If I could chase after the wind, would I fly away at the break of dawn like a lonely crow seeking its murder?
I often wonder what it’d be like if my mother hadn’t made the journey here, to Kenya. How she held on to 3 children out on the Nairobi streets those first few days, before she learnt to speak in such elegant Swahili. I also wonder about the fire in here breath when she cussed me out for being mischievous, I remember her saying “I’ve the devil in me”. The fire in her eyes only glows occasionally nowadays; the years have trodden on our spirits. Years and years of eroded memory have brought us this apathy; we can go days if not weeks without having a conversation, so long as I am home at the end of the day. To put it mildly, we’ve lived a life on rent. Everyday the agony that bewilders us after walking out the door is that we’ll be a shilling poorer paying extra just to get along. Its not extortion if you don’t complain after all, a cleverer man would call it negotiations. Everyday we pay a price for overstaying our welcome, sometimes I forget that we came for education and wish this were a second home.
I’ve lived life unremarkably, always at the back of the line shy, silently waiting to get past the barrier of the first “hello”. From there, the conversation could go either of two ways,
“are you Sudanese?” to which I’d answer, “yes,”
“your Swahili is good, were you born in Kenya?” the answer, “no”.
So many things have been said after these two phrases; they have almost become a machination of my fate. Sometimes I could hear the bullshit ringing in their voice as they went on about their Sudanese connections, telling me about how rich we are or simply just extravagant. Had they known then to be silent, but that’s never how it ends, there’s always an outcry for a handout: a future plan of business or even asking for the next meal. But it’d be unfair not to mention the few who diligently welcomed us as brothers and sisters; the well-wishers who pray with us for deliverance and some who I’d daresay have been friends.
So many times I’ve wondered how I’d tell my story, Born in exile from my motherland, trying to hold on to the few memories of home, that fleeting month that came and went in the December of 2008. I don’t know how to begin the tale that goes, “one day I was 17 wishing on tomorrow to make up my mind, and now it turns out that for the rest of my life..”. That story never began, I had a blank canvas on which I had a name and a family that grew and shrunk with the places we lived. Ours was always a story of long awaited goodbyes and passing regards. Never did I think that I’d one day be at the cusp of my departure, having to ask myself about the continuity of some friendships and also dreading whatever waits on the other side of the bridge.
The first time I went to sudan, It was still united. I was a naïve 17 year old, fresh out of high school, dreaming of a home that had no imagery. No huts were ever painted in my head, just the mosaic of several broken mud thatched houses of an old village in Kapenguria or Kakuma; perhaps even a combination of both memories. The children playing half naked in a far away part of the world, dry ashy limbs attracting flies or even the dreaded picture of a vulture stalking a starving child, but never really an image from memory. I got to the JKIA airport, sat by myself listening to my newly acquired ipod shuffle playing a cold play song “yellow”. Several rock songs later, the seatbelt sign was put off after the plane had long since taken off; I watched the scattering clouds, distant nimbus clouds and the heavens move into the blue, as the two hours quickly drifted by. I fell in love with the river nile at first sight as we approached the juba airport. I got off the plane to be met by the hot, humid, dusty air of juba. For a moment I couldn’t catch my breath, I sobered up after noticing a cousin of mine who had lived in Eldoret before his departure. The surprise was short lived after he told me my father had informed him of my arrival time.
The two weeks I stayed in juba before going to visit my grandmother were spend idling in my father’s office and getting introduced to my fathers comrades. The pleasant compliments of my resemblance with my father were often exaggerated; someone actually said I looked like his younger brother. To be honest, those few days went so fast that on the day of the departure I realized how little I knew about juba. I had hardly learnt Arabic, other than the names of food and beverages and asking to be taken somewhere, I had found the basketball court by chance after visiting a cousin and being told he’d left. During those days, there was a lot of happiness and a welcoming calmness about the people. The days were long and the food was sweeter, the air was heavier but the smile on my face at the end of the day was cherished.
