<DIV><DIV><DIV>THE VILLAGERS’ VOICES rose louder and louder as they sang. Drums<BR>thudded to greet us: the family of Simon Jok, the SPLA commander<BR>who protected this village and the ones around it. Everyone<BR>seemed so happy and I was too as I stood next to Babba—taller than I remembered,<BR>with a bigger belly now. He’d been treated like a king after arriving<BR>earlier in the day, and he had shown us to the tukul we’d been given<BR>as a home. We even had cows now, just as Mamma had said we would.<BR>They were black- and- white with big, curled horns. An elder, naked except<BR>for beads around his waist and a necklace of ostrich eggs around his neck,<BR>stood in front of my family. Next to him was a riek—the altar found in<BR>every home to make sacrifices to gods. Like many in the south, these villagers<BR>were animists who believed in many gods and made sure a cow’s blood<BR>touched the riek whenever one was slaughtered to please them. The singing<BR>got louder as an old woman tried to sprinkle water on us.<BR> “Please no, we are Christian,” Mamma said.<BR>“Jeeeeesus,” the woman crooned as she carried on sprinkling water.<BR>A bull tied with a leather rope stood in front of the riek. Its eyes rolled<BR>as the old man took a spear and stood in front of it. It knew what was<BR>going to happen as well as I did and moved restlessly. The elder lifted his<BR>spear and in one fast move sliced into the bull’s heart. I watched as it fell<BR>on its left side and blood spread slowly across the earth. It was a blessing.<BR>Later the elder would cut off the bull’s head and skin before handing me<BR>one of the testicles. It was burned on the fire and I had to eat it, but while<BR>the village boys loved the taste, I did not.<BR>“Come, Jal,” my father said after we had finished.<BR>We left Mamma, my sisters, and my brothers behind as we started walking<BR>through the village with some soldiers. They were big and strong too,<BR>but I knew my father was the most important one. He had just come from<BR>Ethiopia, where he’d learned to be a lieutenant commander.<BR>“I am happy you are here where I can visit you,” Babba said as we<BR>walked.<BR>So was I. It had taken so long to escape Bantiu. We’d had to turn back<BR>that day on death route because a village was burning in the distance, and<BR>after that it was always the same until Mamma made a new plan. The only<BR>people the troops sometimes allowed to move in and out of the town were<BR>villagers from outside Bantiu who came in to sell milk to the soldiers. It<BR>was dangerous but Mamma told us we were going to pretend to be with<BR>them. I thought of the naked children and women who wore just a skin<BR>around their middle. I didn’t want to be bare. But of course I had no choice,<BR>and soon Mamma, Aunt Nyagai, Nyakouth, Nyaruach, Miri, Marna, and I<BR>had melted into a group.<BR>My brothers, sisters, and I hated being without clothes and shoes, and<BR>Mamma looked strange too. The sun was so hot as we walked that the earth<BR>burned us and we had to take turns standing on her feet. The moment our<BR>turn came to an end, we’d step back onto the ground, and thorns would dig<BR>into our soft skin as the village children laughed. I turned my back on them.<BR>All I cared was that I was leaving Bantiu—and the war—behind.<BR>I looked up now at Babba as he spoke to me.<BR> “This is our land,” he said as he swung his arm in the air around him.<BR>“This is what we are fighting to protect because this is what the Arabs are<BR>trying to take from us.<BR>“They want to change us, our way of life, and make us like them. But I<BR>will never let them do that.”<BR>Bending down, Babba put his arms around mine and lifted me into the<BR>air. Higher and higher I went until I could finally twist my legs around his<BR>shoulders. I felt his hands holding firmly on to my legs as he stopped to<BR>speak to a man.<BR>“This is my son,” Babba said as I sat silently looking down.<BR>I knew he would never let me fall.<BR>Babba left soon after to go back to the war, and I cried when he told me<BR>he was going. He saw my tears and told me I was a man, a soldier, a warrior<BR>now.<BR>The village was as beautiful as I’d been told so long ago it would be.<BR>Tukuls lay in long lines near ours, and there were also bigger luaks, where<BR>the men slept with cows after the fire- red sun had sunk into the night. The<BR>villagers also had many sheep and goats, and the thing I liked most was<BR>that I could walk wherever I liked because it was safe.