Tuesday, April 26, 2011

About 100 people died an hour up the road…

It’s a strange thought, isn’t it. I’ve thought about it for the past few mornings when I took the road the opposite direction into town. It’s a flat and dusty road – fairly good by South Sudan standards and, if you take it in the opposite direction, it passes through some oil outposts, dry flat bush occupied by a mud tukul here and there, and the army’s checkpoints. You make a left at one junction and then you’re headed straight into Mayom County. I went there a few weeks ago because I had destroyed my computer (another tedious story involving my falling through the floor and spilling tea on it) and some friends were on an official visit and it seemed like something interesting to do with an otherwise wasted day.

Apart from a couple of buildings, a bunch of tukul compounds surrounded by dried reeds, a broken tractor - there’s not much to Mayom town. There’s just a bunch of people living out there with their kids running around playing with tire rims and trucks made out of tin. Our visit was brief – a few government officials, a quick tour around and then back home.

The weeks passed, there’s talk of a militia that’s moved into Mayom recruiting, setting up camp on the north end of the town. My life goes on; life in Mayom goes on; a war starts in Libya; north Africa is all over the headlines.

Then the announcement comes. Like a public service announcement over the local radio: ‘if you live in Mayom you should run.’ I asked a friend if that’s all it said, ‘run?’ ‘Run where?’ I asked. ‘The bush,’ he said. ‘Anywhere except Mayom.’

That’s when the fighting came. I don’t like to think about the fighting because it must have been nasty. There’s no nice violence, I suppose, but here there’s no fighting from afar. No drones, no air support, no cluster bombs dropping. Just poor men on both sides with AK47’s who shoot each other, and anyone else around, at close range. They might even be related. They might not even know what they are fighting about or why. They are being paid to fight and most of them are poor enough to need no other reason. It’s not like there are many jobs in Mayom.

All of this happened a few days ago but the texts and emails started coming today, ‘what’s happening?’, ‘how are things there?’, etc. The international news had caught up with the fighting, with the numbers of dead, with Mayom and once it hits the press it 'really' happened. Of course that takes awhile as there aren't any 'imbedded' journalists here. There isn’t anyone who goes further or closer than where I am living and I don’t even know what has happened really. Only reports and rumours filter back. There is no retreat beaten by the defeated party along the road to where we are. There are no wounded. There’s no health care out here so I suspect that all of the wounded are dead.

I tried to think today, as I watched another sunset over the road if it makes me mad that the press – and therefore ‘we’ - care more about Misrata, or Japan, or Syria, or the hundred other headlines shouting, ‘look at me! I’m a new disaster! I’m a new war!’ Or if it makes me frustrated with the shortness of our attention spans and our desire for something new and different. Not really. The human capacity to care is limited and the fact that any of us cares about a city, or people, or person outside our own proximity is frankly amazing. I guess, it mostly makes me sad that as long as there are money and guns there will be open hands found to put them into. And that Mayom will happen again and again for reasons no one understands, least of all those who are doing the fighting, and just outside the range of our cameras, and just outside our line of vision. There will always be a Mayom.

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