Peace lingered in my imagination as if a fairyland dream. I could no longer taste fear, its stench an ever present companion.
The night that my cousin, Achan, was abducted, I hid and prayed as the Arab militia entered our village. A few of the men tried to protect their wives and children, only to be killed for their efforts. I asked the elders which group was better off, those killed or those taken as Prisoners of War to live in slavery. They said those that were killed were with Jesus, and Jesus was with the rest, even if the Arabs forced them to convert to Islam.
Whispered voices interrupted my restless sleep that night. My eyes refused to open as I tried to listen, my brain jumbling their words. Sleep won out and I dreamt I was being lifted and carried off by angels.
Bird calls and wrestling leaves welcomed me as I awoke. These were not the sounds and smells of the village. The jolting of pounding feet and the sweaty arms wrapped around me confirmed I was not dreaming. I was being carried, not by an angel, but by my father.
“Lucia, daylight is coming. We must climb up in the trees and sleep for the day.” The urgency in Father’s voice left no room for questions. I followed my older brother into the tree and tied myself to the branch, as I saw him do.
A new type of fear rose in my gut as I looked for my mother and younger siblings, but only saw Father, my brother and another family from my village. Were they safe? Would I ever see them again?
The small breakfast Father gave me tasted like tree bark as I listened to him tell me the plan. We were going to try to make it to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as Mother and the younger two children traveled with another family trying to make it Ethiopia. Somehow we would find each other again once we were safe. I prayed it was true.
A low growl changed our focus to the ground below. The village woman in our group let out a loud gasp as her son, Dol, slipped from his branch. I tightened my rope as I watched in horror as he hung above a hungry lion, saved only by his father’s strong arms. I now knew why Father had spent hours teaching us each to tie knots.
I did not sleep much that first day, having slept while Father carried me the night before. As everyone else slept, I watched the Arab Militia search another part of the forest before turning back towards a neighboring village. I wondered how far away was this Congo place Father had mentioned. I mourned and prayed for Mother and my little brother and sister. And I slept, a little.
After the sun climbed down from the sky, we climbed down from the trees. Stopping only a few minutes at a time, we continued our journey towards the imaginary line to freedom. Avoiding towns and villages, we eat what little food we could find in the forest. We could not make a fire for fear of detection.
During the second week of walking by night and sleeping in trees during the day, we woke up to voices in the clearing nearby. Father gave the signal to stay still and quiet. Only part of the group spoke Dinka, so I did not understand most of their plans, but what I understood scared me more than the Arab militia. Hours later, God answered our prayers that they would not go the direction we needed to travel. Father told me later that these men were part of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group from Uruguay who terrorize several countries. We wouldn’t be safe until we reached a large city in a safe country. I no longer believed in safe.
After a few more close calls and limited food, we arrived in the city of Bumba on the River Congo. We had made it to safety. We started a new life in a new country and later moved on to a whole new continent. It would be ten years before we saw Mother and the younger children again. Now teenagers raised in different cultures, my younger siblings and I have almost nothing in common, except our escape from the Sudan and the stories of how God protected us during that time.
Although the Civil War in Sudan officially ended in 2005, it is estimated that between 8,000 and 11,000 Prisoners of War are still held as slaves in that country.
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