so if you haven’t been following my previous posts over the course of this year, my wife has recorded an album and started following a career path as a singer. She started in February and put her focus on singing about current issues in Southern Sudan. These revolve around implementing the peace agreement between the North and the South, striving for peaceful relations between various ethnic communities and trying to figure out the way forward at so many different levels of so many different things.
Up to this point she has done quite well. She is often featured on the local television and radio stations in Juba, Sudan as well as several other major towns throughout the south. She has been featured in several newspapers both in Kenya and Sudan and she has been making a number of performances all over the place.
We just finished a three week project with PACT, an organization in southern sudan that works with local communities to encourage peace in areas where there has been a lot of conflict between between tribes. They agreed to send Mary to two different communities where they work to make performances and give out copies of her music with the hope that the messages within the music might contribute to the peace process in these parts of Southern Sudan.
Our first stop was a place called Kuajok. This is the state capital for Warrap State in Southern Sudan. It is located in the mid-western part of southern sudan. It is a couple of hours drive north of a town called Wau. We flew to Wau and then had to find transport from there up to Kuajok by road.
The road was very nice, except for the middle. The government recently refurbished long stretches. The good part of the road is a mix of red dirt and gravel grazed and leveled. They call it an all weather road cause it doesn’t get too muddy when it rains. The middle part of the road is mainly a white powdery dirt that, when it gets wet, makes big puddles of sludge that can trap just about anything. It is also full of big holes. Driving on it was almost like riding a roller coaster. Our driver said that the big dips were formed by very big lorries driving from the North. They would get stuck in the road and dig themselves out and once they had dug out they didn’t bother to fill the holes back up. I’m not really sure if this was true or not. The consistency and location of the holes seemed to indicate something else.
I was slightly underwhelmed when we reached Kuajok. Because it is a state capital, i was expecting a bit more than what we found. The majority of the town is centered on the one road that goes through it. You know you have reached Kuajok because of the large market that lines the road for about a kilometer on either side. Other than the market, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything. There are a couple of old buildings, one small hotel and a block of prefabricated buildings that have been put up to serve as government offices.
We spent 5 days in the place. Most of the time we stayed in the hotel training some local youth as dancers with Mary for her performances. On the fourth day, we did our first performance. We were not very sure it was going to take place until the last minute. Issues with getting the sound system in place. There was no one with a car to take it from its storage to the big open spot where we made the show. But everything came together in the end.
It was fun. The crowd was very big and excited. There was no stage, so they kept an area in the center of the crowd clear so Mary could perform. Standing in center, it felt like being surrounding by a sea of faces. You couldn’t see over the top of all the people or anything that was behind them. The security wasn’t the best. As the show went on the center area got smaller and smaller as people were pushing in to get a better look. At one point they almost completely swallowed up the clearing and were about to over run Mary, the Dancers and the place where the sound system was set up. Then some men took some long Bamboo sticks and started threatening and beating a few people until the crowd started to surge backwards and open up some more space.
Kuajok really enjoyed the show. So many people were disappointed to hear that Mary wasn’t going to stick around and do more in the coming days. Unfortunately our time was limited and we had to start on our way back to catch a flight to Juba.
We had some difficulty in finding transport to get back to Wau. We got a bit concerned that we would get back late and miss our flight to Juba the following day. After about 5 hours of searching and haggling we finally got our ride. We then travelled back to wau and got a chance to see the town there a bit.
Wau isn’t much of town, but is alot more of a town than Kuajok was. It is a very dusty place. It rained a little bit when we arrived, so the dust wasn’t causing us problem and the temperatures were good. It has alot more buildings and feeling of infrastructure than many other places within the south. It is also very peaceful in comparison to Juba. There are not as many cars clogging up the roads and people seem to still operate at a rather relaxed pace.
Mary was very excited on two points when we arrived in Wau. The first was because when we got there we found out that the local SPLM office had been arranging for her to make a small performance before we left to Juba. She was all set to go, but then it decided to rain and the show had to be cancelled. The second reason she was excited was because she found a friend of hers that she was very close to in Nairobi that had moved to Wau two years ago. Since her friend had gone to wau, Mary had lost contact with her. They were glad to get the chance to meet each other again.
We came back to Juba and spent a few more days there before continuing on with the project. Mary got the chance to perform at an exposition for an NGO as well as participating in a government sponsored event in the same evening. The next day, both of the shows she had done were aired on local TV.
The second and final part of our project took place in a town called Bor. Bor sits along the Nile river north of Juba. By plane it takes about half an hour to get there and by road is about six hours. We had originally meant to travel there by car, but there had been some insecurity along the way. So we flew instead. I had been very eager to drive there, but have to admit I was not disappointed to get there the quick way.
We had some hesitation about going to Bor. It is primarily populated by Dinka, one of the largest tribes in southern sudan. Mary is a Murle and her people are neighbors to bor and the Dinka. The Murle and Dinka don’t have a very good history together. They often get into skirmishes over cattle. The Murle get blamed as the ones to start the trouble, but it go both ways most of the time. Due to these relations, we were not very sure how the community would respond to a Murle coming to sing about peace.
Overall, they responded very well. There were no problems with the fact that she was Murle. The day of her first performance there was a small incident though that caused us a bit of concern. A man, whom everyone said was drunk, did his best to disrupt the show and even tried to follow her when she left seemingly with the intent to do her some kind of harm. He apparently was doing this because of an alleged recent attack on some of his relatives by Murle. He decided that since she was Murle, he should take “revenge” on her. Fortunately, nothing happened and we were assured by the local police that the man was going to be arrested once they figured out where he had run off to.
Other than this scary man, we had a very good time in Bor. mary made two different performances and the people responded to her very well. Things were very similar in Bor as they had been in Kuajok in terms of the performance location and the crowd in bor seemed almost twice the size of Kuajok. Security was much better. While mary was performing, a number of people came out to give her money and get a chance to dance with the “Fernaan” (a phonetic spelling for an arabic word which means “singer”).
This had to be the most memorable show she did on this trip. In part because of the crazy man and then because of what happened at the end. Mary started her last song. It was going well until someone brought one of the boxes that contained her cassettes. he came up with the brilliant idea that during the song he would throw them into the crowd. This was why we had brought them, they were supposed to be given out free. The biggest problem is that this idea had no coordination. When he brought the box and started handing out tapes, everyone in that crowd wanted to get there hands on one. All of the sudden people were rushing to where the box was and all chaos broke out. Everyone swarmed to a central point and began grabbing, fighting and doing whatever they could to get a cassette. This lasted only a couple of minutes and when it was finished and people were dispersing, the box was completely destroyed and the ground was littered with broken fragments of plastic casings. I guess that is one way to give out things, but it seems to be a little bit dangerous.
overall we had a great experience. Mary got the chance to sing her music to people whom she had made it for. We both got the chance to travel through parts of Southern Sudan, see some new places and meet new people and old friends. We can’t wait for the next chance we get to go.