The Event That Shook Our Camp, Dimma!

"Evidently, according to the investigators, Biel was murdered and his body was thrown into the river."

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 Personal Story

By Willy Mayom Maker

There was a guy named Biel (real name withheld). Biel was an Ethiopian by nationality, from the Nuer of Gambela, Ethiopia. His father worked in the Ethiopian government.

When Ethiopian rebels of Tigray Liberation Front (TLF) started fighting the government of Mengistu, all Ethiopian males were conscripted to fight the rebels. Biel's father didn't want his son to be conscripted, so he sent him to join Jesh Amer (Red Army of then Southern Sudanese Liberation Movement) in Dimma.

Even though he had not gone under guerrilla warfare training like we were, Biel was put in our headquarters for shelter and security purposes only. He was a grownup man, probably around 25 years old, unlike us who were between 8 and 15 years of age.

Biel spoke only Nuer and Amharic, no Arabic or English. You had not many options when speaking to Biel: it was either Amharic or Nuer. I often chose the latter. I wasn't fluent in Nuer, but I had enough vocabulary to get me by under that circumstance.

I was both an adjutant and a logistics officer, so it was my job to welcome and accommodate Biel, on orders from the Second Lieutenant Athuai Machartat, then a renowned former SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) news anchor (presenter) in Dinka language.

I found Biel a small hut in the middle of our headquarters, next to a store where the guns and rations were kept. Because we didn't want the UN to know we (still underage) were soldiers, guns and other military equipment were kept in the store during the day, under my responsibility of course, and brought out at night for guarding and protecting ourselves and the entire camp.

Biel was very quiet and reserved. He hardly spoke to anyone. It was only during food distribution that Biel would come to me and demanded his ration. "Mayom," he would say, "ngen gore nub yen." That's "Mayom, I need yellow-corn flour." Nub yen, his favourite food, was yellow-corn flour – a very nutritious food, which was everyone’s favourite.

The Nuer called it "nub yen." The Dinka called it "abik maketh” or “maketh." The Equatorians called it "Degig asfar."

Every time I distributed the ration, everyone asked me for "chuol-chok", the leftover "on the bottom of the sack", which I often gave to anyone I wished, usually my friends. So everyone wanted to be my friend in order to receive chuol-chok of the yellow-corn floor.

That's how I acquired my fame. I mean, everyone in our three task-forces of "Marekrek" knew who I was. (No offense to my friends who used to receive chuol-chok on a regular basis, or those who didn't for that matter, though I'm not naming any names, for I'm just trying to tell our story).

Additionally, because I was the logistics officer, I always had extra bullets, which I also gave to my friends. Bullets were like gold and diamond. You could hunt or target-shoot all you wanted if you had extra bullets, apart from the official bullets, which if you lost one bullet, you could end up in jail for months.

Moreover, I was a sharpshooter who, when hunting, never missed an animal. The bottom line was, those who were around me benefited, except Biel, who'd isolated himself.

As time went by, Biel's situation deteriorated. In addition to the language barrier, Biel could not fit in because, according to him, he was a "wur mediit (a grownup)" and we were just "dhol metod (small boys)."

Nub yen, the yellow-corn flour, was replaced with "arec-gon" – a disgusting sorghum flour which, when cooked, looked and tasted like dirt, literally.

Unlike our Sudanese sorghum, which has flavour, this sorghum was so disgusting that even scavenging birds like vultures, which would eat almost anything, rejected it; and that's how it was named, "arec-gon” or "rejected by the vulture."

In addition to his loathing for the food, Biel’s clothes and hair were riddled with lice; his feet were infested by jiggers (tuktuk) – small worm-like insects which burry themselves inside your body just below skin and start to lay eggs.

Bedbugs and mosquitoes were plentiful. Biel, who was used to a luxury lifestyle, couldn't handle a guerrilla life, unlike us, the tenacious Jesh Amer who resisted it all. In just a couple of months, Biel became suicidal, though we didn't know it.

One evening, Biel came to me in the store and asked for a gun. "Mayom," he said, "ngen gore mac." That is, "Mayom, I need a gun." Even though he was not trained, I thought he had extra bullets and he needed a gun to go hunting, like everyone else. But I was a little suspicious because the sun was setting and no one hunted in the dark. Nevertheless, I told Biel to get permission from chawish-nabetshi, the on-duty sergeant before I could release the weapon. He left and never returned.

