How a Sudanese boy came to be named '1 o'clock'
The swollen-faced infant lay quietly in the dirt. Nura Sawah, a Sudanese woman traveling to her hometown after being driven away 18 years earlier by civil war, picked the boy up and started breastfeeding him. He began to revive.Skip to next paragraph
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She passed him to other women, who also let him nurse. It was about 1 p.m. They started calling him by the time of day: "1 o'clock."
The name stuck.
"He's a gift from God," says Ms. Sawah of the boy, who often nuzzles into the cotton folds of her dress.
The story of this shy toddler with the strange name begins many months ago when Arab militia ambushed his family as they journeyed home across this hot, desolate land.
And it's just one thread of a larger story of hundreds of thousands of Africans on the move. In fact, 2005 is fast becoming a year of homecomings for the people of Africa.
A half-dozen of this continent's wars - from Sudan to Somalia to Liberia - are waning or have ended. So hundreds of thousands of Africans are reuniting with relatives and rebuilding interrupted lives - sometimes after decades.
In Sudan alone, up to 1.4 million people - out of 4 million displaced during the country's 22-year civil war - may go home this year after a Jan. 9 peace deal ended the war, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But, like 1 o'clock and his new mom, they face risky trips, crowded arrivals, and fresh disputes over old land.
For Sawah, the story that ultimately led her to become 1 o'clock's mom began in 1986, when she and her husband fled their hometown in southern Sudan during fighting between the government and rebels over resources and political power. Sawah and her husband scrambled 550 miles north to Sudan's capital, Khartoum, joining hundreds of thousands of other southern blacks.
In 1993, she says, her husband died. So she worked as a "slave," cleaning homes of Arabs, the dominant group in Sudan's north. In late 2003, with peace seeming imminent, Sawah headed home with a group of about 20 women and children. She had enough money to bring only four of her nine children. The other five stayed behind.
First the group rode southbound buses. Then they walked.
One day, after crossing into southern Sudan, they heard distant gunfire. Eventually they came upon a place where it appeared Arab militia had attacked black southerners also heading home. Several were dead. The rest had fled.
That's where she found 1 o'clock. At every village they came to, Sawah asked if anyone was missing a child. No one claimed him. She figures the boy's parents were killed - or were running too fast to hold on.
For Sawah, caring for the boy is connected to a desire to change, in one small instance, the cycle of violence and loss that's swirled in her country for decades. "To get a new country," she says, "we must be kind to human beings."
Many of Sudan's returnees face risks similar to Sawah and her family. One survey by southern officials in November found returnees had been away from home between one and 18 years. To return, they'd travel between three and 17 days. They ate grass from riverbanks. Several had been wounded by gunshots.