What a glorious reunion! William Mayok

Majok Manyang Majok (on my right) and Mayom Manyang Majok (left), the infants I evacuated from the war zone, are now young men taller than me. Below is the history, copied from the book, Learning the Hard Way, page 147-156.

In 1992, I met a young mother named Adut Machar Dak in Pakhok, located at the South Sudan-Ethiopia border. Adut Machar, from Yirol, was married to Manyang Majok Duop, from Rumbek. I didn't know Adut, but I knew her husband's family back home. Majok Duop's family members were traditional bonesetters, renowned for treating bone injuries—knowledge verbally passed from one generation to another without formal documentation.

It was the time Ethiopians evicted South Sudanese from Ethiopia. Adut wanted to go to Kapoeta, but there were no vehicles. People walked on foot from Pakhok to Kapoeta. But there was no way Adut could carry her two children, Majok and Mayom, who were three and one-year-old, respectively. The young mother was stranded in Pakhok.

Pakhok was a death trap. The Ethiopian troops were reported to be advancing. Khartoum troops were also said to be on their way to wipe out the weakened SPLA from the border. Ismail Konyi's militias, equipped and supported by the Khartoum regime, were lurking in the area. Anyuak militiamen were armed to the teeth. Moreover, starvation was at its peak. Pakok was a living graveyard, and everyone wanted to get the hell out of that place.

The desperate young mother (Adut) came to me one day. "Mayom, you have to help me with my children. Take me to Kapoeta."

I understood why Adut wanted me to escort her to Kapoeta. Lions attacked and devoured several people between Pakook and Buma. Also, local tribesmen sexually abused unaccompanied females on the way. Not to mention that Adut couldn't carry two children with their food and water supplies from Pakhok to Kapoeta, hundreds of miles.

Even though I sympathized with Adut, I told her it was impossible to escort her to Kapoeta because my task-force commander would not allow me to leave. We, the Red Armies, were the only hope of the SPLA in that area. All the black army forces had left—each soldier said he was taking his family to safety but never returned. Subsequently, the Jesh Army, even those who were supposed to wait for a couple of years to mature physically and mentally before being armed, were now armed to protect themselves and the refugees.

Surprisingly, Adut went to my task-force commander, 1st Lieutenant Gordon Maper Manyiel. I don't know what Adut told Lieutenant Maper. But Lieutenant Maper called me that evening. "You must help this woman with her children," Maper said, speaking more like an elder than a commander. "These are Agaar children, and if they die here, their blood will be in our hands."

With that, I agreed to take Adut to safety with her children.

The night before our departure, a young man named Mathiang approached me. I wrote an article about Mathiang last year, but the story was incomplete). Standing only less than 3-feet tall, he was a little person (dwarf or aciek). Even though he wore Agaar scarification on his head, Mathiang looked like a three-year-old child.

"Mayom, I hear you are going to Kapoeta. Please don't leave me here. You are the only Agaar I know."

I accepted Mathiang to join us. An older woman (I forgot her name) from the Atuot also joined us. Now I had five vulnerable people under my responsibility: the young mother with her two infants, the disabled person, and the Atuot Old Woman. Remember, I was only 16 years old. I didn't even know what I was doing. It was desperation in a desperate situation.

Soldiers were not allowed to leave with weapons, so I left mine in Pakook. But I had a pistol, PT92. When Ethiopians attacked Rhad, gun stores were looted. I entered one of the stores and found the pistol and six pairs of uniforms. I kept the handgun hidden because I didn't want it confiscated by high-ranking officers.

With the pistol securely tucked on my groin, I left Pakhok with my vulnerable crew. I put Majok on my shoulders, his butts resting on the backpack on my back. Adut was carrying a load on her head and the child on her back. The Atuot Old Woman carried her belongings. Mathiang carried our food supplies, raw lentils, and maize.

On the way, we were joined by another armed man called Agondong, (currently in Rumbek). Agondong, from the Jesh Aswuot, was armed with an AK47.

We left Pakok early in the morning, passing through Khor-Bulldozer, Nyalong-gor and reaching Khor-gana at around 5 pm. But Mathiang was missing. We waited, thinking he would show up, but he didn't.

The children were now crying because they were hungry. But Mathiang was missing with our food supplies. I asked Agondong, the Jesh Aswuot, to go with me to look for Mathiang. But Agondong said he was exhausted. So, I took the AK47 from him and went to search for Mathiang alone.

