The story of how I got into peace is not a cute, warm and fuzzy one. The moment I realized that there's no good in war, and that peace is the only way, also happens to be one of the worst moments of my life, and absolutely the worst ever for sixteen year old me.
That moment took place at approximately 2:00 PM, on the afternoon of July 30, 2005. I had to rush to college that Saturday, I had overslept and almost missed my Thermodynamics exam, which I stayed up all night studying for. Don't worry; I got an A. By noon I was out of the hall, getting my coffee, and waiting for my friends to finish cheating on their exams.
While sipping on my coffee, I overheard a conversation between a fellow student and her mom on the phone, who was clearly freaked out about something, and her daughter was asking her to calm down and talk slower so she can understand what was going on. Finally, the girl dropped on the ground unconscious, I assumed that she must have lost a relative and her mother was breaking the news to her. I helped the girl regain consciousness, but when she did, she started screaming hysterically, and babbling "They killed him! They killed him! He's only 12 and they killed him!" I tried my best to calm her down, so I could see how I could help. After 20 minutes of trying, she finally was calm enough to make longer sentences. Her first sentence was "The Southerners killed my little brother". Given the circumstances, I decided to let the racist tone slide, and asked "What? Why would anyone kill your baby brother?" She answered "John Garang got assassinated, and South Sudanese are slaughtering people randomly for revenge" Apparently, while I was on my way to the campus, the news was announced, and while I was taking my exam, hell broke loose in the streets of Khartoum.
I offered to take the girl home because she was too traumatized to drive. We took her car, and drove out of the campus. Going out of the campus gate was like crossing out to another dimension! While buildings looked the same, everything else didn't. Blood was everywhere; corpses of slaughtered men, women and children filled the streets, with no sign of police, ambulances or any sign of street-walkers. Just people in cars, rushing to their homes to protect their loved ones, and to schools to pick up their children.
At that point in my life, I had experienced atrocities of war in Darfur while volunteering with civil society organizations, but it was the very first time I witnessed the actual killing happening. I crashed into another car when I saw this poor old man get pulled out of his car, and have his neck slit by an angry mob of young South Sudanese kids. It was just awful. I managed, somehow, to get the girl home, and returned home afterwards. By the end of that Saturday, in almost every street in Khartoum, there was a family mourning the death of one of its members.
On Sunday, even worse horrors started. Early in the morning, police delivered arms to houses, for "protection," and asked people in each neighborhood to form "guarding teams", and asked them to "shoot to kill." Armed with the state-provided weapons, and with the green light to kill, the teams shot dead countless of innocent South Sudanese young men & women. I can't even begin to describe the horrors that took place in the peaceful city that I grew up in, and how monstrous ordinary peaceful people turned when fear was added to the formula. We were definitely heading to new Rwanda-like genocides.
The violence continued throughout the week, and with a state of emergency and curfew declared it was hard for activists, like myself, to protest the violence for long enough to make a tangible impact. Only by Wednesday, were we finally loud enough to get people to listen; to start rejecting violence and let go of their fears. Little by little, violence started to calm down, and by the next Saturday it finally stopped completely.
Sadly, it was too little too late. By the time the violence stopped, thousands of innocent people had lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands had had their hearts broken from the loss of someone they knew and loved. Millions lost faith in a durable peace between North & South Sudan.
The only bright side of this extremely dark story, is that countless of individuals like myself turned onto the side of peace. We really realized how awful war is. I have been a peace advocate ever since - not only domestically, but also regionally and internationally.