<BR>Soon I had learned not to wear clothes as I made friends with some of<BR>the village children who I entertained with stories of the city. I liked making<BR>them laugh as I told them about the black- and- white tele vi sion we’d<BR>had—they didn’t understand that a box could show moving pictures. But<BR>there were also many things for me to learn. Village life in Sudan is traditional,<BR>and girls and boys have different jobs to do. While Nyakouth was<BR>taught how to help in the kitchen and milk the cows, I learned how to dry<BR>dung, which was then burned on fires to chase mosquitoes away. Nyaruach<BR>tried to help us, but she mostly made more trouble than she solved.<BR>Her name meant “talkative,” and she loved the sound of her voice even<BR>more than I did my own. Somehow Mamma always found out whenever I<BR>did anything wrong, and I was sure it was because of Nyaruach and her<BR>big mouth. I was glad that Nyakouth was quieter.<BR>Miri and Marna were still too young to work, and we, the older children,<BR>helped look after them. Of course, there was still time to play, and<BR>the game I liked most was with a baby sheep I had made friends with.<BR>Staring at it seriously, I would drop to my knees and throw myself forward<BR>as it butted its head against mine.<BR>“You will break your bones one day,” Nyakouth used to scold me when<BR>she heard the crack of our heads colliding.<BR>I didn’t listen because the sheep made me laugh too much to stop.<BR>Mamma was also busy. As well as feeding Miri and Marna her milk,<BR>she looked after the many people who arrived to see her. Injured soldiers<BR>came who needed their wounds dressed with old pieces of bedsheets, and<BR>Mamma also had some needles, which she boiled again and again, to look<BR>after them. Villagers also arrived at our tukul—some wanting the fruit of<BR>the neem tree, which Mamma boiled to treat malaria, while others asked<BR>for the salt- and- sugar drink she made for those weak with diarrhea.<BR>Although the war was far from us now, we still had to learn to follow<BR>rules. Soon after we arrived, Mamma was beaten with a stick by angry<BR>SPLA soldiers. Villagers were supposed to leave out food and milk to feed<BR>the rebels, and she hadn’t known. What they didn’t realize was that when<BR>government soldiers came to watch the bush with binoculars, the villagers<BR>also gave them milk. But Mamma quickly learned what she had to do, and<BR>Babba sent us a soldier called Gatluak to look after us so we were safe<BR>again.<BR>I loved life in the village. Watching the ostriches and buffalo in the<BR>bush, learning to use the ashes of cow dung and sticks to brush my teeth,<BR>and dyeing my hair red using the bark of the luor tree. I also liked having<BR>Gatluak with us because he played with me often. But most of all I was<BR>glad to have left the war behind.<BR>On a clear morning, we were all outside. Nyakouth was milking a cow and<BR>I was bringing the others outside so I could sweep up the dung in the luak.<BR>But really I just wanted to keep laughing at what I’d seen earlier. There is<BR>an animal in Sudan called a jeer, which is about the size of a large cat.<BR>Earlier one had come out of the bush and fallen asleep in the grass near<BR>our house—or so we’d thought. The jeer lay still as the minutes passed and<BR>flies collected on its huge bottom. But a passing chicken could not resist<BR>such good pickings and pecked along the trail of flies until it reached the<BR>jeer’s backside. As its beak pecked, the jeer woke up, sucked the chicken’s<BR>head inside, and ran away. Nyakouth and I had laughed and laughed as we<BR>watched. Now I giggled to myself again as I led a cow out of the luak into<BR>the daylight. I hoped that we would see another jeer soon.<BR>I froze as I saw an Arab standing in front of me. He was wearing a long,<BR>black jellabiya and holding a gun. Everyone had stopped moving. The<BR>morning was silent. The Arab said nothing as he walked toward the tukul<BR>and came out with Gatluak.<BR>“Put your hands up,” the Arab shouted as he pressed his gun into<BR>Gatluak’s back. “Turn around, move over there.”<BR>Gatluak stepped forward and lowered his hands as he turned around to<BR>face the Arab. The two men stared at each other for a second before the<BR>sharp crack of bullets sliced open the silence. Gatluak dropped onto the<BR>ground and the Arab started running away. My eyes did not follow him.