My Africa, my story

September 2007
by Bella Kodi

I received my Dutch passport on July 16, and immediately ordered an entry visa to Kenya. After 17 years of absence I could finally visit to the Nuba Mountains. On the one hand I was very happy, on the other hand I had no idea what to expect there. You cannot imagine all the things that went through my head as I crossed the ocean to my beloved Africa. It seemed like being born again. Eventually it turned out to be the most beautiful experience in my life that brought back so many old memories from my childhood.

A friend was waiting at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International to pick me up, but ironically, we had never met before. How would I recognise him among all the people? Someone in the plane had warned me not to accept any help from strangers at the airport, because there are many bad guy’s outside. Fortunately we found each other and we went to his home without any difficulties.

On our way he told me that my uncle and aunt were staying with him but they had no idea about my arrival. It was in the early morning. They were still sleeping. I just sat in the sitting room waiting for them to wake up. My aunt woke up first and came to the living room. She said nothing, she continued to the kitchen; then she looked at me from the kitchen window. She could not believe her eyes. “Who are you?” she said. I smiled at her and then she ran to me, crying. It was an emotional moment and I felt somehow guilty that I surprised my uncle, because he was already sick. It took him some time before he could call me inside. Later he phoned my grandma in Nakuru to tell her that I’m in the mighty Nairobi town and that I’m coming along with them.

In Nakuru every one was waiting to meet me. I thank God for caring for every member of my family, especially my grandma. She sat near to me every day, and one day she told me that she was happy to see me and that if she would die any time now, she had no problem anymore. It was fascinating and thrilling to be able to see her and to be among my extended family.
After three days in Nakuru I had to leave to Sudan, but there were no flights to Kauda [in the Nuba Mountains], so I decided to accept the invitation of Yunnan Musa to go to Juba. Maybe I could travel to Kauda from there, and of course it would be a chance to meet some precious people whom I had missed for so long.

Arriving at Juba Airport I felt that yes, I’m in my country. Yunnan took me to his house. He had organised a welcome dinner and had invited all Nuba officials and commanders, including the deputy governor of southern Kodofan, Daniel Kodi; minister Neuron Philip; and SPLM secretary general, Simon Kalo. It was a great opportunity to meet with a lot of comrades, some of whom I had never met before. I spend four fantastic days in Juba and I’m thankful for the hospitality of my friends.
A lot of people who went to Juba were disappointed, because the city is not developed and there is a lot of corruption. They may be right. But if we look at Africa through the western telescope we will disappoint ourselves too much. According to my view Juba is well developed compared to Nairobi or Kenya in general. Indeed there are problems of organisation. People of Southern Sudan need a strong leader who is willing to fight corruption. And then again: on the day I was flying to the Nuba Mountains, someone gave me thousands of Dollars and Sudanese Pounds in a plastic bag to take it to Bentiu and Malakal. I was amazed by the trust people have in each other. What guarantee is there that a person will bring the money to the right destination? Here in Holland nobody would even allow you to know how much money he has. And what could be the work of the bank if people are still sending huge amounts of cash through friends and relatives?
The plane that took me to Bentiu was rented by the SPLA Head Quarters in Juba to bring divisional commanders from Bentiu, Kauda and Malakaal to Juba and back again. Through the plane window I could see the oil pipelines and the first thing that came to my mind was: the NCP in Khartoum will not surrender this area to the South peacefully. It may mean that we have to expect another deadly war. I hope that the time will prove me wrong. The SPLA Airport at Bentiu is very good, and much better than those of Kauda and Kurmuk.

Kauda is a well known town in the Nuba Mountains. If you have never been there, you will probably have an unrealistic picture of it. I’m not sure why the Nuba People are proud of Kauda; maybe it’s because of the struggle. To be honest with you and with myself: when I looked around at Kauda Airport I saw nothing except two trees, under which people were sitting. Under the first tree, the departure hall, people were waiting to travel to Kadugli or Lokichoggio [in Kenya]. Under the other tree, the VIP arrival hall, were people who arrived with me on the plane, most of them SPLA commanders. I went over to someone at the departure hall and asked him: “is this Kauda?” He answered me: “yes, but this is the airport. The city is a bit further from here. You will need a car to take you to the city.”  I thought ‘okay let me see the great city.’

A Koalib friend working with FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] gave me a lift to the compound of Samaritan’s Purse [a faith based NGO] where Zaki is employed. Zaki was away for work; he called and asked me to wait for him at his own compound. It was a great opportunity to see the city and I was very excited. We arrived in a small area with a few shops and no roads my and friends told me that this was the city. And then it hit me: Kauda is a place with nothing of nothing. It is not a city but a small village. That is what I saw in Kauda. But anyway… if people want to call it a city: let it be. The compound of Samaritan’s Purse was very good. They have running water and electricity and they are well organised.

