24 Apr 2019


Lugala At Large: Words Which Spice Our Miserable Life

"Humour in the face of hardships as a result of war is socially engineered as a shock absorber, a coping mechanism for resilient people. Everything is now 'Booming' in Juba, even poverty!"

By Victor Lugala
Our political crisis, its subsequent by-products, what of the shenanigans and utterances of our political leaders in the media, the frequent on-and-off peace talks, have amply supplied the ordinary South Sudanese, especially the techno-savvy social media disciples with a laundry of English words and phrases to spice our miserable life.
Humour in the face of hardships as a result of war is socially engineered as a shock absorber, a coping mechanism for resilient people.
After we have fought each other physically, killed each other, hurt each other through slander or hate speech, we retire to our social networks to review and laugh at our own shortcomings - which are many. We laugh off issues which divide us to unite us.
Obviously, history reveals that during a political crisis or war, when a country is bleeding and divided in political thought, the media is a casualty of state control. And when information is curtailed, even that which does not amount to treason, but merely judged wrongly by word inspectors, the ordinary folks who feed on daily word of mouth for their resilience will make fun of their political leaders but behind their backs.
It is not the official or professionally sanctioned satirists or political cartoonists who often get away with ridicule of public figures, but some of those nasty things said behind the backs of politicians most often than not are repackaged and smuggled to the very targeted politicians by their own close aides, which make the politicians laugh at their own follies or mistakes. Doesn’t that make us all human?
So because controlled media are shy or timid, or don’t know how to criticize public figures without inviting a legal backlash, they surrender their birthright, so to speak, to pedestrian commentaries reserved only for daring daredevils on a Bongo Bus public transport, which has a sizeable audience of ordinary citizens sharing the common economic problems which know not any ethic or cultural divide. And by word of mouth the message is amplified throughout the city.

However, this goes without saying that in the process of messaging by word of mouth misinformation is likely to happen by accident or intent.
As a source of social coping mechanism South Sudanese are good at their own brand of humour. The current political crisis has not only made the ordinary citizen an ardent consumer of media, but a regular contributor to socio-political commentary, whether through interactive call-in live radio programmes, or casual throw in at social gatherings such as marriages, funerals, tea place, or shisha shade.
So, in the end the citizen is not bothered with the traditional mass media which are deficient of engaging humour, or political satire for that matter, but they become the authors and their own source of often unsanitised entertainment, because George Orwell's Big Brother word inspectors are infrastructurally limited, and therefore, their eavesdropping mechanism is challenged, or interestingly, they too maybe sucked into the irresistible fun factory.
Humourists use words and situations to amuse and make people laugh. The more bizarre the situation, the more it is likely to generate social comment, ridicule, and therefore a source of amusement. Ordinary people will talk and laugh about that situation for days on end to draw attention to what is trending.
The ordinary citizen has relied heavily on our politicians, peace negotiators and activists to supply them with words. Some of these words are used in half jest, but also out of spite. People will therefore bend the words to fit into their social milieu, or to make the daily grind bearable. Some of these English words have been thrown to spice up Juba Arabic which borrows heavily from local languages so that it sounds sophisticated.
As far as ordinary Juba socialites are concerned, we have realised that the devil travels from house to house disguised, as two of our loquacious and vocal politicians once put it, 'domestic rebels'. These are not the trigger-happy amorphous unknown gunman, but people who slay the hearts of housewives or husband snatchers, creating domestic havoc, and sometimes leaving broken families in their wake.
Typically in Juba, when couples have a domestic dispute, which could turn violent as a result of that infiltrator, also known as the ‘domestic rebel’ or ‘tyrant’, couples are likely to separate, with the wife often sent packing, or she decides to return to or seek refuge in her father's house. She will not go alone, but with an escort of children and other dependents who in most cases will transfer their economic burden to a struggling granddad or uncle.
Out of sight may or may not necessarily mean out of mind. Therefore, estranged couples who are going through domestic problems, might miss each other, will want to meet to patch up their differences, either through ‘mediators’ or by themselves, but in most cases through ‘mediators’. So in this situation they need some local 'peace talks' at Gudele, Munuki, Nyokuron, or Kator neighbourhoods to 'revitalize' the troubled or broken marriage.
The domestic peace talks may go on and on, or even adjourned, but at the end of the day, the two families, husband and wife, plus the mediators, will reach a ‘deal’ and a solution is found to bring husband and wife together. Both husband and wife will be advised to bury the hatchet by declaring a ‘ceasefire’ in the home front. And the ‘domestic rebel’ will be castigated, purged to the elements, and cursed.
When such domestic issues involve a number of players across the two families, then the talks are tagged ‘high level’, meaning that they should not be taken lightly.
The Greek-sounding word, yet amusing in tone and pronouncement is 'cantonment' (a military camp). Because the word is difficult to pronounce it is often cantoned in our minds, refusing to roll out of our heavy tongues, but if by any chance, it rolls out in a comical way, it is likely to trigger pearls of laughter from those within earshot. 
So who uses the word cantonment frequently if it is not the suspect elite who have some mistress or two in this city of so-called golden opportunities? One mistress, or refigah - or to use the East African slang 'side dish', maybe cantoned in Malakia, another one cantoned in Atlabara, and the cantankerous one who is likely to create a domestic civil war could fittingly be cantoned at Lemun Gaba neighbourhood, to keep her busy in the shamba.
In economic or demographic terms or economic jargon, the word boom is associated with oil or babies. So oil magnates will talk of the oil boom of the 1970s in the Middle East which created mass employment opportunities, attracting migrant workers from Africa, including southern Sudanese in those days. 
Recently the word boom rolled out of the tongue of a public figure in the oil sector, and before we knew it, boom! The word 'boom' was catching fire on social media, often used satirically to mean one thing or another: oh, poverty is booming, oh, problems are booming, oh, street commercial sex is booming. Or Rumour is booming. Last week the Kiir-Machar political handshake was booming too.  I don’t know what else is not booming in Juba.
When President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Dr Riek Machar held their first face-to-face talks in two years, people in Juba, especially friends and lovers hijacked the phrase very quickly to their advantage.
An elusive tenant who has defaulted on paying house rent for two or three months could be summoned on phone by an angry landlord or landlady for face-to-face talks, or risk eviction on a rainy day.
Face-to-face or a heart-to-heart chat is private, intimate, and has an immediate impact because of the body language involved. Instead of a boyfriend calling or sending juicy messages on WhatsApp, the girlfriend could politely suggest: Could we have a face-to-face chat after church service? 
In 2011 a few months before our country was declared independent, southern Sudanese left Khartoum in a huff to return to Juba. Some of the people who had immovable property such as houses or vehicles sold them at throwaway prices because they wanted independence to find them at home.
Our people who lived and suffered in Khartoum during the war of liberation wanted to leave the city of the two Niles for good! Ironically, last week and this week, Khartoum has become an attractive theatre where actors want to be.
Khartoum is now on people's lips for the good reason. In Juba when a person is not seen in the past week or so their buddies will quip, "Maybe so and so went to Khartoum."

While waiting for the smoke of hope to spiral out of Khartoum, I don’t know which other word will be generated from there for our amusement in the coming days and weeks. Watch this space!  

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