<BR>All I could do was stare at Gatluak as he lay on the ground. I knew the<BR>sound of a gun well and how people looked after they’d been shot, but<BR>had never seen the moment when bullet met flesh.<BR>I couldn’t breathe. Gatluak’s stomach had been ripped apart and his intestines<BR>spilled out of the wound. The smell of shit filled the air. Steam<BR>rose from his body as he lay on the ground, body jerking and eyes empty.<BR>I watched as Mamma sank to her knees beside him. Tears ran down her<BR>face as her hands closed around Gatluak’s stomach. They were bright with<BR>blood as she tried to hold the skin together.<BR>“Get some rags,” she shouted.<BR>I couldn’t move, couldn’t take my eyes away from the sight of<BR>Gatluak’s guts—gray like a goat’s—mixing with a sea of red. I watched as<BR>he twisted in the dirt, his breath coming in gasps as he choked for air.<BR>Then a low moan escaped his lips and he went silent. Mamma bent her<BR>head toward him and cried. Still I did not move.<BR>Days later a witch doctor arrived at our home wearing a leopard skin<BR>and carry ing a big spear. He was tall and wore many beads and bangles,<BR>which rattled as he told Mamma he wanted us to sacrifice a black goat for<BR>his gods so that he could tell us our future.<BR>“He is a dev il trying to trap us,” Mamma said as we stared at him. “We<BR>will not give him a sacrifice.”<BR>But the man didn’t listen as he started banging a drum in front of our<BR>tukul.<BR>“You will be punished,” he said in a suddenly deep voice. “Our god is<BR>the one who protects you, and you must listen to him. He is telling me<BR>that your village will be burned. You must listen. You will soon all die.”<BR>“Leave us in Jesus’ name!” Mamma shrieked at him.<BR>Soon he left, but the fear that had wrapped itself inside my stomach the<BR>day Gatluak died now pulled even tighter. I knew I shouldn’t listen to a<BR>man who worshipped gods that were not ours, but I couldn’t forget his<BR>words. I wondered what it all meant for us.<BR>It was afternoon and I had left the village with my friend Biel to go fishing.<BR>We were walking back home when we heard the deep blast of a big<BR>bomb. It was close. We looked at each other quickly before running to the<BR>top of a slope. Below us was our village. There was smoke and fire, people<BR>running in different directions like frightened chickens. Government soldiers<BR>were attacking.<BR>The savanna grass crunched beneath our feet as we started running<BR>down the hill. As we neared the road into the village, we saw two SPLA<BR>soldiers lying on the ground ahead and stopped. Hiding ourselves in the<BR>long grass, we poked our heads high enough to see about twenty villagers<BR>gathered by the side of the road surrounded by soldiers pointing guns at<BR>them. Other troops were beating a family.<BR>“You’re keeping rebels here, aren’t you?” they screamed. “You’re giving<BR>them food.”<BR>Children cried as they watched while the rest of the crowd—men and<BR>women, babies strapped to their mothers’ backs, and elders—looked on<BR>with fear in their eyes.<BR> “We’ve found these rebels here,” a soldier shouted as he pointed to the<BR>dead SPLA. “Where are the others? Where are the rest of your men?”<BR>Suddenly the soldiers rushed at the people and started pushing them with<BR>their guns toward a luak nearby. The villagers cried as they were herded<BR>back, and a man ran toward a soldier. A bullet rang out, then he dropped to<BR>the ground.<BR>“Get inside,” the soldier hissed as he fired at two other men in the<BR>crowd.<BR>Beside me Biel was breathing hard. I looked at him. Tears were on his<BR>face. I turned my head again to see troops hitting women with their guns<BR>as they pushed the villagers inside the luak. Bullets cracked in the distance<BR>and screams echoed above us as the soldiers closed the wooden door. I<BR>could hear people crying, and I thought of them trapped in the darkness<BR>as I watched a soldier throw gasoline from a can onto the luak’s straw roof.