To Nyukur:
Zaki arrived a few hours later and he found me waiting for him in his majestic house in the hill side, with a wonderful view. He told me that we had to go to Nyukur [in the Koalib area] today, because the following day his boss was coming from Nairobi. I could see in his face that he was worried about something but I could not read it. We left right away and after we crossed Heiban our car got stuck in the mud. Now I understood Zaki’s worries. There just are no roads from Kauda to Koalib or to any other places in the Nuba Mountains. A tractor came and helped us to get our car out. We still got stuck many times but we managed to get out of the mud without help from a tractor. I don’t think there is one driver in Nuba Mountains better than Zaki. But after we crossed Canaan land our car got stuck again, and this time there was no mercy; it left us without hope. No matter how we tried, there was no way to get it out, so we took the decision to sleep. Three people in the front, with mosquitoes biting and making a lot of noise; it was very hard to sleep. Eventually a car came from Koalib to pick me up in the way, so Zaki could return to Kauda, but it got stuck too. What bad luck. My thoughts were running here and there looking for a miracle to get our car out, but there was none. I pitied Zaki and I felt guilty because it was not a good time to visit the Nuba Mountains.

The next day we continued to work to get car out but it was impossible. Zaki decided to go to Koalib on foot to get help. In the afternoon a tractor came from Heiban. I was very happy, but after it reached the place where we were it too got stuck. It left us hopeless until Zaki arrived with a group of young and strong men. They tried but it was raining again so it was just impossible. Zaki told me: “prepare yourself to walk.” So I left Zaki and another guy and we walked to Koalib. A few hours later we reached the place of the second car. The driver’s name was Tim, a young American. I sat with him in the front of his car chatting. He told me that he prays every time that his car will not hit a landmine. He was a great person; we had fun time together. Meanwhile the young Koalib were searching for rabbits to eat. Whenever they saw one they chased it but most of the rabbits were lucky: they run away. In the end there was a victim though and Kunda, the young boy who killed the rabbit, was very proud. It was wonderful to see how people in the Nuba Mountains enjoy live. They are satisfied with what they have.

We arrived at Nyukur late in the evening when people started to go to sleep. Tim was very excited at the idea of witnessing the reaction of my mum when we would meet for the first time in 17 years, but unfortunately she was not at home. She had gone to another village for some kind of registration. We did find my young brother. He was very surprised to see me. In a few minutes my aunties heard about my arrival. They came to greet and welcome me; they started singing and dancing; a chicken was immediately slaughtered to prepare food for me. It had been a long time to experience such warm hospitality. In the meanwhile I was very tired from the day we spend in the bush and from the walk. I was very dirty from the mud. I needed to wash myself. People started to gather. People were dancing from the joy. Girls were busy in the kitchen preparing food, but one thing I needed most at that moment was to go to bed.

In the early morning people were sitting outside waiting for me to wake up. The visit continued the whole day. In the morning my mum arrived home and from far, people told her about me. She was very surprised. I heard her voice from far cheering. She couldn’t believe that it was really me. It was a dream become true for her. This is the first time I realised that I had been away for far too long. I had to ask people for their names. I recognised only few of them. The problem was that I had never lived in Nyukur. Some people remember me as a tough child, especially when I was working with the SPLM, but some of them didn’t even know that my parents have a son by the name of Kachu. I spend five days with my parents and family. Every day and all day was a feast. Many chicken and sheep were slaughtered. Hundreds of people visited me. I had no time to rest, because people are coming and going.

On Saturday I want to a village called Togoli. It was market day and the people from other villages will come to do their shopping. During the day the young Koalib men gathered to wrestle. I went there to watch the wrestling and to visit the office of our organization (KAMA). I was proud that our youth did not forget their culture.

I went to Church on Sunday, to visit the Church build by Samaritan’s Purse. I was thankful for the blessing and the heart the Lord has given to the people like those who are working in Samaritan’s. They are really doing a great job. After the service my mum stood up to give God thanks and glory for his mercy and grace that He heard her prayer and kept me save. She then invited everyone from the church to come to our house on Tuesday. I felt filled with joy and peace in the Church. It was a fascinating experience.

On Tuesday my brother slaughtered a goat and the women prepared food. Some of the ladies worked through the night to make food ready for the day. After the dinner, people gathered in one place to start the programme. The pastor began the programme with a prayer and then he read from the Bible: Luke 15, the parable of the lost son. I experienced the story and I hope I will never be away for so long again. The young people started dancing. I tried but did it wrong so someone took me aside and gave me some lessons; afterward I did it. Although people are poor comparing them with people in west, they are satisfied, thankful and most importantly HAPPY with what they have. They care more for family and relatives than money and materialistic things.

