Lost in chaos

By James Taban

Lost in the chaos 

My brother Joshua and I used to live in a small village called Napoleka in South Sudan with our family of five two years before coming to Kakuma refugee camp. My father, mother and two sisters. My brother Joshua and I were very close and we were doing everything together. Joshua was the strongest among us all. He had an athletic body. He was taller than all of us despite being younger than me.


I felt bad about the fact that he is younger and stronger than me because of the fact that in society, the stronger ones were the better ones.  He was also the happiest always smiling and full of joy in the family. We used to play football together. We were always on the same team and had a great chemistry between us. All the people around loved watching us play on the same team. We were shepherds, and the most interesting thing is that we used to have some little fights between us. I remember a moment when we fought and I held his head to the ground smiling. He got annoyed and started chasing me while throwing stones at me. He stoned me at the back of my head and my head started bleeding. He  came to me apologizing and felt guilty for what he did. This strengthened our brotherhood. 


One day our village was attacked by a group of armed men who were over powering the village. They called themselves “militants”, and our family was killed in front of our eyes. It was such a traumatic and devastating event that left a deep emotional scar in my life. I was very shocked, disbelief, with an overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness. We were seated at home waiting for supper. My mother was in the kitchen preparing supper while the rest of us were seated around the table. We were inside the house. We had someone knocking at the door. My younger sister went and opened it. When she opened the door, paaah! (Gunshot). We all knelt down with our hands at the back of our heads. She got shot and died on the spot. I was tense and frightened. This happened in front of my eyes.


I felt so bad and my whole body froze. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. “Everyone down!” The head of the militants shouted at us while pointing the guns at us. They were wearing some old soldiers’ uniforms. Their heads are covered with red scarfs. They were wearing big black boots. Their leader who was giving orders was wearing a black cap with spectacles. They had a problem with our family because my father was advocating against their atrocities. The militants were looting people’s properties, raping women and young girls, and abducting young boys. He was always advocating against the militants in the entire village. This is because the militants  were killing people for no reason.“Please don’t kill us!” my father pleaded to them while he was down on the ground, with his hands behind his back. “Close your dirty mouth” another militant shouted at my father while hitting him with the back of the gun. There were 4 of them. 


My mama was crying in the kitchen. They heard her voice. “Go and check who is in there” the head of the militant ordered the other militant to go and check. We heard 5 gunshots and the militant came back. My heart was racing so fast. I was in the sitting room while my mother was in the kitchen. I knew that my mother was gone. At that moment we heard chaos outside. The other villagers heard gunshots and were running. They were making a lot of noise. It was total chaos! 


The militants thought that the villagers were coming to our house. As they wanted to run outside, my father grabbed one of them. As he grabbed him, he shot my father. “Baba! Baba!” I cried. As my father fell down while bleeding heavily from his chest. My brother and I went and placed his head on our laps. “My sons please find a way of leaving this place, run as fast as you can!” and his eyes got closed. We ran outside and got lost in the crowd of people where people were running from side to side. Little did we know that the entire village was under attack. We ran in different directions. We managed to escape the attack, but we got separated in the chaos.


I ran outside and hid in the woods which was some few meters away from our house. When I saw some women, children and men running passing by the woods, I joined them and we ran together.. I managed to flee from the village to a nearby town. We were a group of 25 individuals. We found a good samaritan in that town who helped and drove us in his lorry to the border of Kenya and South Sudan called Nadapal. 


It was a 7 hours drive from the town to Nadapal. When we reached the  border of Kenya and South Sudan, we were received by the Kenya Red Cross. They helped us because they were at the border to help families faced with war in their countries. We told them that we are hungry and thirsty. They gave us water and some bread because we were very hungry and thirsty. I felt relieved but I was worried about my brother because I lost him. We thanked the kind-hearted man who brought us to Nadapal. He was compassionate, empathetic, and caring towards us. He was also generous as he gave us water and bread. He helped us because we were in need.