<BR>I saw the light before I heard the noise. Something bright burned in<BR>front of my eyes, and a huge boom roared in my chest as the luak exploded<BR>into flames. Biel jumped up and started running toward the flames. I knew<BR>I should not follow. Death was trying to trap me in his jaws once again, and<BR>I had to move faster than him. I turned and started running back into the<BR>savanna. Deeper and deeper I went into the long grass as my heart pounded<BR>in my mouth. My stomach felt liquid. I wanted to empty myself. Suddenly<BR>a hand closed around my neck and I screamed as it pulled me to the<BR>ground. I saw a man’s face. I was dead.<BR>“Don’t move,” a voice said. “You must stay with us, keep hidden.”<BR>Looking around, I saw a small group of villagers. They were trying to escape<BR>death too. I turned onto my stomach as bitter smoke filled my lungs<BR>and sounds washed over me—screams and the k-k- k-k- k-k- k of gunfire.<BR>Where was Mamma? Where were Nyagai, my brothers and sisters? When<BR>would Babba arrive to save the village?<BR>I don’t know how long it was before I felt the man’s hand take hold of<BR>me once again and pull me to my feet. We started walking through the<BR>grass and soon reached the river, which we crossed before making our way<BR>to another village where Mamma found me.<BR>“We should have listened to the witch doctor,” I said to her.<BR>I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in the luak. I could see their<BR>faces, the hate in the soldiers’ eyes as they looked at them.<BR>“Are they dead, Mamma? Have they gone to heaven?”<BR>“Hush, makuath,” she replied. “They are sleeping, and if they are in<BR>heaven now, they are safe. All the pain they have suffered will have ended,<BR>their bodies will be whole again. God is watching over all of us and He<BR>will look after them.”<BR>“But when will we go to heaven?”<BR>“I cannot tell you, Jal. Only God knows when each of us will join<BR>Him.”<BR>I looked up at Mamma. I hadn’t known before that the people I saw<BR>were just asleep. I felt happier now.<BR>Pain returned to our lives once again. Our village had been burned to the<BR>ground and we couldn’t return. Many others did, though, and I soon learned<BR>that people go back to the place of their birth just as birds return to their<BR>nests. Even if nothing was left, they would still go back and rebuild on<BR>the place their ancestors knew. Mamma, Aunt Nyagai, my brothers, sisters,<BR>and I had no such place, and we ran and ran as village after village was attacked.<BR>People were generous with what little they had, and we were given<BR>a place to rest and food to eat as we moved across the south with other<BR>refugees.<BR>“God will protect us,” Mamma told us night after night, and cuddled<BR>us to her.<BR>But even she was different now—her smell had changed. In the city the<BR>scent of perfume and incense had clung to her skin, whereas now the<BR>smell of milk mixed with the sharpness of fear lingered on her.<BR>I knew why. The soldiers came in jeeps and trucks to attack, or sometimes<BR>we would hear tanks in the distance and escape the low growl. But<BR>on other days they arrived as light was breaking and took us by surprise.<BR>The dry season was the worst because they could move more easily. Burning<BR>and looting crops, they destroyed anything that might feed us or the<BR>SPLA. They wanted us to starve and set village after village afire as the lucky<BR>ones escaped to the rivers or the forest, while their friends and family perished.<BR>Murahaleen also came, and they were the ones I was most afraid of<BR>as they shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” and shot. The village men would try to<BR>fight them with spears, but they were no match against the guns, and the<BR>murahaleen would kill everyone they could.<BR>I remember walking into one village where bones covered the ground.<BR>Some were small and some were large, and Mamma couldn’t cover our eyes<BR>that day—there was too much to see. Tears ran down people’s faces as they<BR>cried without sound, and I had many bad dreams afterward. Sometimes<BR>Mamma would sing me a song to go back to sleep, but the only time I felt<BR>really protected was lying beside her or Nyagai. I had to make room for the<BR>younger children, though, so I never really did feel safe.