Happy Independence Day South Sudan! And what festivities there were, even in Jamam camp full of non-citizens. There was music and laughter until the early hours and a military procession along the only road passable at the moment. We of course were in lock-down. Familiar enough in recent days with the unpredictability of drunken soldiers. But it was great to see our national staff looking so happy and proud, watching their soldiers pass.
So yesterday we took advantage of our last day of movements to drive around the camp and take geographical coordinates. With all this rain, the villages are moving around, looking for higher ground, which makes all of our maps out of date. And we were on our way back when we noticed a cluster of tents that we hadn’t seen before. Eager to find out more we trundled towards them. And our driver Joseph thought he was being clever by avoiding the water-logged road and heading into the grass. Within seconds we had sunk. The law of averages meant it was our turn to get stuck in the mud.
So the village came to us! Some of the local men came to dig us out. Turns out they had only been there a couple of weeks. They had split from the village Soda to form a new village called Soda Amol. They invited me to meet the new sheikh. So I left Joseph and Sandra to wait for the rescue vehicle (Sandra weirdly knows far too much about 4-wheel drives) and waded through the mud, to squeals of laughter from the local children, and sat with the village elders.
The Ingassana people are organised into 4 tribes (Soda, Bau, Kukur and Kulak), each having 2-3 sub-tribes led by umdas. Each umda leads 5-25 sheikh villages. The refugees have naturally reformed these structures here in Jamam camp, assisted by ACTED’s policy of ‘Organic camping’-encouraging the refugees to decide how and where they will live. However the hierarchy made these decisions before the recent rains and the tribes have ended up becoming dispersed, fragmented and even separating with some animosity.
But maybe they will all come together again. UNHCR have responded to calls from several corners and announced that some of the tribes will be moved out of the Jamam swamp and transferred to Batil refugee camp. It’s a relief to the storm-battered refugees. And the move will happen one tribe at a time.