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Nyajuok Tongyik Launched Her Groundbreaking Book in Nairobi Amidst a Witty Crowd

On June 17th, 2022 at exactly 2:38 pm (Nairobi), the launch formally started amidst enthusiasm and curiosities from a patient yet restless audience of over 65 attendees (80% male with an average age of 28). The original idea was that the organizer would have 40 attendees maximum to pass the Covid-19 requirement that their host had set. But things had to change. They ended up with over 100 attendees registering endlessly until they had to stop the google registration link. This tellingly was a signal that my story is not actually my story - it is people’s story.

The event organized and run by the South Sudan Reading Society - a leader in disseminating literary materials and promoting intellectual discourses brought Nairobi’s intellectual community to a standstill. It was attended by a diverse, and curious audience drawn from South Sudan, the DRC, Rwanda, and Kenya. The occasion started off with some introductions by the South Sudan Reading Society’s team lead, Mr. Matai Muon. Notable guests present were the South Sudan’s mission to Kenya represented by its Education Attache’ Madam Mary Peter, and the Foundation for Youth Initiative’s Executive Director, Mr. Albino Gaw Dar among others.

The guest speakers and keynote discussants agreed that women’s issues that I now tackle in my book: “I am My Mother’s Wildest Dreams” were central to the wider spectrum of a positive social change - Mr. Albino Gaw was blunt about it, revealing that “women’s experiences are invisible.” He urged me to push on with the change, describing me as a “game-changer” and my book as a “seminal work” that needs to be adopted for policy making on mainstreaming gender. In her opening remarks, Madam Mary kept repeating how proud she was of me, underscoring the fact that most women feared speaking up on the issues I wrote about in my book.

“Continue writing more because we need it, the country needs it,”

she kept saying amidst applause from a patient audience made up of largely youth who, from the looks on their young faces, was ready for change.

As the invited guest speakers finished up, I took over the floor, sharing my work with a focus on the WHY. I began my story with what ignited the purpose of the book - the #MeTooMovement led and championed by South Sudanese women and girls in June 2020 under the hashtag - ROSSGIRLS. This group of social change champions decided to speak up, violating rules of countless centuries that had long been designed against our women and girls. The purpose of the book, I told the audience, was “so that these women and girls know that they are not alone.” I also shared the path that my story was taking, stressing its long vision of its impact. I envisioned to them that this book would be in schools, on Television and more. I was followed by my amazing Editor, Kamille Stephanson Thomas who went on to inspire the audience with her big heart, sharing how we met and why she decided to join this daunting journey of igniting change through a written word. I liked her emphasis on the need to share our ugly past in order to confront a better future saying, “you cannot heal what you hide.”

I then returned with some selected readings focused on Chapters 3 and 6 which according to the audience better summarized my story - arranged marriage and then the complexities of our dowry system. The goal of the readings was to keep the audience at pace and with the hope of inspiring them further which I think was met given the outpouring of messages of love, personal reflections, and praises that followed after the launch.

The other interesting part of the launch was hearing from three incredible praisers who read the book cover to cover. Both Gatwech, one of the praisers, stressed that he was impressed by my resilience and that he found chapter 8 more fascinating emphasizing the fact that I stood up for the rest at a time of my own healing process saying that “it tells me a lot about your own humanity.” Rose Nyekhor, another praiser declared that “I am among the very first women who came up with a book on women” something she found worthwhile. She wondered aloud to the audience: “how many come out and tell a crowd of people how many men they have dated?” Anyieth Ajak on the other hand revealed that

“people do not come out to speak up their minds for fear of being judged.”

It was also relieving to hear from her that “no progress on women empowerment without men” which I totally agreed with.

The praise session was over. Then the Questions and Answers session arrived. One of the speakers started off by saying:

“On behalf of men, I sincerely apologize.”

Then more questions and comments followed ranging from policy implications of the book, my motivation to write, why I divorced these men to what I thought about women calling men “dogs among others.” Although I found the questions so intriguing, I focused my answers on those areas I thought I had the expertise and the experience to share. I underscored the fact that I knew I would be judged but I was bold enough to share that my initial idea was not to change laws but to share my life with the voiceless. I am now surprised by the path it is taking. I stressed the need to have a vision for our girls and women, to dare to dream big, to reach wider and see the bigger picture.

I tried to stay out of the nitty-gritty of my relationships because I found it a bit distracting but where possible, I shared a word or two with young people so that they can borrow a leaf from my story. One Tut shared his reflections about the book, calling it a “masterpiece” while he thought a piece of advice from me, inquiring: “what advice would you have for us because now some ladies are saying that all men are dogs” My answer was that heartbreaks are part and parcel of relationships and that it is important to understand so. I tried to be of help, stressing that one breakup could be a blessing in disguise as it ushers one to better love life.

My closing remarks as usual were; hope, vision for our girls and our women, and the multi-stakeholder approach needed to battle this deeply entrenched partrachial system we have found ourselves in.

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