“Salaam,” I greeted James in Arabic, who sat motionless under a mango tree. “Salaam, Salaam!” I said again, but to my dismay he did not respond.
I felt unease at his silence. James is a fine man, what is his problem? What could have happened? Was something done to him? Why is he not responding to my greetings? What could he be thinking?
I was some 50 meters away when I heard a woman from behind who must have been passing by James. I listened to her voice as it rose: “Salaam jiran. Jiran salam taki!” she greeted him in Arabic (“Greetings to you my neighbour.”) Again to my surprise, silence remained.
The following day, I passed by James’ home again. He was not there, but afterward, while returning some hours later, I found him and got very close to his face.
“How are you sir?” I asked.
“Not bad,” he responded.
“How’s the going I asked?”
“All is not bad brother,” he responded and continued: “This issue, the need for peace is disturbing… we are trying to push life.”
When I asked James about the previous day, he could not remember.
James was not the only man I encountered that mental state, just weeks after renewed violence broke out in Juba. I had encountered several others, their minds wilting under the brunt of the political and economic disturbances in South Sudan and their worries about having enough money for their families or where to relocate for safety written in the expressions on their faces.
A man’s woes
Many South Sudanese men who have been making attempts to raise families have been undergoing this state of living for decades, since the liberation war started between Juba and Khartoum in the early 1980s.
Being a man in South Sudan is not easy. One is faced with many challenges: worrying about the future of one’s children, spouse and the stability of the country. One has to work hard to earn a living.
Physiologists say these manifestations of stress are a direct result of the restless violent conflicts that have repeatedly spread across the country.
According to a 2016 Amnesty International report that interviewed 161 South Sudanese across the country, many of the interviewees described a range of symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, including nightmares, irritability and inability to concentrate on their daily life activities.
“While the death and physical destruction caused by the conflict and preceding decades of war are immediately apparent, the psychological scars are less visible and neglected,” says Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.