The Kenya red cross then brought us to Kenya in Kakuma refugee camp as refugees. I finally felt relieved because I found a home. To me, home may represent a sense of safety, security, and protection from the dangers I faced in my home country. It may also symbolize hope for my future, as I seek asylum and dream of a better life. Though I was still traumatized by what had happened to my family, and I struggled so hard to come to terms with my loss.


 The refugee camp was a difficult place to live, with limited resources and overcrowded conditions. Lack of access to basic needs like food, clean water, adequate shelter, and healthcare. This is because they were insufficient thus it was hard accessing them. In the Camp, it was often overcrowded, with limited space and resources available. This led to poor living conditions, increased risk of disease. I remember there was an outbreak of malaria, all hospitals were overcrowded. There was a lack of privacy and security. This is because we were sharing tents with strangers, which can be uncomfortable and unsafe. This is because I was fearing that they might harm me. We were sharing 1 tent with 3 people from different countries and backgrounds. We are still sharing tents up until now.


This caused high risk of theft, violence, or sexual assault. I remember I left my phone in the tent and went to fetch water. When I came back, I didn’t find my phone. When I called the people we were sharing a tent with, all of them denied that they never took the phone. I was very annoyed but couldn’t do anything. There is insufficient education and job training programs in the camp, which can make it difficult for us to rebuild our lives. Living in a camp is stressful and traumatic, particularly for us individuals who have experienced war in our countries. I experienced anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems as a result. It’s also difficult to access legal aid, navigating complex legal systems, and obtaining documentation. Most of the time we experienced discrimination and marginalization from host communities, which made it difficult for us to access basic services and integrate into their new environment.


I never gave up on finding my brother. I struggled to find any information about his whereabouts through the Red Cross, and I often felt alone and isolated. I spent my days helping out at the camp, distributing food and water. We volunteered at the food distribution center where food was given  by the World Food Program (WFP) to refugees and did whatever so that I could make a difference.


Despite the difficult conditions, I never gave up hope that I would one day be reunited with my brother. I held onto the memories of our childhood together, and I prayed that somehow we would find each other again. Years passed, and I continued to live in the refugee camp. I made many friends, and the most intriguing part of it is that one of them was called Joshua. He reminded me more of my lost brother. He had most of my brother’s characteristics. I felt a connection with him and this reduced the gap of missing my brother.


We blended in so fast with him and found a sense of purpose in helping others, but I never forgot about my brother. One day, I received a message from the Red Cross that my brother had been found alive in Dadaab refugee camp, and I was overjoyed. In the community, the Red Cross would come and conduct some awareness about family re-unification. I went and told them the name of my brother and told them that I didn’t know where he was. I gave them my phone number to contact me in case there is any progress. After some few months they called me to their office and gave me positive feedback about tracking the name I gave them in Dadaab refugee camp. They made a call from Dadaab through their office and we talked with him. 


At first I thought that I was dreaming buit it was indeed for real. I felt so happy getting in contact with my bro. I quickly made arrangements to travel to the other camp, and when I finally saw my brother again, we embraced each other tightly, both of us overcome with emotion. He told me that he had escaped with a family which took him in as his own. They all survived the attack and had to leave the country. The father of that family had some connections outside the country therefore they left for Kenya. When they reached  Kenya, they were advised to go to the Dadaab refugee camp. So, they left and settled in Dadaab. After some few months that family turned their back against him therefore, he had to live alone in the camp. He told me that it was so hard for him to settle but he managed to get a job as a cleaner in the food distribution center. He earned some cash to help him settle and access his needs.


That’s how he survived in the Dadaab refugee camp. He told me that he used to think about me every day and night wishing that am alive so that one day we could meet again because he knew am the only family he got left in this god damn world.We spent the next few weeks catching up on everything that had happened to us since we were separated, and we vowed to never let anything come between us again.

16 July, 2023