The Easter break has coincided with my induction to South Sudanese culture, or at least to a small portion of it, since more than 200 tribes, each with their own language and custom, form the shape of this country.
Saturday preceding Palm Sunday, Daniel, the project director, has invited me for a funeral to his hometown in Lainya county. Nobody has never invited me for a funeral before and I have never thought that I could be so happy to go to such an event. The funeral celebrated the death of an elderly member of Daniel’s family who left this world 3 years ago without having a proper ceremony that accompanied his last journey, since the economy of the family couldn’t assure a decent party at that time. A funeral usually last more than 3 days and requires that all the members of the clan are invited to exchange goats that would be eaten after the religious functions and before the dances. If we consider that Daniel’s clan is the biggest of the whole county, counting 13 families under its umbrella, we can easily imagine why they waited 3 years to hold a decent reception. But now time (and wealth) has come and here I am, seated under a gazebo listening to a pastor who makes the audience bursts into laughter every two sentences of his speech. Unfortunately I don’t understand what he is saying, and Daniel who was patiently translating for me, has now gone to fetch water for the guests. The only words I pick up are: hallelujah, amen, ibis. I think I am too much Ibis-focused and I just heard this name everywhere but Daniel’s cousin, who has now taken his place next to me, explained me that this kind of gathering are often used to mobilize and sensitize communities to encourage enrolment and retention in school. I realize that those are what are called ‘Education Advocacy Activities’, and that the guy who said the word Ibis was not the comic-pastor, but one of our local government counterpart, since Lainya is part of our ALP program.
Prayers are over and we find restore under the shadow of a tukul, where Daniel, his cousin, Ibis counterpart and I, eat delicious goat stew and drink
Nile beer. Daniel explains me that he belongs to the
tribe called pojulu, that together
with the kuku and kakwa belong to the bari group, the largest ethnic minority of .
80% of the South Sudanese population are instead dinka,
who are traditionally a pastoralist
community as the mundari. Living
together in such a melting pot is hard, and recent inter-tribal clashes showed
that Central Equatoria State South Sudan is still in search of a
common identity. “But things are not easy for a new country” says Daniel, whose
borders are, somehow, simpler to define than its sense of nation.
Music has started and the youth will soon drink and dance, but we have to go back to Yei (probably because we are not young anymore..) before dark gets darker.
Chilling out in Kajo Keji
Thanks to Abdu’s hospitality, I spent my Easter holidays at his home in Kajo Keji, a lovely town right at the border with
I first reach Abdu in Juba where he has gone in advance to apply for his jinsia or Nationality Certificate, a document that has become quite valuable since the majority of job applications are for ‘South Sudanese nationals only’. The latter must provide a witness who demonstrate their relationship with their own country and Abdu’s uncle proves to be the right candidate, since Abdu has successfully got his jinsia and is now applying for his passport, while I wait outside the Immigration Bureau drinking avocado juice and filling the first sudoku of my life. It’s too late to go to Kajo Keji as we initially planned, so we spent the night at Abdu’s sister’s place, where her daughter entertains me singing the national anthem that she has just learnt at school and teaching me Juba Arabic.
The day after, Rose, our
colleague, who is also from Kajo Keji and is going with a friend’s car back
home, give us a lift. The road to Kajo Keji lies in very bad conditions,
besides we are 6 in
a car and I am squeezed between Abdu and two other plump individuals. It’s a
painful journey that at the same time brings me back pleasant memories of past trips
with always too many people for a single auto. Fortunately, the miserable
position doesn’t discourage my travel companions from discussing passionately.
Rose, Abdu and the others are all in their 30s and have all found refuge in during
the war. Despite having spent almost 20
years of their life eating one food-ration per day, they have not only suffered
deprivation in the camps, but have also had the chance to get an education that
now pays off. They are in fact, the backbone of a South-Sudanese intellectual middle
class, prepared and committed to reconstruct and lead the country. Uganda
After 6 hours ride and flat tyre in between, we are finally at Abdu’s house surrounded by his smiling wife and his 4 happy children.
The relaxing serenity of a deserved holiday is what characterize my days in Kajo Keji. I oversleep every day, eat tons of mangos every three hours, play with the kids every minute. I also go downtown with Abdu, involve myself in surreal conversation with the neighbours (“ Is your country there?”—asks the old lady pointing somewhere in the horizon — “…..yes…..” — “I knew it: you people come all from the direction of sunset”), listen to Italian music with Father Ezio, a Comboni father who lives there since three years. On Easter Sunday, I discover that Abdu is actually a Muslim and that I will spend Easter in alternative day: I will wash his car.
Abdu is the first person I know who has bought a car on-line from a Japanese retailer who shipped it from
Tokyo to ,
and he is probably one of the few people in Kajo Keji to own one. If buying a
car is the dream of every well-respected family, in Abdu’s case it has made the
joy of the whole neighbourhood. All the children of the area are in fact
willing to clean the car, certain that this will ensure a ride around the
countryside. We have almost an entire kindergarten seated in the back, Mombasa
who fall asleep 10 minutes after we get off. They are surely used to the luxurious vegetation, waving hills and limpid blue sky that I greedily admire from the window.
It’s hard to come back from holidays especially when it means leaving the fresh air of Kajo Keji for the hot air of Juba, but we have to stop by the capital on our way to Yei, because Abdu has to pick up his brand-new passport of his brand-new country. We compare it with the Sudanese one he used until 9 July, 2011, that didn’t allow him to go to
Now he can go everywhere.