<BR>Sometimes we saw he li cop ters in the distance—gunships that hovered<BR>in the air before firing—and I learned that people running for their lives<BR>never go in one direction. Instead they scatter like ants and flee wherever<BR>instinct takes them. With the smell of burning flesh in the air and the<BR>memories of bodies lying still on the ground, I’d run as if the dev il were<BR>chasing me. I became good at war. Soon I knew the different sounds of<BR>explosions—the boom of big bombs, the smaller one of grenades thrown<BR>from the hands of soldiers, the hiss of a rocket from an RPG. There were<BR>also different guns—the AK- 47s carried by the SPLA, the Mack 4s the<BR>murahaleen used, and the G3s of the government soldiers. I learned how<BR>to run until I felt my feet would touch the back of my head even as my<BR>stomach twisted and tumbled inside me. Often I fell down and each time<BR>prayed that I would disappear into the ground. But of course I had to get<BR>up and start running again. I wondered if I would ever stop.<BR>Stories woven tight with threads become simple ones in the mind of a<BR>child, and the war in Sudan was less distinct than a fight between black<BR>and Arab, Christian and Muslim. Centuries of marriage had blurred our<BR>tribes, age- old rivalries were used by the northern government to pit one<BR>against the other, and black Muslims from Darfur fought alongside Arab<BR>Muslim troops in the belief that they were taking part in a holy war<BR>against the infidels from the south. Even black African Christians joined<BR>the government forces to earn money.<BR>But I forgot about the African faces I saw among the enemy as I thought<BR>of the Arabs who attacked us and my hate grew inside. Arabs and murahaleen<BR>became one in my mind—jallabas—whom I hated more and more.<BR>In the north I’d wondered why they had better clothes than we did, why<BR>they were allowed to go to mosques while Mamma got beaten for going to<BR>a church. But now I saw for myself what they could do. The answer was<BR>always the same when anyone asked who’d done something: “Jallabas—<BR>Arabs.” The jallabas were to blame for all I had seen; they were the reason<BR>my family had been tossed onto the wind as our world disappeared.<BR>“I don’t like them,” I’d tell Mamma. “They should go to hell. They are<BR>bad people.”<BR>“No,” she would reply. “Heaven is for everyone and God is for all people.”<BR>Sometimes I wondered how God could let them into heaven when they<BR>killed everyone, and secretly I told myself I would attack the Arabs with<BR>my father when I grew up. All I wanted to do was stop them from hurting<BR>us anymore.<BR>But at times I could forget the hatred I felt for jallabas because children<BR>are better at war than adults. The moment the battle was behind us, we<BR>would start playing again and laugh as we remembered how funny people<BR>looked as they ran. It was only at night that you couldn’t forget, but in the<BR>day we would always find a game to play in the dust or a joke to tell.<BR>My family and I were separated many times as war snaked around us.<BR>Sometimes I was alone, sometimes with Aunt Nyagai or Nyakouth, but I<BR>quickly realized that wherever I found myself, I had only to mention my<BR>father’s name and Mamma would find me. I hated being apart from her,<BR>and in the days without her I would be restless and crying as I waited. Yet<BR>even when Mamma came back, I would be ready to run again, and if we<BR>ever came to a stop in one place, I would feel my stomach trembling as it<BR>waited for the next battle.<BR>“We are safe now,” Mamma would tell us.<BR>But the war was never far away, and even when we did stop, people<BR>were forced to help the SPLA on the front lines by carry ing food and ammunition<BR>there. Aunt Nyagai had to go once and was silent when she returned.<BR>She’d seen many dead people and heard of families crying for<BR>boys who’d been taken as slaves on sugar plantations and girls who would<BR>be used by the militiamen for kun ke bom. She refused to eat when she<BR>came back and couldn’t taste meat. I knew what she was remembering—<BR>the smell of the burned people.<BR>“It was so terrible,” I heard her say one night to Mamma.<BR>I’d been woken up by the sound of Aunt Nyagai being sick, and now<BR>she spoke to my mother in a low voice.<BR>“Angelina, there were children and babies, a pregnant woman lying<BR>burned on the ground with her child inside her.”<BR>“Hush, Nyagai,” Mamma said. “You’re safe now.”<BR>I was scared by what I’d heard. It put pictures in my mind—I could<BR>smell the air and hear the cries. I kept telling myself what Mamma had<BR>told me—the people were asleep and would wake up later, and if they<BR>didn’t, then God would make them whole again in heaven.