War stories

On the 16th of December I woke up early feeling strangely rested on a Monday morning. I had decided not to set my alarm after receiving a text message from my boss telling me to not come to work in the morning because of fighting among the presidential guard. I thought I had heard gunfire just before receiving his message, but my reaction to shootings is a bit different now from when I heard it the first time in Juba. This night, being stressed about finishing up before Christmas and annoyed by the neighbor’s new, massive and noisy generator, my initial reaction was only irritation, “Oh great! Fighting! And I was hoping for a good night’s sleep!” With my neighbor’s new generator drowning out the sound of shootings I had managed to sleep through the fighting.

Still in my pyjamas I stepped into the kitchen. None of my housemates were yet up. The power was off. From outside I could hear something that sounded like explosions. The fighting that had started last night was still going on.

I wandered out on the balcony. It was cold. I have never felt cold in Juba but this morning the temperature was below 20 degrees. Hugging myself to keep warm I stood and listened to the explosions and gunfire.

Boom! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta… Boom! Boom! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta….

No sound of birds. No sound of voices from children walking to the school across the street. No morning sun to warm me up. No generator on. No kids shouting, “Morning! Morning!”. In hot and noisy Juba I had never experienced a morning like this. While listening to the surreal background noise of explosions and shootings, trying to comprehend the situation one thought came to mind, “So this is what war sounds like.”

Half an hour later the Swedish Embassy in Khartoum called me. “Where are you? Stay inside and wait for information!” That’s when I started realizing that the situation was far more serious than anything I had experienced before in Juba.

It is hard to describe the days that followed. Hiding from gunfire in the hallway. Staying in touch friends in Juba. Informing people back home. Preparing for evacuation. Sleeping in the corner of my bed to keep away from the window. Saying goodbye to friends who managed to evacuate. Trying to locate colleagues  (some of them I still haven’t heard back from). Receiving news about the death of colleagues. Finally evacuating after five extremely stressful days.

A good friend told me that now I have a story to tell and now I would understand the war stories he has been telling me. “A story like this is special and doesn’t come easy”, he said. As special as it is, now I am one of those too many people with a war story. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have been affected by this conflict and with them there are hundreds of thousands of war stories. The new generation South Sudanese, who were born and raised during peace, now have a new generation of war stories to tell. Not to mention the war stories that are being told from other parts of the world.

I deeply wish for 2014 to be the year we start telling love stories.

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