9 Mar 2021


"My Agonizing Trek", A Personal Story

"By this time, though, everything was gone: no buttocks left; ribs were exposed, thighs and arms didn’t have any meat or muscles left on them. I looked like a bamboo pole, literally, without visible curves whatsoever".

By Willy Mayom Maker

Gurtong- 6, Agust 2019 - I owned a pair of shorts, called “totin” and a robe (jalabia) called “chop-wong,” – very famous clothes worn by young fellows (aparapuool) back then in Rumbek. Chob-wong was a thigh-length robe which was so beautiful and so pricy that a young fellow would chase the cow (‘chop-wong’) to the market to sell it and buy the cloth. That’s how the name came about.

You see, aparapuool have a genuine way of naming things. In addition to chop-wong, now they have a mobile phone which they called “Dom-ba-laac” - an oversized mobile phone which looks like a mini radio, probably made in China. The device is so big to fit in your pocket and so beautiful to put down, for it may get stolen or damaged; so you have to hand it to a friend if you want to pee – “Dom-ba-laac (hold it so that I can pee)” becomes the name as a result.

Anyway, I didn’t sell a cow to buy my clothing. I grew tobacco at a deserted cattle camp called Adid. After spending the entire summer planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting the tobacco, I was able to sell the produce and generate enough money to buy the totin shorts and the chop-wong robe, leaving me with 10 pounds in my pocket.

Now properly dressed with the 10 pound bill in my pocket, I grabbed a small tin of peanut-butter (makuanga) from my mother, and off I went, heading to Bilpam, Ethiopia. It was 1986.

Fast forward… After walking for several weeks, we came to Manydeng/Anyidi, Bor. I was very hungry. Other than scavenging for fruits (thou, cuei, lang, etc.) on the way, I had not eaten real food since I left my mother. I was very hungry to the point that I was dizzy. Whenever I stood up, I had to hold on to something first until my feet were steady before walking, or else my eyes would flicker black, red and green lights, as if I was about to faint.

In Manydeng, there was a little restaurant where a woman was selling porridge (cuin-thou). I checked my precious 10 pounds in my pocket; it was still there. I didn’t want to spend the money before even reaching the desert. But the aroma of the food was irresistible.

I went to the woman and asked how much was a plate of food. She said it was one pound and a half. I bought one plate, which I shared with my cousin, Mabor (Chok) Turic. It was the tastiest food I had even eaten in my life.

But it was not enough. I really wanted to buy another plate, but I stopped myself. I couldn’t be too greedy; I had to economize my money accordingly. I stuck 8.50 pounds into my pockets. Off we went!
From Manydeng, we walked to Ajakageer desert, which took us four and a half gruelling days to cross it.

After crossing the desert, however, I learned that Sudanese pounds no longer worked on the other side of the desert. Instead, they used Ethiopian money (birr). My 8.50 pounds were now useless papers and coins.

I was really angry with myself. I should’ve at least eaten that cuin-thou to my satisfaction and bought many other things at Manydeng. What a waste! Seriously, up to now, I still feel the disappointment for wasting my hard-earned money.

Now my only hope was the tin of peanut-butter, which I had not even tasted since my mother gave it to me. We came to Machabol where we found an oasis in the desert.

After drinking enough water and the hunger had set in, I wanted to open my tin of makuanga for the first time to have a taste. But I met another soldier, who was also student from Pachong (I forgot his name); he told me that my brother, Manyang Malei, was in Gumroh – a town located at the outskirt of the desert. This changed everything. I decided to keep the makunaga until I would meet my brother so that we could share it together.

He had gone to Bilpam a couple of years earlier and I figured it would be nice to give him a little taste of our mother’s finest produce.

I gathered some edible leaves which I boiled and drank the green, slimy soup. No taste, not nutritious, nothing in the soup. But it temporarily eased the pain of starvation. I didn’t even know the name of those vegetables in Murle land.

Mading had taught me how to pick soft edible leaves and boil them. I don’t remember Mading’s last name, but his nicknames were Weu-weu or Ruc-juny – a very tall and lanky figure.

Despite being the youngest in the journey, I didn’t falter or even fall behind throughout the journey. First Lieutenant Manyang Magom was always leading, followed by Mading Weu-weu, and I was behind Mading like a thread with the needle.

