The journey was unbearable. The heat was stinging, and the hunger and thirst that we tried to ignore had reached its bliss point. There was no water in sight, and somehow God had decided to shut the sky so no rain fell. We depended on the dew that the leaves had in the morning, and in the late afternoon, we released our urine into eachother’s mouths so we wouldnt die of thirst.
After what felt like a decade, but was just three days, we reached our supposed destination. We had crossed the border, but you couldnt tell. Everything seemed the same. The small temporary hut-like structures that blended in the bushes however showed that we would definately not be there that long.
It was the first night there when we saw him. They called him ‘The Great One’. No one spoke his name, but from the pictures that i had seen in the Rupiny newspaper, i knew it was him. The leader of the LRA. Joseph Kony. His dreads brought out the beast in him.
He addressed us like a normal person. Telling us how everything would be ok as long as we obey what the spirits said. He then called everyone else to gather round, and that is when i realised how big the numbers actually were. There were small children holding guns, pregnant girls with pangas, men and women alike. They all did not look frightened. It was just us, the new comers. We were asked to stand in the middle, and were then distributed to the other men as wives. This time i was picked first. He wanted me for himself, but then changed his mind. I was given to another commander i later came to know only as Opiongweeda. Before we were allowed to retire to our shelters, we were given a strict warning not to escape. One boy, he must have been twelve years of age, was called into the circle. From the tears in his eyes and the screams, you could tell this was not going to end well.
‘This is what happens if any of you attempt to escape.’
Another boy of about sixteen was given a log. It was huge.
‘Show them,’ he said.
The boy wasted no time in beating the young one to death. His head was split open, and the blood was everywhere. The boy’s pleas fell on deaf ears, as the older commanders cheered. Just before he died it was decided that he was a strong one, and he was taking too long. A panga was then brought and the young boy was cut up into pieces.
The tears that flowed from my eyes were filled with heartbreak and disgust. The look on the young boy’s face, one i would never forget, but a look i was yet to get used to. A fire was lit, and the boy’s parts were thrown in a pot and put to boil. I turned away.
That night, i knew it was coming. We were wives and we were expected to play the part. I didnt want to feel anything. I lay down and tried to shut out the world, and everything around me. When he touched my breasts, i knew better than to protest. He took his time. All i wanted was for it to all be over, but he wasnt having any of that. He asked me to remove all my clothes. I did as i was told. He bit at my ear, and then my neck. My nipples; he almost drew blood. He pushed my legs apart and fixed his fingers.
When he finally entered, the pain was hard to ignore. I felt the blood afterwards. It left that sticky feeling. The only prayer i had was that i would not get infected with the disease. But he hadnt used those things they give out at school for free. Protector. I think thats what its called. After he was done, he forced my head on him. There was no water, he said, and he had to be cleaned. I held the vomit back and did what i was told. He patted me on the back and said, ‘itimo aber’, ‘you’ve done well.’
That was my first time. That was how i lost it. That was the day i had dreamed all my life.
In the days that followed, i found out that he knew my aunt. He stayed almost next door to her in Kirombe in Gulu, and they were once friends. His attitude towards me changed. He never let me do the work the rest of the girls did, and he always insisted that i get served meals with him. He still had intercourse with me, but he would apologise after. I grew to appreciate his knidness. This was really God.
We had been at that camp for eight days when we were woken up to move. Gunshots were all we could hear. The UPDF had somehow managed to find the camp. Turns out we were not so far into Sudan, and the UPDF had managed to get jurisdiction.
Everyone was given a gun except the girls, who were told to grab the babies and run. One of the older girls seemed to have a clue where we were running to. She said everything was planned in advance and we were to run to another camp.
I was frightened. The gunshots seemed to be getting closer. You could hear screams. People were dying. I thought of escaping. Running to the UPDF. But it was hard to tell the difference. In the dark, both parties looked the same. I run. As fast as i knew how, and faster. I was running for my life. Following the girls ahead. My life was in their hands.
That night, he died. When the rest returned, he was not one of them. Who was going to protect me now? I mourned his death. I mourned because i knew what i was in for. The atmosphere was tense. Kony was sure somone had sold them out, and so someone had to pay. It could only be one of the people that go to pick the supplies, he insisted. They all denied. Declared how they had pledged their alliegence to him, and begged for their lives. He had paddlocks fixed through their lips, to teach them how to keep secrets, their legs and hands cut off, then their bodies socked in parrafin, and set ablaze.
After two days, the supplies had run out and so a raid was emminent. It was decided that they would go to Laminabili in Gulu district, and get millet, and other supplies.
They left in the evening, hoping to get there by night fall. Many of us stayed behind to keep the camp. By this time, i had been given to an upcoming commander, Odur. I and his first wife were very close as she was my school mate in Aboke Girls. We talked about our lives and our families, and how we had wanted to be nurses at the new hospital that was opening in Lira town. Like me, she was also from Gulu, but wanted to settle in Lira. Having a friend in that camp, someone to talk to, laugh with, cry with, was something that indeed made the whole experience bearable. We talked til we fell asleep.
In the middle of the night we heard the others come back. They were singing. Looks like it had been a good raid. We rushed out to welcome them, and thats when i saw him.
He used to play with my little brother everyday during the holidays. We all called him ‘awobe’, ‘boy’ because non of us knew his real name. He was bleeding. Looked like he had a gunshot wound on his upper hand. Others were with him. They were wailing. I went up to him. He recognised me. I hugged him. Words were not necessary. He knew i understood what he felt.
I took him away from the rest and tried to nurse his wound. I convinced Odur to let him be our helper so i could take care of him. He told me about his parents. His mother had been raped infront of them, and then both her and his father had been beheaded. He had watched from a hole in the hut before he was captured. It had happened to so many, he said. The rebels had only wanted the little ones. The old were either chopped, or burnt or shot, those who were shot being the lucky ones. I felt for him. He had so much hatred in his eyes, and i felt for him. I needed to protect him.
Months later, he joined the army. He changed. He would come and tell me stories of how the bullets could not touch his body. I watched with horror as he would describe the killings he had carried out. He was looking for a promotion. At the age of 13, his dream was to become a commander and have lots of women, killing those who stood in his way, just like Kony himself. And it was not just him. They had all changed. He always said it would happen to me too when i experienced the joy of taking a life. I prayed that day would never come. I prayed hard, but one thing the bush had taught me, prayers were seldom answered.