Today I am sharing the beginning of Yar Ayuel’s story. You will find the events harrowing, but at the same time you will discover it is an account of strength and survival.
It began the most ordinary of mornings—a clear blue sky and steamy hot. I played with my cousin, Duom, at grandma’s home. My grandmother lived in the village outside of our town.
As we often did, we amused ourselves for hours with hide and seek, followed by jump rope. To my delight, Duom chose my favorite game next. It began to feel like a special day.
I vividly remember when Grandmother interrupted our game. I was winning. My initial disappointment disappeared when she announced that Ngook, her dog, was delivering puppies.
Unexpectedly, the day became even more special!
All my life I wanted a dog. I persistently asked Mother and Father for one. I dreamed of having a dog of my own.
When I learned Ngook was pregnant, I knew my chance had come. With a fair amount of whining I convinced Mother and Father I could care for a dog.
Now, I didn’t care anymore that Grandma had stopped our game. I jumped joyfully. “The puppies are coming, the puppies are coming,” I shouted. “My puppy is coming today!”
The words had no sooner left my mouth when I heard a loud rumbling, not far away. Thick, dark smoke filled the sky behind my cousin, and the roaring sound continued.
“What is it? What is that sound?” My cousin asked.
“Maybe some sort of thunder,” I told her. “It’s going to rain soon.”
“But if it’s going to rain, wouldn’t we see clouds instead of sun, and wouldn’t there be wind?” She asked. I told her that I didn’t know what was happening.
In any case, I was still consumed with happiness about my puppy. I paid no attention to the smoke billowing into the sky and thought little about my cousin’s questions.
We went back to playing, and talking excitedly about the impending arrival of puppies.
A crack of gunshot caught our attention—there was no question, the sound was not thunder.
Something was wrong—very wrong.
Explosion after explosion erupted, and the loud roaring of guns echoed in my ears like heavy rain pelting a tin roof. The deafening sound consumed me. Above it all, though, screams coming from every direction pierced my racing mind.
My cousin and I ran.
We ran past grandmother’s hut and past Ngook delivering her puppies.
We sprinted down the path, our bare feet kicking the hot dirt up into dust clouds. My heart pounded in my ears.
So anxious to get home, I scarcely noticed the crowds bumping and jostling me as they ran past me in the other direction. Faces blurred as I sprinted towards my house. I suppose if I had not been so eager to get home to see my family, I would have seen the terror on the faces of those running. Maybe I would have even seen my mother, or my aunt.
Instead, I arrived home and barged breathlessly into the mud-walled hut where I lived. My father was not there. My mother was not there. Everyone was gone.
Shock caught me. I gulped, fighting back tears. Perhaps they were looking for me, I thought.
Then I noticed, to my left and to my right neighbors jumped out of their mud huts, the same huts that for years had been their havens from the searing heat of the summer months. Now they burned, torched by rebels passing through the village.
I hid my eyes trying not to see the flames dancing up and down the back of Dengdit, the kind old man who would treat my cousin, Nyanthiec, and me to nyum candies when we wandered past his hut.
I looked away when my neighbor moved aimlessly past me, skin peeling back, revealing her raw, pink core.
As much as I tried to control what I saw, my hearing refused to comply. Moments before, my ears had been deafened by the roar of the guns., Now they were filled with high-pitched screams of pain. I didn’t want to listen.
My seven-year-old ears tried to stop the noise. But the shrieks kept coming from the ghosts running out of the huts—from the mothers, the sisters, the brothers seeing the indescribable, and, then I realized, from inside the huts themselves.
Trapped inside the burning huts, with their hands tied behind their backs, were villagers who had been captured by the enemy. I didn’t need to see it; I just knew it. The screams told me.
I froze long enough to recognize that I would die if I didn’t move my feet.
Yar’s story “Lost Girls: Silent and Suffering” will be continued on June 7th.
The shocking events Yar witnessed in her village, Patok, on a day which could have been so special, were part of the Second Sudanese Civil War. This conflict lasted from 1983 to 2005. Fighting took place between the Sudanese government and the Sudan’s People Liberation Army in the South of the country.
To read all of the installments in Yar’s story, please visit my Lost Girls: Silent and Suffering page.
**Photo credit: South Sudan, the Beautiful Facebook page