About a week ago now, there was a little boy that caught a couple fish in a village called Ganal (pronounced Canal) not far from Malakal, Sudan. Excited to be able to sell them and provide some earnings for his family, he sought after some buyers. Much to his dismay, two groups of people desired the few cents that would be the tax from the sale of his fish. It just so happens that these two groups were members of warring tribes called the Dinka and Shulluk. This disagreement blew up into large and significant fighting that was quickly communciated to our base in Malakal from some missionaries living in a neighboring village.
Immediately, we stopped and prayed about the warring. Then Taylor, Allison, and I discussed what this meant. As the conversation developed, my stomach dropped deeper and deeper into my gut and fear was overtaking me. These two tribes have been revenge fighting for generations. So as soon as someone gets word in Malakal, a short phone call away, that these tribes are fighting, similar clashing can begin in an instant in our city. This happened last February and after hearing how dramatic that was, I feared mortars, bombs flying over our compound, landing a block away and laying on the floor to avoid stray bullets.
As I was talking to my brother, my imagination started getting control of me.
All I could see in my head were people crashing through our gate with machetes, with crazed looks and burrowing through our house, finding us hiding in a corner. I was scared. I thought I was about to be in the middle of an African massacre. Since I was seeing it all play out in my head, I was also experiencing the emotions I would be having if it were really happening. Sometimes being able to conjure up emotions and experiences using just my imagination can be a good and useful tool, but at this time, I still don’t have control over it – so in extreme situations like this, I became paralyzed.
We had enough water stored up to be safe, but my brother wanted to go out and buy some dry goods, since all the shops would be shut down while the fighting was going on. The thought of going out in town mortified me not knowing what would happen over the next hours. I had to trust God. I had to believe in His plan for my life in all of this. That was the only option.
So my brother and I, after some time to chill down, went on with our plans for the day. That evening the fighting had subsided and nothing had broken out in Malakal, where we were. We found out that the Dinka had raided the Shulluk tribe a few weeks earlier and had killed some people. So ever since, the Dinka had been living in fear of retaliation, which was to be expected. The Shulluk had been sending letters telling them of an impending attack, so this was their chance – the tax of the little boy’s fish was their opportunity to begin the fight.
My family and I were safe at the end of the day, but needless to say, I have never come so close to seeing death in my very near future. Nothing about this fight was good, but it made the tribal wars and desperate combating a reality. I could have easily come back to the states saying “eh, Africa isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. I was there 7 weeks and never heard or saw any hostility.” But after experiencing the close call that I did, I know it is real. I know it is scary and something that these people live with everyday. And, the weirdest part of all of it is that I knew people from each tribe living in Malakal. They were good people, who worked hard, who loved their families, and who were kind and generous to me. But because this revenge is so many generations old, somehow they can flip this rage switch to go attack relative strangers.
Now. That’s scary.