The last day in Nukur was emotional and difficult for me. Many people came to say goodbye to me. Some people have children who go to school in Kenya. They never saw them for more than seven years. Zaki had arranged for someone to bring me to Kauda, so that I could fly to Nairobi next day. I traveled from Nyukur to Kauda by four whiles motorbike (quad). I really appreciate the warm assistances Zaki gave me to see my family and return back on time. When I arrived in Kauda I was tired and completely dirty from mud. I was thankful for Zaki’s offer to have a shower and rest during the day and that night.

During my visit to Nuba Mountains I met with Americans who are working with Samaritan’s Purse. There are two people I can never forget. The first is Timothy (Tim) the one I mentioned earlier. He helped me to bring me to my family in Nyukur. He is a wonderful guy and very humble and friendly. He speaks Arabic and I think it helps him to understand our culture. Then I met with Kari, a kind smiling lady at Samaritan’s compound in Kauda. Talking to her gave me hope for a better future for the Nuba Mountains. My visit to Nuba Mountains gave me respect for the foreign people who are working in that tough and harsh atmosphere. It was surprising for me to find a lady like Kari somewhere in the bush near Heiban. It meant a lot to me. She was still smiling and enjoying life.

I was delighted to learn that the plane was first going to Kurmuk, before continuing its journey to Loki and Nairobi. When I was with the SPLA, Kurmuk was a very important and strategic place everyone knew or had heard about, so I was expecting to see a big city.  I had never imagined the possibility that there would be nothing to see but small huts and a small hill. Maybe I need more time to get answers and understand the facts, as my friend in Kauda put it. The Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State have never had the luck of development since God created the world. People here have just been living by the grace of our Lord, as they depend on the rainy season. They have no idea of  technological developments, they have never heard of globalisation. They are people with a pure heart, pure love.
I returned to Nairobi and I realized these were the last days to say goodbye to my Africa. I was very happy though that I would still have some time with my grandma in Nakuru. The next day I went to Virgin Atlantic Airlines to conform my travel. Then I took a matato [minibus] from Nairobi to Nakuru. I wanted to experience how people in Kenya travel using public transport. The driver took us first to the police station. I was wondering why he did that, but a friend explained to me that in the past criminals would enter the bus and in the way they would rob the driver and the passengers of everything they had. There were many things I didn’t appreciate in Kenya but there were two woeful things I saw in particular that I will never forget.

The first one was on the first day I arrived in Nairobi. Benjamin and I were driving with his car through the city when I saw a little child, perhaps nine month old - the same age as my youngest son Tim - going through the garbage with his older brother. I believe they were searching for food or anything of any value they could find. I felt very sad about it. In the meanwhile there were campaigns for presidential election. The politicians make a lot of promises but with little deliverance. Someone told me that it’s better for Kenyans to re-elect the current president. I asked him: “why do you think that?” He said: “because in his first term the president has taken enough money, so the second term will be for the people. But if the Kenyans chose a new leader he too will try to get rich in a very short time so he will deliver little.” I think Nairobi is one of the dirtiest cities in the world. Everything is old and broken. I think there was no renovation of the streets and buildings since the English colonialists left.

The second thing is something I saw when I was watching the news in local TV. They showed a man being beaten in the center of Nairobi; the attackers took his cloths and left him naked as the day he was born. He stood up and walked away just like that. I asked myself: ‘where are the human rights in this country?’ I was very sad to see those images. Someone told me that the life of a human being in Kenya has no value. He is right according to what I witnessed in the short time I was there.

I had a good time in Nakuru with my cousins and nephew who were born and had grew up without me seeing them. It was a good opportunity to have time with my aunt and uncle who is sick. After five days with them I had to say goodbye to them. Back in Nairobi, I went to the NRRDO office. I learned from Lazim Suleiman, the director of NRRDO, and Ali Abdurrahman that they had invited our people in Nairobi to a meeting tomorrow evening to talk with me about the issues concerning the Nuba Mountains. I apologised to them because I had to leave to Holland early next morning. Then they invited me to have dinner with them in one of the restaurants. It was a very good chance to talk to Lazim after long years and to learn to know Ali more. And it was a real surprise to meet with Yousif Waren again after 15 years.
Back to The Netherlands:
I was very happy to see my family and father, mother and brother in law waiting for me at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. My youngest son was very surprised to see me. He looked at my face every time just like he wanted to ask me: “dad where were you all those days?” Unexplained feelings: I felt the stress of life style in Holland. I immediately missed my family and the warmth of the Nuba Mountains. My desire now, more than ever before, is to return and settle in the Nuba Mountains. I miss peace and inner joy in spite of all that I have here in Holland. I have everything I need in my daily live, but I’m not satisfied with it. My heart and soul is in the Nuba Mountains. Let His will be done….

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