By Steve Paterno
December 22, 2013 - The most excited Christmases are those we so much anticipated and then celebrate memorably, because of the joys associated with those festivities, and the horrible Christmases are those we don’t even know it is Christmas, because something very much depressing happen to deprive us from enjoyment.
Being born and growing up in South Sudan, formerly, known as Sudan, I have a vivid memories of excited Christmases. For example, there were shopping trips and anticipation for the Christmas goodies. Ironically, my best memory of this is when we went as a family for Christmas shopping at a Malakia market in Juba and my elder brother somehow got lost from our family pact and ended up in the middle of some strange crowd. When we discovered he was lost, we retraced our steps back and eventually found him frantically screaming and surrounded by a crowd, "ana der mama tai, ana der mama tai..."!! When we looked at the scene, he actually appeared more stranger to us than the rest of those crowd, because all my siblings, including myself refer to my mother by her actual name. Anyway, we picked him up and by then I wished he was the right guy, I mean my brother, given the hysterical mode he displayed.
Then, there were those memorable Christmases Eve. Those of course were characterized by the full nights of baking cookies, cooking, and the scene of food that accompanied it all. Excitedly, at the the times, I would try my best to keep up with these late night activities, but unfortunately, those burning charcoals would flare up and land on me, where I will scream, ouched!, and then discovered to only be sent to sleep. However, even in my sleeps, I will be waiting for the day, the Christmas Day, the day of Joy for the Christ.
This then followed by the actual day, where there are just much excitements to remember throughout. The Church, which is the starting schedule of the day is mind blowing. The choirs and hymns ring angels in my ears. Then, after Church, it follows by visiting homes after homes of strangers, who all have welcoming open hands to provide candies, cookies, juice, and whatever they could to please us, the kids.
Such pleasant experience of Christmas of a South Sudanese Child was also contrasted by a non pleasant experience, where I could not even remember Christmas at all, because of the circumstances surrounding me. Even though there were many of those worst Christmases I had, the most I can remember was 1992, which is in tune with this Christmas of 2013. We were just months ago defeated from our strong hold of Torit town by the archenemy of Khartoum. At sleepless nights, I could hear the enemies chanting on their victory, but I could not resign in defeat to sleep it off, as it bothered me. By then, I had to join my other immediate relatives traveling from one place to another, most of which on foot. As I was on my way to my immediate family in a village of Ohiri, I got held back for months, within the surrounding villages. The report was, CDR. William Nyoun, who was second in command of SPLM/A just defected from the movement and was very much present in the area I was going through.
I had to survive on generosities of others, moving from one village into another, at snail pace, with a hope of reaching my relatives. At the time, hell was already broken loose. Lives became valueless. Killings were every where, the killing of innocent souls I am talking about. Rumors were also abound. For example, in the case of some of my relatives, we had to conduct funerals at least three times before we could either confirm their actual death or survival. No one really knew who was who and who belonged to which side.
When I finally reached Ohiri village, where my relatives were, I was fascinated with the incredible tales about the marauding South Sudanese factions of armies who crisscrossed the area. The place became like epicenter for the wars about all wars of South Sudanese. It was Christmas of course, but we could not celebrate Christmas as we were hiding in the bushes, because they were fighting or rather we were fighting each other on Christ festivities.
Happy Christmas for all South Sudanese Children all over the world, and you all share my story in one way or another.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org