Soon, it was dark—pitch black. I loaded the pistol and stuck inside my pant on my groin. In my hands was the loaded and unlocked AK47, grip on the gun's handle was firm; my index finger curled around the trigger, ready to fire. My thought was that if a lion knocked me down and I parted with the AK47, I would still use the pistol.

After walking for a while in the absolute darkness, I was completely crippled by fear. My heart was thumping to my ears. The testicles which misled me in the first place were now gone. That's what testicles do, they mislead a man, and when you are in deep shit, they shrink, leaving you on your own.

I had been walking for about an hour in the darkness, but Mathiang was nowhere. I gave up. I didn't know whether Mathiang had returned to Pakhok or the lion attacked him.

When I was about to give up and return, something fell with a "thud" just a few yards away. I squatted and aimed in the darkness to where the sound came from. My heart raced. My index finger was shaking but firmly pressed against the trigger with the lever switched to automatic. "Mathiang, is that you?" I called.

"Yes," he replied, sounding scared out of his mind. "It's good that you've come, Mayom."

It turned out that Mathiang barely saw in the daylight, but he was completely blind at night. Additionally, Mathiang's knees were bent inward, and his feet had grown sideways, making it harder for him to walk in the narrow path because the grass easily tangled his feet. Also, the load was too heavy for him. That was why he couldn't catch up with us.

We returned to Khor-gana. By now, I was outrageous—a combination of fear, hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Every rustle in the bush was met with a bullet or two. Earlier, Lieutenant Marial Manyuon, who commanded Nyalong-goro, ordered. "From here to Khor-gana, I don't want to hear a gunshot. You, Jesh Amer, shoot randomly like madmen. If you do, I will arrest you. But now, I didn't care anymore.

We came to a dry stream surrounded by bamboo bushes. As we ascended down the stream, Mathiang slipped and fell. While grunting and groaning in pain, Mathiang tumbled down the stream with the load he was carrying. I thought a lion had grabbed him, so I shot several bullets in the air. A few seconds later, Mathiang was yelling from the bottom of the stream. "Mayom, don't shoot me! I'm down here!"

When we came to Khor-gana, the commander named Makur wanted to arrest me for the shooting. I lied to the commander that "something had jumped over our heads in the darkness, so I had to shoot it." The commander asked Mathiang, and he said the same thing. They didn't arrest me.

We left the following morning. But fatigue had set in. Majok was too heavy for me. My skinny neck, where majok had sat for two days, was stiffened to the point that I couldn't even turn my head. Adut was also in terrible shape, and so was the Old Woman. Mathiang was the worse among us. But we pressed on.

We arrived at Khor-chuei, where we found a truck going to Buma. I talked to the driver, and he was kind enough to take my vulnerable crew: Adut with children, Mathiang, and the Old Woman. Agondong and I walked to Buma.

In Buma, we found another truck that took us to Kapoeta. From Kapoeta, we went to Torit, and Manyang Majok finally reunited with his family. Manyang thanked me profusely for saving his family's life. He even said, "I will give you my daughter in the future."

In Torit, we stayed at Commander Samuel Ater Dak's home, who was Adut's uncle. Subsequently, Commander Ater wanted me to be his bodyguard. But I told him I was returning to my unit in Pakhok.

In Torit, I met Madhieu Makuach Adhil (now in Rumbek). Madhieu took me to his place, where I met Lieutenant Mabor Meen Wol (now in Rumbek). Lieutenant Mabor also wanted me to be his bodyguard. I don't know why every officer I met wanted me to be his bodyguard. I didn't like being a bodyguard. But Mabor did it smartly. Instead of approaching me himself, Mabor told Madhieu to convince me to be his bodyguard.

Mabor was a signal division staff responsible for all SPLA communications policies, control, and management. Because of this, Madhieu said being Mabor Meen's bodyguard would allow me to learn. Madhieu had a point, though. Signal staff members were the most educated individuals in the SPLA because they always wrote, read, and even took courses. So, I became Lieutenant Mabor Meen's bodyguard in Torit. But I quitted three days later because being a bodyguard was not my thing.

I returned to Kapoeta, leaving my vulnerable crew in Torit. I never saw Adut again. Now I'm happy to see Majok, the three-year-old boy I carried on my shoulders and his little brother, Mayom, have become fine young men.

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