<BR>It felt as if we’d been running forever until we finally found a village<BR>that wasn’t attacked for many weeks.<BR>“The SPLA are protecting us now,” Mamma told us one night. “The<BR>war is distant. We can stay here and rest.”<BR>I almost dared to believe her. Babba had brought us some cows, his<BR>soldiers had built us a tukul, and Mamma’s belly had swollen with another<BR>brother or sister for me.<BR>“Tell us a story,” Nyaruach said.<BR>“Will you ever be happy to listen to the silence?” Mamma laughed as<BR>she sat down beside us. “I will tell you one story and then you must sleep.”<BR>We looked at her as she sat down.<BR>“Did you know that the fox and the dog were once cousins who played<BR>happily together?” she asked. “But one day the dog went to visit the fox<BR>and told him, ‘It is hard to live in the bush, but in the village all you have<BR>to do is warn people when the hyena is coming. You should come and live<BR>with me.’<BR>“So the fox decided to go to the village, but got there to find the dog<BR>hadn’t been given any food that night. Silently he watched as the dog went<BR>to his master’s house to ask. But he was kicked and given only bones to<BR>chew on.<BR> “The fox told him, ‘In the village you are humiliated. All you get is<BR>bones. In the bush I kill my own meat and eat what I want.’<BR>“ ‘Just wait and see,’ the dog told the fox. ‘My master looks after me well.’<BR>“And so the fox stayed, but the next day the dog and the fox killed an<BR>animal, took it to the master, and were given only bones to eat once again.<BR>“ ‘I must go back to the bush,’ the fox told the dog. ‘I will never be<BR>happy here.’<BR>“And so the fox returned to the bush and the dog stayed loyal to his<BR>master, and the two became enemies, which is why they fight today.”<BR>Mamma kissed the younger children as I turned onto my side to sleep.<BR>I was seven—too old for kisses. I felt her hand touch my shoulder as I<BR>closed my eyes.<BR>The boom in my belly told me that war had come again. I opened my<BR>eyes. I could hear guns spitting bullets and the low tuk- tuk- tuk of heli copters<BR>throbbing overhead. I jumped to my feet. Everyone else was up. Miri<BR>was crying, scared by the loud noises. Running to the door of the tukul,<BR>we plunged into the daylight. My heart was beating and my legs felt weak.<BR>Would I be able to run fast enough this time?<BR>Aunt Nyagai’s hand took mine as Mamma held on to the babies and we<BR>all started running. All around us people were screaming. Dust and smoke<BR>filled the air; I could smell fire.<BR>“Wait,” Mamma shouted as she turned toward the tukul.<BR>I knew what she wanted—her medical box. It was the one thing she always<BR>ran with during war.<BR>“Don’t go,” Nyagai screamed. “There’s no time.”<BR>Mamma stopped for a moment, unsure of what to do. She turned toward<BR>us again. “Run for the river,” she screamed.<BR>I could see government soldiers in the distance and told my legs they<BR>must be strong as I gripped Nyagai’s hand. I didn’t look behind at Mamma<BR>and the others. I knew they were there.<BR>Suddenly the little boom of an exploding grenade came from near us<BR>and I heard cries.<BR>“Quick,” Nyagai screamed, and we turned toward the forest that lay on<BR>the outskirts of the village. We’d be safer among the trees there.<BR>My feet flew through the air as I forced myself to go quicker. The battle<BR>screamed in my ears, and all I could feel was Nyagai’s hand in mine.<BR>Thorns dug deep into my legs but I didn’t feel them. Fear will always win<BR>against pain, and all I had to do was run. Run and run, keep going, never<BR>stop until I’d left the guns behind. I wanted to silence the crack and roar<BR>and hiss and screech of war forever.<BR>When the world was finally quiet again, I realized that I had lost Nyagai.<BR>I was alone but knew what to do. I joined a crowd of refugees to start<BR>walking. I didn’t know where they were going, just that when they finally<BR>stopped, Mamma would find me. She, my brothers, and my sisters had to<BR>be somewhere close by, and until I met them again, someone would look<BR>after me as always.<BR>“Mamma will find you,” I told myself again and again. “God will look<BR>after her.”</DIV></DIV></DIV> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>War Child</b> by <b>Emmanuel Jal</b> Copyright © 2009 by Emmanuel Jal. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.