a two hour trek to come here to fight for water among the returnees. She is pregnant.
“The returnees are my brothers and sisters. We are all ready for peace, we’ve been so oppressed. But we are now concerned that many will die from lack of water and food. What more can we handle?” she says.
“It feels as though we’ve been forgotten.” It quiets for a moment, and others nod their heads.
Forgotten. This weighted word has found its way into the fabric of the conversation in these communities and hangs overhead. You can almost feel it lingering in the air.
It seems that this part of the story is just beginning. As the days go by and more returnees come home, the promises of adequate water and areas to grow food seem less realistic. There are organizations in this region like Samaritan’s Purse who are drilling wells and working to meet the needs of the returnees, but there are restrictions set by local officials as to what more aid groups can do... restrictions intended to make areas less liveable and permanent so returnees have no choice but to move into the outskirts of town to make their lives.
But with little resources, many are settling off main routes with nothing but what they've carried to their name. Which begs the question: what will be provided for them to rebuild their lives?
I watch Abok and Akul balance their containers on their heads and walk toward their home, some 13 hours later from when they started (photo 7). They will make the hour journey with just enough light in the day to drop their water off, turn around, and do it again. Augom’s pregnant silhouette is not far behind.
I promised these courageous women that I would tell others of the challenges they are facing, in hopes that more would be allowed to be done here for them.
“I hope you will not forget the people of South Sudan and our children,” said Nyibok. “Please, do not forget us.