There’s no place like home: The road was bumpy and the journey didn’t seem to end. We drove all night and half the day till we got to Wau, the nearest town deep inside sudan. Then preceded on to Turalei where we spent two nights with my cousin, we found out that the shortest route to my home village had been flooded and so we had to go back a few kilometers to Wunrok, which was consequently the longer route. Hours of trading through muddy water and getting pricked with tiny thorns in the murky water brought us to a village where we relied on a shopkeeper’s kindness to find a place to sleep. I’d never slept on the cold hard ground, let alone the uneven ground, with the earth pressing against my ribs and mosquitoes buzzing high above the mosquito net we’d been given. Morning came so fast that I was left wishing for more time, the previous evening we’d been warned about continuing the journey as there’d been a lion’s den afew kilometers outside the village. If you’ve seen the map of south sudan, you’d notice that its largely semi arid in the Bahr-El-Gazal region, the plains have long been our home. We went through another 3 or so settlements before getting to my father’s home village, Mayen Abun, named after the long standing brick church left by the Christian missionaries.
That one-month that I’d stayed; getting pampered by relatives who had long awaited my arrival: since birth. They had seen photos of me as a chubby newborn with my petulant lip staring at the cameraman with intense curiosity. They knew of two places in Kenya, Nairobi and kakuma/kapenguria depending on their number of interactions. They also knew of distant places where some of their relatives had scattered, only by name of course, they could tell you of a cousin who sent money from Australia for medical care or a visiting relative coming back home for bride price negotiations. In those days and weeks that I’d stayed, I was fed and visited by relations I’d never known, told of relationships that hardly fit within the English context and teased with marriage as a reason to stay abit longer in sudan. But the days went by faster than expected and by the end of New Year celebrations I’d already packed, ready to go back to juba. My big brother’s semester was almost starting in Malaysia and he couldn’t stay any longer than the 2 weeks he’d had catching up with the people from home. He had come to sudan four years prior to my arrival and had stayed a while longer than my one month.
The weeks preceding the release of KCSE results were the longest weeks in my life; I was once again lost in the anxiety of an uncertain future. I did a lot of Internet searches of universities I would like to attend and checked up on the requirements for the 3 main courses I’d chosen, law, medicine and engineering. I met up with old school mates and also had a lot of fun before joining campus. Those were the days when I could knowingly smile like a guilty pleasure that remained undisclosed. I had so much hope and was often excited at the possibility that in a few years I’d have a home of my own. Maybe even get down to building a brick house for my grandmother on her farm, or perhaps know how to milk cows on my own. I had a thirst for life like never before and that seemed to be my undoing, the apathy I had long developed was becoming undone by my own impatience and excitement over the discovery of home.
Now, months before graduation from law school, a graduation that has been 2 years in waiting, I find myself again biting my lip and wishing the days could move faster. You see, its not the thought of going home that drives me now, it’s more of a wish to get away. I want to be free again to discover a world beyond the windowpanes. Where the hollow ring of the echoes bring no pain, the haunting of faceless voices, long ago purged from memory after departure. To escape the long fought war for my independence, not just from my parents but also from the victim mentality of having thing done to me rather than accepting and moving on. While most people my age are busying themselves in their offices, I’ve had days when I felt captive in the daily routines of having a life on hold; the slow drifting days after finishing a chore, no place to go, just a long wait for the evening and the restless nights waiting for dawn. So I always wonder, if I were to go, would I fly away or go by road? I would plan my journey to be in the dead of the night so it would feel like an escape, so that I wouldn’t remember leaving neither would I look back. I’d hold on to the anxiety before departure, to let my mind run a mock of all the possibilities that await on the other side, knowing there’d be going back. Before the bus leaves, i’d take a picture of the darkening window, should there be a light stream from passing cars or a reflection of my face on the window, that image would be my getaway.