In South Sudan, tragedy is never far from our doorstep. At our Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, we frequently get news of a person related to our students who has died or been killed. These incidents are never easy.
This past week we had several particularly difficult situations. Mrs. N is the oldest female student and as such was a leader and well respected by everyone. She received word that her husband had been murdered over some cattle.
Mrs. N was inconsolable. She was wailing and rolling on the ground and shouting and almost frothing at the mouth. The other students tried to restrain her but she was too much for them. I had gone and gotten a physician assistant to come and maybe administer a sedative, but she would not let him near her. It was a very bad situation.
Then suddenly another female student starts to scream and cry and run in circles and also threw herself on the ground. Apparently, in the exact same incident, she had lost a relative as well. Now there were two women in desperate straits. More students tried to calm them down.
At that moment a group of students came in the gate, and as soon as they realized what was happening, one of the women fainted straight away. The physician assistant gave the sedative to one of the women, but we had to go back to his pharmacy to get more sedatives. In the end he didn’t give any more injections. One of the students knew of a woman in Yambio who was from the area that Mrs. N was from, and she came over and talked to her. Calm prevailed until the morning.
In the morning all the students were standing outside the women’s dorm. We got Mrs. N into a car to go to the airport so she could get home. A male student, a distant relative, went with her to keep an eye on her. In Juba she was met by several extended family members and eventually was flown to her hometown.
One irony was that just the day before Mrs. N and nine other female students had attended a United Nations sponsored workshop on property rights. They emphasized that if the male head of family passes, the wife has rights but is usually cheated because the woman doesn’t know her rights. We hope that at least Mrs. N can now fight to keep her property. She has three young children to take care of.
No sooner did we return from sending off Mrs. N and return to the campus that we found out two other students had also lost relatives in cattle-related violence in different parts of the country. Then later in the week, we heard of one of our local students suddenly and unexpectedly losing a sister-in-law to an unknown disease. Our 8 a.m. assemblies were full of tears and heartfelt prayers.
Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents of mindless violence and unexplained illnesses are so common. I’ve even heard people say that a cow is more valuable than a human being. Cattle disagreements are quite common, and so are the killings.
There may be peace in the country for the time being, but as long as a cow is worth more than human life, there will always be violence.
Gabe Hurrish is a Maryknoll lay missioner teaching social studies, computer classes, religious education and English at the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, South Sudan. He also serves as assistant to the principal in administration.
Photo courtesy of Gabe Hurrish