“We will return home when UNMISS and the government say we don’t need to be afraid anymore,” says displaced Tambura tradesperson
Mbiyo Morgan is a tall man. In his early forties, he is a father, a husband, a farmer, a trader and a motorcycle mechanic. Like most others across South Sudan, Mbiyo wears many hats as he tries to put food on the table for his children.
His palms are darkened and rough, a testament to years of hard labour. But he was happy. At least till fighting erupted in Tambura, Western Equatoria, killing people and forcing tens of thousands to flee for their lives.
Today, Mbiyo is one of the nearly 9,000 displaced people sheltering at the Temporary Operating Base set up by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to restore some semblance of calm and stability here.
“We have suffered for the last three months because of the fighting, the killing,” he says as he inspects a mechanical fault on a customer’s motorcycle.
Mbiyo has been returning to operate his small workshop, following a relative de-escalation of tensions in the area. He says he craves for the day he will be return his home. A home that is only some two kilometres away.
“There is very little to go back to though,” he muses. Many of the houses in his area have either been burnt down or broken into. “Our household property, food, clothes, they’re all gone. We have forgotten these things. Whatever we have on our backs is all we own now,” he adds almost philosophically but the pain of loss is evident.
He feels the situation is becoming safer everyday safer but is disappointed that there has only been a solitary food distribution exercise since he began sheltering at the UNMISS temporary base, though humanitarian partners are doing their best to scale up assistance.
The urgency behind Mbiyo’s apparent equanimity is real: His family is running out of food. “I did plant crops in my farm this year and they are almost ready to be harvested but I am afraid to travel to my land. I have responsibilities and my family cannot afford to lose me. At least, with the mechanical work I’m doing I can feed them once a day. If I die, they will starve,” he states simply but emphatically.
Meanwhile in Mambulu, ten kilometres away on the road to Yambio, a sinewy 35-year-old man has braved his fears and is out spreading some sorghum and beans on the ground to dry. His compound is badly in need of clearing, with pumpkins sprouting here and there.
Juma does not mind this, nor does he mind the overgrown weeds and bushes encroaching upon his once clean compound. He has been here for the last four days with his wife and three children, none older than 10, specifically to collect some food from the garden to feed them.
“My family and I fled to the South Sudan Peoples Defense Forces garrison in town,” he revealed, reminiscing about the days immediately following armed attacks in the area. “We are safe but there is no food, and one needs money to buy anything. I am here to get some food from the garden and will have to go back to the garrison,” he adds. Risks are calculated in terms of life versus death, says Juma. He adds that he took the risk of trekking back to his garden with his children because his family is currently more likely to die from hunger.
“We may need to come back here as a group with some of my neighbours so we can stay longer, but for now, we will have to walk back with the children and with as much food as we can carry,” he says.
The fighting has stopped for now and a fragile peace has returned to Tambura. Markets and some shops are open, and the main road, which was deserted till a couple of weeks ago, is cautiously showing signs of life.
At his shelter in the UNMISS base, Mbiyo gently rocks his four-month-old son, checking the boy’s temperature with a tender touch to the forehead. His child was barely a month old when the family had to flee home. “We will go back home when UNMISS says we can leave and the government says it is safe to return,” he says as he peels his eyes from his baby and looks to the setting sun and the long shadows cast by the UNMISS armoured vehicles guarding the base.
In the meantime, the clock is ticking as the crops await harvest and farmers run the risk of losing all their food. But people like Mbiyo and Juma will have to constantly assess their situation and live a day at a time, carefully keeping alive the flame of hope for a better tomorrow for their children.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).