Both Mading and Manyang Magom, along with Manyang’s twin brothers (Aheu and Madit Magom) used one term to describe me: "riel e puou" because I was very tenacious. If you find anyone one of these people somewhere there in Lakes States, ask them. They may not remember my name now, but I’m sure they still remember the youngest boy who was with them the entire journey.

We came to Gumroh where I met Makuer, another student from Pachong. I don’t remember his full name, but his nickname in Pachong was Makuer-ci-dhuel. Makuer told me that my brother had gone to Pibor. Pibor was on our way, so I knew I would eventually find my brother there. Remember, I didn’t touch the makuanga; I had to share it with my brother.

By this time, though, everything was gone: no buttocks left; ribs were exposed, thighs and arms didn’t have any meat or muscles left on them. I looked like a bamboo pole, literally, without visible curves whatsoever. We all looked like skeletons. Thanks God my bones were still intact. Off we went!
We left from Gumroh, reaching Pibor four or five days later. Again, I heard that my brother with his battalion had left that morning, heading to Pochalla. No problem. We were passing through Pochalla, so I was hoping to find him there. I didn’t touch the makuanga!

A couple of days later, we came to Pochalla at night time. In the morning, I started looking for my brother, but to no avail. Eventfully, I met Sabah Malok, a student from Pachong, who told me that Manyang had gone to Gillo yesterday. Now I had given up the hope of finding my brother.

From Pochalla, we were heading in the opposite direction to Dimma. The chance of sharing the makuanga with my brother had just vanished. Now I had to open up my tin of makuanga and eat it, alone!

I opened the bag, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My tin of makuanga wasn’t there! It had been stolen last night when I was sleeping. It was devastating. A complete disaster! I wasted my money and now I lost my makuanga? How foolish was I? The feeling of anger and hopelessness I felt in that moment was hard to describe. I had absolutely nothing to hope for. My money was useless, the makuanga was stolen, and I was not even meeting my brother? I was hopeless!

But you know what? When you are in that situation, your survival mechanism always increases in levels. My survival mode automatically shifted to the next level. I sneaked out of Pochalla and walked for about half an hour where I found an Anyuak village. After going from house to house offering my chop-wong robe for food, I found an Anyuak man who barter-traded the robe with a half gallon of maize.

After selling the robe, I walked naked wearing only my shorts from Pochalla all the way to Dimma, Ethiopia. But I survived on the maize until I reached my final destination.

When I finally came to Dima, I met Dut Malual, a student from Maleng-gok, who took me to his place where I ate to my satisfaction for the first time since I left Rumbek.

When he saw me naked, Manyang Akoldit, another student from Pachong, gave me one of his shirts. The shirt was too big for me, but at least it was long enough to cover my exposed ribs.

My shorts had already worn out on the journey and by the time I reached Dimma, they barely covered my buttocks. Kau Meen, whom I didn't even know that time, was a tailor in Dimma, and he gathered pieces of discarded fabrics and made one pair of shorts for me. I didn’t even ask him, but he just surprised me with the shorts.

Well, in 2015 (29 years later), I surprised Kau Meen, the guy who gave me the pair of shorts in Dimma! I sent some clothes from Canada all the way to Pachong to where he was. Upon receiving the clothes, the guy didn’t even remember giving me the shorts, since it’s been such a long time. But I didn’t forget it. Anyone who has done a good thing to you is not that easily forgotten.

I haven’t repaid Dut Malual and Manyang Akoldit for their generosities yet, but I will, no matter how long it takes.

RSS comment feed
05/08/2019, 4:37 PM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
"I opened the bag, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My tin of makuanga wasn’t there! It had been stolen last night when I was sleeping. It was devastating". Sounds very much like my own story when I woke up at Uvira (Congo) lake side at the north-western tip of Lake Tanganyika in 1963, when our last Congolese Franc was stolen while we slept. It set us back months before we could get help across to then Tanganyika in 1964.
13/01/2020, 11:26 AM
 - Posted by Abraham Daljang Maker
@Willy Mayom Maker. This is a touching story, Manyang Akoldit is working in Wau, when I meet him, will let him know how glad you still are to him, I am sure he will also be glad to learn that someone still remembers him.
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