Teddy Bandima, Ph.D
My life story is one of overcoming adversities and embracing challenging circumstances that many may consider unsolvable or insurmountable. Despite these odds, I have attained a significant educational achievement and now hoping to lead a good life.
I was born to a father, a teacher who graduated from a teacher college, and an illiterate, but peace-loving and caring mother in Tombura, a small town in Western Equatoria State, South Sudan. I am the seventh of eight children. In 1988, I was separated from my beloved parents and most of my siblings whom I never saw again because of the war. My parents and most of my siblings had passed on. It is worth noting that I have never been back to the region of my birth since separating from my parents and siblings in 1988.
When in South Sudan, I was captured and tortured by an armed group who then handed me over to another armed group. It was when in their hands that I witnessed numerous brutalities and abuse of power. I witnessed the killings of innocent civilians, including women, and children. I call myself lucky because, unlike most of those who were captured, they decided to let me go. I experienced psychological problems after that experience, with frequent nightmare. Although I did not have a psychiatrist to treat me, I became better as time went on.
It was after that incident that I separated with my parents and siblings. My elder brother decided to take me with him to north Sudan where I enrolled in a high school in the capital city Khartoum. After completing my high school in Khartoum, Sudan, I was forced to flee the country with only little money in the pocket. I managed to cross to Eritrea and then Ethiopia. After three months of difficult journey, I managed to reach Kenya where I spent seven years of difficult refugee life in the semi desert and hot climate of north-eastern Kenya. I had thought that I would find a better life after leaving Sudan. But what I discovered was quite the opposite. In short, it was even worse than my life in Sudan. If I had money to travel back to Sudan without being killed, I would have.
My life in the refugee camp was simply seven years of hell on earth. I experienced extreme hardships that I thought I would never survive. I barely had enough to eat; I suffered from numerous illnesses from which I narrowly survived, including frequent malaria; we the refugees suffered from armed robberies by bandits crossing the law-less border from Somalia to our camp in north-eastern Kenya. There were times I had no bathing soap or soap for washing dirty clothing; there were times I could go months without holding a cent in my hand; there were times I could feel completely powerless, confused, helpless and no one to turn to for comfort. I had no room to call my own. I had no bed to sleep on. In my early life in the camp, I was sleeping only on hard ground, with only a single blanket as a mattress and a piece of wood as a pillow. My skin was hard and dry because of extreme hardship. At night we were always visited by scorpions. It was extremely hot, dry and dusty, both day and night. When it rained it could flood with floating dirt and human feces. It was also the period of multiplication of malaria carrying mosquitoes.
Health risks were highest after rain and flooding, especially when chickens, goats, sheep, or donkeys belonging to other refugees died of cholera and there was no one to collect their decomposing carcasses. There were vultures everywhere fighting over the carcasses. The sight and stench were often unbearable. This was also a favorable condition for disease carrying houseflies to multiply into millions. They were responsible for the spread of cholera, diseases, illnesses and deaths in the refugee camp. There was also high rate of malaria and other infectious and noninfectious diseases. Frogs enjoyed the flood waters. They were everywhere and were a nuisance throughout the night. Candle lights and kerosene lamps attracted them to where we lived. They could rest in people’s shoes, even under blankets. There were times I lacked extra clothing or boots to wear while walking on an empty stomach in those dusty, dry and thorny bushes and with the hot sun burning my skin as I was searching for wild food and firewood for survival. There was a time I suffered from night blindness because of what they said was lack of vitamin A.
To make matters worse, armed bandits visited our camp one night when I had the night blindness. I could not run or hide because I could not see. I survived because, for whatever reason, they decided to go back just before reaching the place where I was. Today, I can call that divine intervention. The bandits shot and killed one person and wounded several others not far from where I was that night. There were some days that I almost lost hope when everything seemed insurmountable. I believe in God, but I did not feel His presence. The more I prayed the worse things seemed to become. I wanted to die. I prayed for death but it never came. In most occasions, each minute there seemed like hell; in fact, we lost several members to suicide who decided to quit because they could not bear that difficult situation any longer. If it were not because I was afraid of going to hell after death, I would have also committed suicide just like some did.
I developed psychological problems, anxieties, and hopelessness. We also suffered discrimination from the locals in the region simply because we were refugees. They called us smugglers of illegal guns and criminals, though I had never held a gun in my life nor committed any crime; my only crime was fleeing my country because of a senseless war, something I had no control over. In fact, the list of my sufferings is long.