It is my deep, scorching passion for all elements exotic, that has drawn me astray from the restricting path of normality. Others may say that I am a daredevil thrill seeker, but I effortlessly rebuke them as there is certainly no point in travelling afar only to witness all beauty from the windows and balconies of air conditioned five star hotels.
Late November 2014, I embarked on an awe-inspiring journey to my family’s village, Akan-touch, in the remote district of Lakes State (Rumbek, South Sudan) for the first time. This experience is something that cannot be captured as effectively as it was witnessed, however, I trust that by putting pen to paper I have given great justice to one of the most horrific events experienced by many others and myself.
The bandits jumped out of the bush, seemingly out of nowhere and landed in front of our vehicle. With their gruesome rifles in hand, they pointed in the direction of our vehicle and ordered everyone to get out of the van. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I had a bull’s eye vantage point. I later understood that, from the lethargic responses from the other passengers in the van, this ordeal was normal protocol.
Unlike me, they had hidden all their valuable goods in their luggage at the back of the van, and items such as money or mobile phones were neatly tucked away in the folds of underclothes. I was terrified.
With a choking pinch in my throat and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I knew that things were not going to go so well today.
From my grief-stricken face, the bandits could easily guess that I was an outsider, but the way I was dressed was a dead giveaway. I wasn’t wearing anything lavish; neither did I drape myself in any jewellery.
However, in a place like Rumbek, wearing anything in reasonably good condition with a combination of sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat already highlights your inability to tolerate the harsh conditions of the climate and the unwelcoming terrain.
With the rifle pointed at my face, one of the bandits ordered my friend and I to get out of van. Though terrified, I observed that, from the bloodshot eyes and the uncoordinated movements, one of the bandits was heavily intoxicated. Amidst all the shouting, pushing and whimpers of distress emitted by the passengers in the van, I tried to keep calm only for my fears to be further heightened when one of the bandits hit me on the back with his rifle. I watched on, stunned as the second red-eyed bandit opened the door to the van and reached into the passenger seat to pull out my backpack.
They frantically searched through the bag pack until they had found my purse. Overjoyed with their findings, the barefooted bandits scampered back into the bush.
Thinking that this horrific ordeal was over, I resumed my seating again at the passenger side of the van, when the bandits once more returned to complete their reign of terror. I was certain at this point that they weren’t going to let us go so easily and, in a moment of distress, I said, “Oh my God, oh God.”
“Do you have a God?” said the red-eyed bandit. “Because if you do, he will not save you today.”
“What do you want? I have given you all I have,” I said.
Outraged, the bandits began circling the vehicle. The roaring rattle of machinegun fire pierced through my eardrums. I clasped my hands to my ears and put my head on my lap. The last thing I remembered was the spray of bullets against the back of the van as the driver, with full acceleration, pulled away from the bandits.