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Chaos in the city

August 12, 2005

It started out as a nice calm Monday morning. I rode to college and found the lecture hall half empty. I thought I came too early and chilled for a while, waiting for the professor to show up. Moments later one of the door men downstairs came up and broke our silence by telling us that Dr. John Garang, leader of the Southern people had died in a plane crash earlier that morning. 

Right then I knew that these people can kiss the peace treaty goodbye. I knew how passionate Southern Sudanese were about their leader and how reluctant the Northerners were to give him that post as vice president. 21 years of violence and 21 days in office…and then an ‘accidental’ plane crash. I too, felt that the government had something to do with his ‘plane’ crash. I’ve seen enough movies and news stories to know that it was no accident…but a murder. 

However, I can hold back my thoughts since I’m just an outsider…but who will control the Southerners when they take to the streets to avenge their fallen leader? 

I went upstairs to the cafeteria to check if Robert was around. He was one of my best friends here at college, and was somehow related to the late Dr. Garang and I wanted to offer my condolences. I found him upstairs and saw all the other Southerners alone on one side of the cafeteria; some were crying while others huddled in groups as if plotting something. On the other side were the Northerners, chatting among themselves, some showing evident signs of happiness at the news of the leader’s untimely death. The divisions were already showing and the rift between the two groups was growing and I had a feeling that today this country would fall back 21 years in history. 

I spoke to a red-eyed Robert who was crying. He snapped at me and asked me what I wanted. I’d never seen him so angry and offered my condolences. I told him to go straight home and start nothing. I told him he was smarter than that. 

I told the Arab (Northerners) boys to go straight home because I felt some shit was going to happen.  I went downstairs to find a bus or cab only to find many of the girls in my class standing outside. Some of them had cars coming for them and I helped others get some rides home. I then proceeded to the bus stop and luckily found a bus. 

It was a 14 seater Nissan Urvan Minivan and I hopped on the seat next to the driver. He turned on the radio and minutes later I heard the sad news across the
Red Sea: King Fahad has passed away that same morning. 

Later, we saw an assembly of cars rushing from the other side as if running from something. All drivers on the opposite side were waving frantically signaling us to head back the other way. It was too late…we had already reached the bridge. That’s when I saw what all the commotion was about. The bridge was blocked on both sides by abandoned cars. 

Southerners were beating up men and women, throwing them off the bridge into the R. Nile when they could. At one point I saw what appeared to be some Southerners raping some Arab girls. I saw men get receive serious blows to their faces before being thrown off the bridge into the deep waters below. 

Our driver managed to turn back before it was too late. I told him we could use the
Shambat Bridge to get through the other city and onto the Kober Bridge to Khartoum. He agreed and we headed back, keeping a safe distance from all churches as they were sure to have Southerners around them in large groups. 

It seemed the Southerners had one aim: hurt/kill anyone who looks Arab, which basically means all Northerners and whoever looks like them. I was in the list and I didn’t think getting down and proving I’m not Sudanese with my ID was a healthy idea because these guys looked like they wanted to kill first and ask questions later. 

We were well on our way through the next city where things seemed calmer than in the other city. I guess the violence hasn’t started here yet. As we neared the bridge that connected us to Khartoum, I saw some thick smoke rising from several different locations in the distance. Looking back at Um Durman, I let out a sigh of relief when I saw smoke rising from the same city we just left…lucky and thankful that we made it out in time. I was wondering if any of my colleagues were still trapped there. 

All this time I’ve been trying to send text messages to many friends and my cousin to tell them to stay indoors but like me, millions of others were trying to do the same, which put enormous stress on the network, causing limited or no coverage at all. 

When we reached Kober Bridge we were told to head back. Apparently the law enforcement has made it a one way exit from Khartoum, since most of the violence was there. The driver of the van told us he’s heading back to his family and everyone started arguing with him. They all demanded their money back from the conductor and he gave into their demands. I couldn’t blame the driver…he has family too and they needed him. 

I got down and started searching for cabs that could take me home…somewhere deep inside the city. Some guys charged too much, taking advantage of the situation, feeding on people’s desperation and just when I was about to give up, some dude agreed to take me there on the usual fare; $5. 

The ride was the scariest of my life. We passed the bridge against the police orders. We made it to Obeyd St. and then turned right into the Academy St. to connect to the airport road. I saw people running everywhere, panicking and trying to get on any car they could. Some people tried stopping us but the driver didn’t stop. It’s too dangerous and everyone is thinking about their own lives. 

I saw this woman screaming and begging us to stop, I remembered my own mother and I asked the driver to stop for her. She thanked us and showered me with prayers and apologized for being a burden. The driver asked her where she was going and it turned out she wanted to go get her two little daughters from an elementary school near where I lived. I prayed they were safe… 

There were no cars in sight. The cars I saw were abandoned in the roads; their windows shattered and doors open; blood visible in the glass and on the floor. I saw rocks all over the place. When we entered a neighborhood I saw people screaming and running…chased by some Southerners. What I saw next was beyond imaginable; I saw a group of girls running while screaming for dear life. Many of them had their tops missing and some were stripped down to their underwear. I never found out what happened to them. Where was the police? Where were the firefighters? Where was the army? Why is this chaos being allowed to go on? Somehow I felt as if the government wanted the people to suffer. Somehow I felt that they wanted this to escalate into a more desirable level…civil war…so they could fight the Southerners again and openly start discriminating against them instead of the usual hidden prejudice. 

Ever since we crossed the bridge I’ve been guiding the driver since he didn’t know the safest areas. I’ve been in Sudan long enough to memorize the three main cities by heart. Luckily, my route was safe and I reached safely and paid the driver with a fair tip for his kind work. I’ll never forget the indebted look on the woman’s face as she thanked me again and again for stopping for her, tears visible from her eyes. Then I remembered my own mother and hoped that someone would have done the same for her… 

Our street was pretty quiet. The people that used to ride buses were now walking on the main street trying to get to wherever they called home. Shops were locked down and their owners sat outside with clubs and sticks. Our building had two guards. When I entered the house the guys were all acting normal. Ibrahim and Mohammed were chatting on the balcony watching the people as they passed by while Moh’d was reading a newspaper. Ahmed was still sleeping and didn’t even have the slightest clue of what was going on. I cracked up and realized that these guys will never change. A nuclear bomb could go off and they could go on for days without realizing what happened. 

Just then one of their cell phones beeped; it was the message I had sent an hour ago…and then they knew.

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