Shidu helaak

May  2018 / 26 No Comments

“Shidu helaak” is a South Sudanese Arabic term that can be translated as “tighten up”, the actual meaning is “Be strong despite the difficulties ”.

[Long read]
I arrived in Juba, South Sudan on the eve of 14th Dec 2013. I was very tired because of the 24 hours bus journey from Nairobi via Uganda.
I slept like a baby that night. When I woke up in the morning there was a lot of movement in the house. We were hearing heavy gunshots from all directions.
We did not know what was happening but everyone was worried. Our house is about seven kilometers from the military HQ commonly known as Bilpam.
I later learned that there was a split in the in the army, the fighting will eventually develop into a full-scale civil war engulfing most of South Sudan in less than a month.
Check the comments section to read more about how the war started and who is who in the conflict.

“Shidu helaak” is a South Sudanese Arabic term that can be translated as “tighten up”, the actual meaning is “Be strong despite the difficulties ”.

One week after the fighting has subsided in Juba, my dad and I were standing outside in the morning as we brushed our teeth, a very common practice in South Sudan.

Sunday pronounced as “Sandaey” walked towards us with her head leaning forward while carrying an “amood” , a food container that is commonly used to carry packed food to loved ones who are in prison or admitted in the hospital.

We all knew where Sunday was going that morning, she was not visiting an imprisoned.

“Shidu helaak” my dad said to her, she did not say anything, in fact, she did not bother to look at us.

Sunday’s husband had been hit by a stray bullet the morning of the 15th when all the neighbors were on the street trying to figure out what was happening. I witnessed the incident first hand. Her husband was standing about 500 meters from me when he suddenly fell to the ground. He was rushed to the hospital but all efforts were in vain. We learned of his death later that day.

That is not all, one week after her husband died she got another tragedy. Juba was relatively calm by then and there was no much fighting apart from sporadic gunshots every evening.

One of these sporadic shootings happened in our neighborhood. I think it was a drunk soldier who decided to fire his gun randomly. In the process, a stray bullet hit Sunday’s younger brother in the shoulder while they were in the house.
The boy was rushed to the hospital that evening. He underwent a surgery for removing the bullet from his shoulder.

The “Shidu helaak” statement happened when Sunday was going to check on the brother a day after he was shot.
I don’t think my dad’s words meant anything to Sunday.

I bring up Sunday’s story because of the many questions I get asked about South Sudan. People are mostly interested in knowing the current situation in South Sudan.
I usually give a lengthy answer with explanations about the role of the two warring parties but I rarely talk about people like Sunday.

I think the “how is South Sudan question” should not be answered diplomatically or with general statistics only. It should always have a personal narrative.
For Sunday, no amount of peace agreements will answer her questions, why did she undergo all that tragedy and pain.

Sunday did not ask for that, I was not very special for being alive that morning. Stray bullets were hitting everywhere. It is just luck and God’s protection.

We don’t need to tel Sunday “Shidu helaak” anymore, her life will never be the same. We need peace.

Much appreciation to my younger sister Rebecca Lado for fact checking the story.

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