Hello Muthoni, my dear wife, I know you have been wondering why I have not come home for the past two years, why I have not called you or written to you. To explain why I went silent all over a sudden. It was not my wish to behave like this. It has been due to the circumstances beyond my control. I was arrested by the military leaders of Southern Sudan and sentenced to a life term. There was no trial in court. Even until now I don’t know my mistake or the crime that I committed. My jailers are only accusing me by saying that ‘this Kenyan is bad’. It is now two years since I was taken to jail, fortunately, this is the first time I am getting an opportunity to write. It is such exciting. So, let me write to you and explain all that has been happening to me. I hope you will bear with the story.
Before I embark on narrating my story, let me ask you about health and wellbeing of my children. Is my son Aristotle doing well? Has he grown a little bit taller, what of the baby you were carrying in your womb before I departed? Was it a boy or a girl? How I wish it was a boy. Don’t blame me for this, it is only that all the daughters born in our family for the last three generations have never been successful. Either in marriage or in professional life. It has been so discouraging. I believe my mother is doing well, has she been causing problems to you? I know she is capable of harassing you. But I encourage you not to give a damn to her hostilities, that is how mothers- in-law behave towards the wives to their sons. I don’t know if it is a neurotic problem. Is it what we used to read about as auto-sexism in the books of African literature? All in all, you have to soldier on, she is just a mere woman married in our home the way you are also married.
I am aware that you urgently want to know if there is a possibility of my release. Certainly, there is no hope. I will either die of hunger or sickness or my jailers may even decide to shoot me any time. Of which they can give their fickle nature. The only hope I have is to get an opportunity and escape or for a coup to take place so that the new government may be sympathetic to me and reduce my sentence to fifty or fifty-five years. But this is only my wish, it is not something tangible we can bank on. However, I am also very hopeful that one time I will come out of all these and walk away to my country Kenya. My heart always goes on fire whenever I think of Kenya, those broad highways, heavy coins, green hills, beautiful buildings, polite men and women, freedom of speech and all those good things you enjoy when you are in Kenya. What I mean is that the prisons here are not like Kamiti, Mayani or Naivasha; the maximum prisons in Kenya. You don’t even have to compare. The prisons here are meant for instilling pain and perpetrating brutality on the inmate. Unlike in Kenya where a prison is a learning and a rehabilitative center. The situation here is different; sometimes we use under-ground holes as police cells. When they are filled up, the new captive is forced to dig his or her own hole or bunk. You do it at a gun point.
Why I was arrested is because I greeted a married woman by shaking her hand, I don’t know if she was of the Dinka or Nuer tribe. I was not aware if shaking a hand of a married woman is a crime. Then if it is a crime then Kenyans visiting here must stay informed, because in Kenya we greet women by hugging. Whether your wife or not. The only woman you cannot hug is your mother in law and your daughter in law. My accusers also claim that every time I have been pissing at the bush I usually point my penis towards the North Eastern direction, they say this is a holy direction not to be mocked by pointing there a penis. They have held this offense of urinating to be so heinous. They call it a blasphemy or sacrilege against gibla. They use rules of Islam to accuse me and they are not moslems. They have been fighting with Moslems for decades. I failed to understand their rationale when they all got agitated to the point of almost shooting me because of this thing of pointing the penis to the north eastern direction. In fact, this is the offense that peeved up the duration of my jail-term. Don’t ask me why I was not pissing in the wash-rooms, toilets or municipal utilities. These things are not common here. They also accused me of being corrupt because I come from Kenya. That they read from newspapers and watched on their televisions about mega-scandals of corruption among Kenyans, to them when you are a Kenyan you are corrupt. Hence you have to be punished without straggle. They accused me of committing finance crimes because they found some money in my house, it was bank notes of one hundred thousand Sudanese pounds, they expect me to deposit all the money I have with the bank, a bank that is not there. Even if I was to bank the money, this was very small amount of money that you need as pocket money, not to be deposited with the bank.
I was arrested by five community military officers. All of them were very tall and very dark in the skin complexion. They were all carrying or brandishing long guns, the AK 47. The belts of ammunitions were all over their dirty uniforms. The community military officers in Southern Sudan are not trained police officers, military police or Armed forces officers. They are former guerrilla fighters that used to fight for Garang de Mabior against Omar Al Bashir. They are all illiterate and self-trained. Their military motivation is fueled by ethnic animosity. When the new state of Southern Sudan was formed they were never demobilized. I don’t know why. But instead they were adopted as the community army officers. Working both as policemen and military officers. It was better if they were demobilized and disarmed, so that educated young men and young women can be recruited and be trained to work as a modern and disciplined armed force of Southern Sudan under a proper command structure. So that Southern Sudan as a nation can be able to accommodate different tribes with no threat of break-down in the civil peace.
I was whipped and flogged on that day I was arrested. One of the military men commanded, no, I think he commandeered others to flog me a hundred strokes on the buttocks. All these happened before I was taken for trial. I did not understand why they were caning me. I think they are so childish to believe that when you arrest a person you must beat him or beat her up. They were caning me on the buttocks and when I touched there to balm the pains they giggled and argued that they will not count that stroke, so I might have been caned more than three hundred strokes. One of the arresting officers slapped at my nape regularly, he did so as he roars at me for being stupid to think that one time Kenya will not break into war. I could do nothing, I only wept. It is when I learned that shedding tears is a God send biological condition. It moves the brain away from the point of pain. However, tears and tears alone cannot save humanity from the brutality of corporal punishment. I think it is the time human civilization did away with corporal punishment. Good conscience has to direct that a human being is not allowed to brutalize a fellow human being through corporal punishment.