The same night, I was woken up in the middle of the night by a sound of someone coughing very loudly. When I looked out through the window, it was dark but I could still see Biel squatting and coughing very loudly. I assumed he was flatulent and was vomiting, which was common to those who ate too much balila (boiled bean and maize grains).

Soon, Biel got up and walked toward the river, still coughing and holding his neck. This confirmed my theory that he had, indeed, vomited all over his body and was heading to the river to wash up. I went back to sleep.

Early in the morning, we were awoken by commanders who were combing through Biels tukul. Something had happened to Biel. In the exact spot I saw Biel squatting at night, there was a pool of blood and a bloody knife nearby. The blood trail led to the river, the exact route I saw him take during the night.

Evidently, according to the investigators, Biel was murdered and his body was thrown into the river.

The investigation was led by both First Lieutenant by Ted Baboth (also known as Wawu) and Second Lieutenant Athuai Machartat. Ted Baboth had presumptuously concluded that Biel was killed simply because of his ethnicity, Nuer.

All headquarters' personnel who lived next to Biel, including myself, were the suspects at first. We were questioned one by one.

During the questioning, I was scared to death. I didn't want to mention what I saw during the night or the fact that Biel had come to me asking for a gun, for fear of being considered a suspect. I shrunk, just like Ater Madeet (Joot Ater Madeet - only Agar tribe will know this saying). You see, Ater Madeet was the guy who was so scared, after all the people around him were executed, that he shrunk to the point that his testicles never recovered from the shrinkage. That's how scared I was.

After the questioning, however, we were eliminated from suspects. The investigators thought that we were too small to kill Biel with a knife and throw his body in the river without being seen or heard. They believed the killer or killers were strong men who knew exactly what they were doing. So the investigation expanded to Matawothat (Medium) task-forces.

Our battalions were divided into three: Dikdik or Nyawanyiu Tasforces, anyone Jesh Amer below 10 years old; Marerek Taskforces, where I belonged, were ages between 10 and 15; and Motawothat (Meduim) for those who were 15 years and above. The investigators believed that only grownups would commit such heinous crime.

Coincidentally, three guys from Medium Task-forces, Michael Maburuk Mangong and his two friends (I forgot their names), had visited Biel that evening. When questioned, Michael and his companions admitted that they had visited Biel that evening, had supper with him before returning to their taskforce, leaving him safe and sound.

But no one believed their narrative. They were now the suspected killers, and they were put in prison where they were interrogated and tortured for days and nights. They were charged with murder, a crime which usually resulted in firing squad. But Michael and his friends kept saying they were innocent.

I knew they were innocent too because I saw Biel alone that night squatting and coughing before heading to the river.
When the investigators came to question us again, encouraging us to say anything that we saw, no matter how insignificant it might be, I finally gathered enough courage and told them what I saw that night. I explained to them how Biel came and asked for a gun, which I didn't provide, and that I also saw him squatting and coughing loudly, before getting up and walking toward the river while holding his throat. The investigators didn't believe most of my story.

However, they concluded that because Biel came asking for a gun, he probably knew there were people who wanted to harm him, so he wanted to protect himself. Michael and his friends, the strong looking young men who visited the deceased before disappearing, couldn't prove their innocence. Only God knew their fate.

A week later, local tribesmen, the Kachippo, brought Biel to the camp with a knife wound on his throat. He was taken to Ethiopian clinic, where Dr. Atem Nathaniel Riak, who was also the camp commander, worked.
Fortunately, Biel survived and he narrated what had transpired. He explained that he stabbed his throat because he wanted to kill himself. Why? Because he was tired of living in such deplorable conditions.

He had planned to shoot himself that night, which was why he came and asked for a gun. When I refused, he waited until everyone had slept, then grabbed a knife and stabbed his throat. Luckily the knife blade passed between the neck bone and the throat without cutting any major artery.

According to Biel, the pain was excruciating, so he was not able to completely cut his throat or even stab himself again. Instead, he withdrew the knife, threw it down and walked to the river with the intention of drowning himself.

Again, when water entered the knife wound, the pain was excruciatingly unbearable. So, Biel swam across the river and wandered in the bush, hoping to either bleed to death or get eaten by wild animals. After losing significant amount of blood, he collapsed.

The next thing he knew, he woke up in a hut with Kachippo tribesmen nursing his wound with traditional herbs. Apparently, Kachippo villagers found and took him to their village, and finally returned him to the camp when they realized he was a Sudanese.
Subsequently, Michael and his friends were released. That was a close call. They almost lost their lives for a crime they didn't commit!

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06/07/2019, 4:26 PM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
A gripping story!
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