Yesterday July 30, 2022, we launched our last East Africa book tour in a place where my journey began as a refugee girl 22 years ago. The launch was attended by over 80 people from all over South Sudan. My gratitude goes to South Sudan's head of mission to Ethiopia Amb. James Mogan and Deputy Amb. David Dang for their support and participation in the launch. In addition, I extend my appreciation to Rev. Pastor James, Mr. Eng. John Yohanes, and Hon. Ruach Tang for accepting the role of speaker.
The event began with the “I have decided to follow Jesus” song then Michael Maker, the moderator ushered us to sit as he introduced the purpose of the event. It was followed by prayers from Rev. Pastor John Gach. The launch was done at the Anglican Church (St. Andrew) at noon, Addis Ababa time. Notable guests included the South Sudan’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, HE. Hon. Amb. James Pita Morgan (Guest of Honor), Prof. Hon. Ruach Tang (Patron of the Day), Eng. John Yohanes Magok, Author, Entrepreneur and Public Speaker (Guest Speaker). I began my address by thanking the Ethiopian team for a job well done as well as the social media fan who contributed to me choosing Addis Ababa as one of the tour locations. I also thanked my wonderful friend Kamille Thomas whose absence in Addis Ababa was a nostalgic moment for me.
My author address was immediately followed by a Question and Answers session. One of the commenters said, “when I see a South Sudanese woman speaking, I just feel joy because they have been kept in a cage.”
Khan Badeng, a student of Biotechnology in a local university asked: “what other alternatives are there for the book to be accessed by refugees?”A young Nuer woman said she never knew that child marriage was a bad thing until recently. She added most of her elder sisters were married at 17 and 18 respectively and that she was the only one who has now reached 19 years old. She wondered aloud how we would end child marriage especially with looptholes in our constitution.
Nyayian, another young woman, articulated that “girls are being abused.” “There is a certain age at which they are being prepared to marry,” she said. She wondered how child marriage would be stopped if their parents were still pushing for the same. She also mentioned that the book, having been written in English, might never be understood by the parents.
Angeth Acol De Dut, one of the co-founding members of the South Sudanese Women Intellectuals Forum (SSWI) thanked me for my courage. She urged the audience to try to engage our girls in education. She wanted to know how the issue of dowry could be handled in South Sudan. One commenter said that girls these days enjoy reading love stories and he suggested that besides the book which most do not read anyway, I needed to engage them in awareness campaigns so that the girls were able to internalize the story.
In my response, I made it clear our culture has made marriage an achievement. “It is not girls who do not want school, it is the condition that has been set for them,” I said. I challenged that parents needed to change this attitude to embrace education, set a vision beyond marriage, and for the girls’ lives not to be defined by roles. I urged that parents, especially mothers, needed to teach both genders the survival skills without favoring boys over girls. I also made it clear that dowry and attitudes change was not my sole role but a collective calling. I said that one would need to read the book and take a position. I shared with them my meeting with Gen. Kuol Manyang who capped the dowry at 7 cows while he was a Governor of Jonglei State in the late 80s. I stressed that it was possible to change this course of things if we cared.
In his guest remarks, Eng. John Mangok remarked that South Sudanese women were “resilient” and congratulated me on the book. He said that what inspired him in the book was that it reflected my true life story and by extension, that of a South Sudanese woman. He urged the audience that everyone had a role to play in this; calling upon “graduates to marry graduates” so that they could raise a much more aware family.
On his part, Mr. Ruach Tang began his speech by acknowledging my dad having known him as a teacher back in 1986. Ruach said he knew my dad as a great man. He revealed that he has been a women’s staunch advocate for several decades. He narrated how women, including his mother suffered in South Sudan and even revealed that he was forced to marry at his young age.
In his remark, Amb. James Pita Morgan said he expected the room to be full because the message was very “important.” He described my story as a graph that goes up and down, acknowledging that my story was difficult but I was able to put it down. He then offered his congratulations amidst applause. “Nyajuok’s story is very catchy. It is about life. Most stories die in our hearts but congratulations because she has her story in writing,” he said. “Anything written lives for generations,” Amb. Morgan added.
He humorized the issue of dowry as a way of denying “Nyam Nyam '' like himself who do not have cows not to marry from either Nuer or Dinka. He also suggested that South Sudan needed more writers, revealing that during their time, they were exposed to foreign literature where they could not find their unique, authentic voices. Amb. James gifted me his own Thesis he wrote about peace building, and regional integration using the intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region as his case in point. He concluded that the idea of “hope” in the book also aligned with the biblical “hope” which he described as “what makes us moving.”