I first met Apuk years ago in Dallas, Texas. Recently we caught up again in Juba, South Sudan at De Havana House, chatting, as old friends do. I congratulated her on the publication of two books, Kindred, and No More Betrayals. It is a feeling like no other, Apuk says, to be published, to have recognition of oneself as an author. Apuk has been writing a long time. So it was only a matter of time that her work would be published. But when you hold South Sudanese nationality, nothing feels like it should happen. Every accomplishment is one against insurmountable odds.
South Sudan literary scene has stood bare. For many years, the only known novelist and poet, my father Prof. Taban Lo Liyong, stood alone, holding that mantle. We are blessed to welcome the new generation of South Sudanese published authors. There are Nyabuoy Gatbel: The fire Within: Poetry in Thok Nath and English; Sabath De Yecouba: Betrayed: for love; Victor Lugala: White House; Kuir e Garang has authored multiple books including The Pipers: and the First Phase. And now we welcome Apuk Ayuel Mayen to the handful of published young authors from South Sudan.
Apuk’s book is poignantly titled No More Betrayals. It is the collective voice of the Sudanese child, a voice of our experiences. Apuk’s own experience is that she was born in Juba, and spent her childhood in Khartoum, Sudan. Her home was a revolving door of comings and goings of relatives, as they escaped war in Juba, Twic, or the many places besieged by conflict. Even as they weaved around from neighborhoods of Khartoum’s oppressive housing status for displaced people, or as they traveled to neighboring countries looking for permanency. Each relative carried with them stories of their war experience, their crushed hopes and dreams, and their pains. Apuk’s family, like many South Sudanese’, traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where they lived as undocumented migrants and were later resettled in the United States, as refugees. And that was how she came to complete high school and college in Texas, USA.
She returned for the first time to South Sudan in 2009, and countless times ever since. In December 2013 she travelled to Juba, South Sudan, for the first time with her two sisters: they found themselves in the crosshairs of the December 2013 South Sudan conflict, and once again, had to flee to take cover in Nairobi.
No more betrayals, is our story. The hopes and dreams of a nation. The individual betrayals we each experienced. That with each new peace agreement comes hope, short lived, often followed by crushing disappointment as renewed conflict follows.
The betrayals of our leaders. The broken promises. Tomorrow I will bring you peace. Tomorrow your family shall be made whole. The lies told to our refugees, Come back to your village; peace has come! Only to find that 3 months later they are yet again fleeing the killings, burning of the homes, raping of their women and abductions of their sons.
The betrayals of husbands. As they assured their wives, only for a little while I will come back, my love. Only for a little while, the war will end. Peace will come. Our family shall be whole again. The broken families, as fathers sought work elsewhere to partake in the liberation struggle, never to return. As mothers sold their bodies to feed their children.
The betrayals felt by our children. Robbed of an education. Robbed of a place to call home. Orphaned. Made to grow too soon.
And on and on it goes. We run, we flee, we come back, we run again. We weep, we pray, we laugh. We are a people without a home. We are perpetual refugees. We are the “I-will-come-back-generation.” We are the “I-will-build-my-home-tomorrow, in my village.”
Apuk’s book captures all these sentiments. Written with love, it is a gentle rebuke of us. Of our failures. She implores us to do better as a nation in serving our people.
What really captured me was how eloquently the book is. Well written. The flow of poetry, words weaved together. Each poem can be enjoyed as a standalone, or collectively together.
No More Betrayals can be purchased on Amazon. If you are in Juba, South Sudan, you may pick a copy at YO’ Books Limited, on Airport Road.