My name has been source of laughter, joy, dignity, jokes, feelings of heroism and good moments in all the places I have ever visited. Whether in Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritius, Zanzibar, Congo or Rwanda. But in Southern Sudan it was a source of my problems and pale, it caused me havoc. I was beaten till I fainted because of my name. When I was asked my name I told them that my name is Lisalisabulukhwe Lie wa Khayongo, this is my official name as it appears on my official documents. They thought I was joking or jesting at them or cunningly hiding my true identity. But no I was genuine and very honest to them. They asked me to shout my name repeatedly, of which I did. They tried to pronounce my name, but they all failed. They only ended up saying different things like ‘Likheyong’o’, ‘Litha,’ ‘Livapilike’. I don’t know why they failed to pronounce my name and they also have names that can be difficult to be pronounced by a non-Nilotic speaker. I think it was that mentality all the captors have towards the captives. But I also thought out that maybe what made them to fail pronouncing my name is because of need to make guttural sounds. Which they could not. Sound ‘Kha’ is easily produced by the Bantu speakers, Somalis and Indians in Kenya. But Luos and other Nilotic communities like the Dinka and Nuer in Southern Sudan cannot easily produce it. This is the same sound you make when pronouncing letter ‘r’ when speaking French. These are logical anthropological differences in human nature which must not work as a basis of inter-racial or inter-ethnic hatred.
I don’t know how long I fainted, but I only remember hearing them, faintly suggesting to me names like Abu-Bakr, Saleh, John, Peter, Salim. I heard one of them saying that these are good names because they are easy to pronounce or to remember. I don’t know if I was rude or stubborn to them. But I am sure I must have behaved in a way that suggested protection of the dignity inherent in my name. There is no trial-some moment like the one in which you are being forced to abandon your name. It is not an easy decision. Even if I was being beaten to death I did not have any cowardly feelings of accepting to do away with the name that I was given by my mother in a naming ceremony. To a survivalist who can hide behind a cloak of modern realism, it looks sham to die defending a name, but it is not sham to each and every one. No name is useless, common sense easily shows that all names matter. That is why I remained brave to all the overnight beatings in the bush of Southern Sudan, as I wait for the day of my trial.
There was no formal trial, no defense, nor modern prosecution. I was just taken to the heart of the bush in the thicket of brambles and thorny twigs. They have cleared a space of some twenty meters square, at which they use as the court. This is where the military leaders carry out trial of all suspects. They use the bush because sometimes they can decide to shoot the suspect. When they shoot, they leave the body there for hyenas to eat. They don’t want to undergo the burden of burying their victims. This must be one of the reasons why we have a lot of Hyenas roaming around the city of Juba and other parts of Southern Sudan. I was not allowed to talk during my trial. But I was ordered to salute to the military leader after he delivered the ruling which condemned me to a life sentence. Some of the military officers were clapping, others yelling the word ‘field marshal’ as the military leader was making a speech which was a ruling of my case. Sadism was so overt in their faces. The military leader did not write anywhere. Perhaps he is trusted with superior wisdom. Though, these means that there is nothing like appeal in the culture of the community justice system in Southern Sudan.
I began serving my sentence immediately. I was taken from the bush to a prison made of muddy walls. It had spacious rooms with big holes in the wall, the rooms look ramshackle like a house for sheep kept by a peasant farmer. If Southern Sudan had not been a region of warm climate I don’t know what I could have been doing to counter the chills in the night. I felt happy when I met other Kenyans at the prison, they were all serving life sentence. What made me to be very happy was the opportunity to speak Kiswahili and Sheng with fellow Kenyans, after struggling for days to speak English to the Military officers that could not understand even if they ostensibly pose as English speakers.
There are also Ugandans, Chinese, Arabs, Congolese and Burundians in this prison. But Kenyans are the leading population. Women and men are just placed in one confinement. But due to high level of brutality by prison warders, you cannot come across messes men make when exposed to women. Probably the cruel manner in which Sudanese prison warders deal with the inmates have punctured any possibility of sexual imaginations among inmates. Most of the women are from central and western Kenya and as well as eastern Uganda. They are mostly serving a jail term of fifteen years for having been sexually dishonest when relating with Sudanese men. A very funny crime that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
There are no cereals in Southern Sudan. Thus there is no cornmeal. Our main food has been goat meat. There are no cooks, welfare officers or any other worker in the Prison. The prisoners treat one another in case of sickness, they cook for themselves, they slaughter a goat and roast for themselves. The main worker here is therefore to look after goats and slaughter goats in the evening. There is no break-fast and Lunch. We are only aloud to eat in the evening. Women prisoners are usually send to fetch water from the well and sometimes from the shallow creeks of River Nile. But the problem with the creeks in the Nile is that, already the crocodiles have disappeared with more than seven women. On hearing about crocodiles killing women prisoners at the creek, prison officers just savagely giggle and blame the women for having carried over foolishness from the countries of their birth. God forgive them. For your information, we don’t use salt when eating the roasted goat. We are so lucky that goats here have natural salt. I believe God has a purpose for everything.
Excuse me, I have seen a prison officer coming my direction, let me hide my pen and my note book. I will write to you when time allows……