Für ein neues Romanprojekt ist der südafrikanische Autor Andrew Brown im Süd-Sudan unterwegs. Für CrimeMag hat er zwei Miniaturen aus dem tödlichen Wahnsinn geschrieben, die wir Ihnen heute und nächste Woche präsentieren …
A layer of AK-47
“I’m pushing on with this thing that people call life.”
Aisha says it with a smile, a flash of white teeth showing before she takes a generous gulp of her beer. She has a turn of phrase that can wrench your heart from your chest.
We are sitting at the Bedouin Bar in Juba, South Sudan. It is ten o’clock at night and the day’s heat has chilled to a manageable 35 degrees, although the air remains close and humid, made even thicker by the smoke from the frankincense burners. Rasta, the barman, puts another White Bull Lager in front of me. Business at the bar is frenetic, as ever. It appears to be the ambivalent common denominator between locals and the foreign NGO workers: drinking to expunge trauma.
Aisha was born in Juba to a family that was soon torn apart by the civil war. Living in the city became increasingly intolerable as Juba became a hotspot of fighting between the then Sudanese Armed Forces and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In a scene reminiscent of something out of The Killing fields, I walked around Jebel Hill on the outskirts of Juba where some of the fighting had been most intense. Feeling a strange crunching beneath my feet, I focussed on the ground around me and realised that I was walking on a layer of spent AK-47 and heavier artillery rounds, an inch thick. At the age of eleven, with intense fighting around her, Aisha fled Juba and made her way, alone and on foot, into Uganda. She remained living in an UNHCR camp outside Kampala for over two years. She was ultimately located by an uncle who had been systematically searching the name lists published from of the hundreds of camps spawned by the war.
Aisha was then educated in Kampala, her studies funded by her prowess as a flank in the local rugby team. The combination of a childhood spent as a refugee and playing contact rugby makes her a formidable young woman. She has scant regard for authority, the men with guns who have until now ruled her life, but partial peace and secession has brought her back to Juba. After working in the United Nations office for a while, she now intends to study journalism. Pushing on with that thing that people call life.
Not all have been as fortunate, or perhaps as resolutely determined, as Aisha. There is a massive graveyard just outside the compound where I am staying. It is a densely overgrown no-go zone, piled high with smouldering rubbish and used by local residents as a communal open toilet. The cement domes of graves can be spotted sticking out amongst the rubbish and excrement. The smell is powerful. When I was here last year, a handful of desperate people were living on the road edge. Now, six months later, that small cluster of shelters has exploded into a full grown camp. “IDP’s”, people tell me, shaking their heads as if they were an unclean and somehow alien life form. Internally Displaced Persons, refugees who have come to the city, unmonitored by UNHCR structures, left to their own abject desolation.
Living in a violent country
The conditions in this growing camp are dire. The structures are made of sticks, some with pieces of discarded tin haphazardly tacked onto the side. Only one has a torn UNHCR canvas pulled over it. The newer structures are simply a frame of sticks in the shape of a low beehive, with no covering at all. One that I passed had a shawl tied onto the roof, casting a tiny square of shadow onto the floor below. A thin, ill-looking woman was curled tightly around a baby, both trying to fit their bodies into the shade. The rest of the family sat unprotected in the searing heat, staring into the dirt. I thought of taking a photograph, but as my hand drifted towards my pocket, one of the young women looked up at me. There was something in her eyes, or perhaps the absence of anything in her eyes, and the movement of my hand stuttered and failed. Instead I raised it in a half-hearted greeting. She did not respond.
The Bedouin Bar has filled with a combination of healthy fresh-faced young Brits, Americans and Germans, all here to do good and save Africa from itself. A few wearier veterans sit on barstools, smoking and eyeing the enthusiasm with amusement. The only other South African here looks as if he may have seen a bit too much action in 32 Battalion. Around the edges, local women in short dresses prowl on their long legs, like barracudas circling a swirling ball of sardines. I am careful to avoid eye contact and instead look up at the grainy television. Al Jazeera news hour has begun.
The lead story is police brutality in South Africa, cellphone footage showing a young taxi driver being dragged to his death behind a police van. There is a comparison to the police conduct at Marikana, scenes of policemen machine-gunning fleeing strikers. The next story (“ … and staying with South Africa …” says the blonde anchor woman cheerfully) is Oscar Pistorius.
“Goodness me,” says Aisha, with mischievous concern, “you live in such a violent country.”
I mumble something incomprehensible into my beer.