Dance and Laughter in Yida, South Sudan

19 January 2016

This evening, some of my colleagues asked if I wanted to join them for a walk in another part of the camp where there was a wrestling show happening that evening. I eagerly accepted and dashed inside my tent to get my walkie-talkies and other identification items. As we walked to the allocated spot for this event, I was trying to remember some of the wrestling shows in the US, which I never paid any attention to, and I wondered how they would compare to what I was about to see.

As we approached the crowded field, it was obvious that something big was going down. You could feel the energy in the air; various small groups of dressed-up dancers comprising men, women, and children. Faces painted with white-wash, all sorts of decorations on their heads made with colorful beads, and different pieces of clothes tied together and worn around their waists. They were singing and dancing with the men holding sticks while the women clapped and tapped their waists to the rhythm of the song. It was simply beautiful to watch and I was compelled to join.

Photo: Mirabelle Adamu-Zeh

Photo: Mirabelle Adamu-Zeh


First, I watched the dance moves and noticed that most of the movement is done with one leg. I said to myself that this cannot possibly be beyond me. I grew up in in Bamenda, Cameroon, where most of the dance movement is from the waist down. And, having lived in Kenya, where most dance movement is also with the waist, and then Ethiopia, where the upper body is mostly used, I felt ready to join one vibrant dance group.

I was shocked by the force and fast-paced movement of the leg, but I continued. It was amazing dancing with the force of one leg hitting the ground to bring up the most dust possible. After my little fun dance triumph, I was officially inducted into the cheering winning team, although I didn’t follow the wrestling match.

I later shared my exciting evening with a friend who said that “until now, I didn’t think there was dance and laughter in South Sudan because all the media shows is death and desperation.” That is the danger of a single story.