Dad, a former SPLA soldier: A story of a veteran charcoal monger

By Chol Peter Majoh

My father, a leftover of SPLA/M, tries to forge ‘piir ë madina'(town life) with a suit and African wear he bought with charcoal money. Yeah, not ‘oyol’ (oil) money.

He never tasted oil money.  Ohh!  I have forgotten.  He did. That was in 2006, when he actually received 320 ssp as his first ‘junti’s’ (private’s) one month salary.

I almost forgot this unforgettable day.  That day, he came home for the first time with a bag of sugar (by then, a bag of sugar was 30ssp), bag of wungali (Maize flour), and a 20-literrs jerry-can of cooking oil.  Alongside these, he brought a cock.

This was the first time I saw real motorcycle parked at our home to be offloaded. But before that day, I just used to see it running on the road. Not to forget, he also came with a Panasonic Radio which also serves as a music player.

That day, our neighbors noticed something was happening in our home. The noise of John Kudusy’s songs and the sweet aroma of fried chicken were sending a signal that something was actually taking place. Neighbors were one by one, one after another, coming to witness what
was taking place.

With a big wooden armchair, my father was sitting with his legs crossed. This style of sitting is known as four (4) style of sitting to many people.   That’s how my dad sat then.

By then he had discarded drinking, so he was sober.  Even today, he doesn’t drink.  It’s a habit, some people never hesitate to ask queries when they see usual things happening. So, some guys of his age came and started asking my dad. “Wene Mayendit, why are you merrying like this today?”

The answer I heard him giving was: “Dr. Garang didn’t die in vain”. “Bai e ben bei” (the nation is liberated), he told them.

With excitement, he told people he received his first salary since he left home for bush nearly three decades ago.  Second month came and he bought a bicycle and life was slowly improving.  Had life continued to be as this, he would have developed a protruding belly like his other fellow SPLA comrades.

Years later, independence came and that became good news for dad. He thought, though he was (and still now is) a jundi (private) and at same time uneducated, there would be opportunities and his children would study free.

He also believes there would be enough to eat, enough to build with and enough to pay his children’s fees. He never thought anything tragic like WAR would befall South Sudan. To him, he concluded
that there would be no wars again in South Sudan, for Islamization and Arabilization had remained in Khartoum.  He never imagined South Sudanese would be divided along the ethnic lines.

In 2013, aah, the biggest tragedy happened. The Country he never imagined would fall back to war, in a broad day light, got itself deeply submerged in war. Blood was spilled, lives were lost and properties got destroyed.  It was a fall-apart situation.  Things were falling apart for dad and for the Country, too.

To make the matter worse, his salary that used to cater for all his family needs began to be helpless as pounds began to lose its value against US dollars. His salary began not to help him buys the bag of sugar, maize flour, oil as he did use to.  He tried to endure, but nothing was the same again. Things were now changing from bad to worse. 300 ssp that was his monthly salary could no longer buy even a kg of sugar.  Just 1kg of sugar, 300ssp wasn’t able to buy.

Imagining his kids in school, food to be placed on the table,  rent to be paid,  hospital bills,  and other basic necessities to be provided, he couldn’t believe his eyes.  “Bai aci riak”, in his mother tongue, he told himself.  The word means ‘the Nation has spoiled again’.

As once a bush man for twenty one solids years,  my father made his mind to leave the oil money for charcoal money.  He called us one morning at 3 O’clock in the mornings and said, “My wife and children, I survived Arab’s bullets and I think I’ll survive lions, leopard, and Tiger, I’m going to the bush”.

My mom, having firmly understood him very well and clear than us (for we were kids), began to shed tears.  My dad then held her closer to him and said, “Do not break my children’s hearts, don’t let them see you and cry. ” Nothing is going to kill me”, he consoled my mum.

But mum cried, not because he was going to die, but she had remembered the long time she had been staying alone without dad all the years he was in the bush fighting. She remembered when she made alcohol for business in order to feed us.  She remembered herself collecting firewood, cutting grass and thatching houses alone! She imagined living again without him. It was sad! But there was no any alternative. He had to go.

From that scene, my mom wiped her tears, got up and went to the kitchen (our grass-thatched kitchen) to prepare something for dad. She did it hurriedly so that dad would go to the bush satisfied.

To our surprised in the morning at the table, we realized what mum had prepared for dad was our only hen. Actually, my dad wasn’t happy with her for that.  It was through him (dad) that I noticed it was our only when cooked for him.  When the food was placed on the table before him, he asked my mom. “What’s it you have done”, dad asked. “I killed it”, she softly replied.   “Why killing it when it has begun laying eggs?” This hen had laid four eggs in four days before it got
slaughtered. My mum told dad, “There was nothing delicious I have to bid you a goodbye.” The four eggs were boiled and we then ate them. This hen was bought with oil money.  Its death makes the end of oil money.  We never tasted oil money again.

The story continues… Dad left. He was gone. From a veteran soldier to a veteran charcoal monger, my dad became. From the SPLA liberation movement to SPLA charcoal mongering, he was with his panga, gun, gumboot and nothing except his rain coat.

Just like he forgot about his SPLA money, He was also forgotten by SPLA.  Bilpham and J1 alike forgot about him. Nobody bothers to remember him again. He was totally forgotten.

Of recent, when his community announced the inauguration of new leadership, he was invited. He never disappoints his community as; he never wanted to disappoint SPLA liberation movement. Father is naturally a loyal man.  When he accepts to do something, he does it with all his heart.  He never disappoints.

So, he came from the bush to attend his community’s leadership inauguration. He bought himself a secondhand suit so that he would look good among his community members.

As he dressed in the morning for the ceremony, I was laughing at him. He looked like a comedian in my eyes.  This suit he bought is slightly not his size; it’s a bit bigger than his real size could be. Not very well-ironed, big and not a modern suit, I was just making funs of my dad in my heart.  He could see smiles on my face but he never dares mind. I guess he thought I was appreciating his smartness.  In fact, he looks smart in suit. “You are smart, dad”, I complimented him.  I fear to add, with “suit you bought with charcoal money”. I thought he would be angry with me. He replied jokingly, “thanks but I need to confirm it from my wife”.

Without wasting time, I called mom. And when she came in, the house was smelling perfume and she looked at dad, she got surprised. “Smart”, she called dad. Dad smiled. “Chol has just complimented me, but I never agreed because I wanted to hear it from you, thanks”, dad replied to her.

His dressing drama kept me asking myself where he got to know about this so-called suit. This cloth president Kiir never misses to put on every day he goes to his office! I was just thinking.

“What does he know about suits?” I asked myself. Just imagining his 21 years in ‘kaki ke Jiech’ (military uniform), I doubted dad’s suit.

After the independence, the bush became his new home.  With his gun,   gumboot and panga, his life is all about hunting and cutting down trees for charcoal.

I can’t stop laughing at my dad.  But, I won’t stop crying to God against SPLA that kept my dad in the bush thought out his entire life.

The author is reachable via email: cholpetermajo@gmail.com,
WhatsApp: +211(0)922295373 [1].

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