This is an excerpted transcription from Emmanuel Jal’s speech upon his reception of the Calgary Peace Prize in March 2013
I just want to take you back to life in the village. So, we used to be a town called, “Bentero” so my uncle convinced us to go to the village, and so I was really excited, all kinds of animals. You know kids love animals, you tell a kid about hippo, or a lion, they wouldn’t get scared, they think they just want to hang out with lions, and ostriches. So, I wanted to live in the villages. We left the town, and arriving in the village, we had clothes on, so we had to start walking naked like all the kids.
The kids who are already in the village are already hardcore, when it’s sunny, the sun is really hot on the ground, so when you’re walking barefoot, your foot is burned. For me I used to just jump, the other kids would laugh at me because they were used to it, also walking on the thorny ground, or grassy, trying to take care of the cows. It took me a while for my feet to get used to get the used to the ground. We had cows, goats, sheeps, we even had chicken.
I became friends to two little sheep, one of them became my best friend, and we used to play a head-on game. Head-on game is when two heads go like (motions with two fists clashing). My sister used to say, No it’s gonna crack your head. The little sheep loved it. I didn’t care what my sister was saying. That part of my memory was good.
I want to ask you a question, Have you ever laughed in your life so hard that your kidneys feel pain? I hear in Canada some people pee. If you pee I will laugh with happiness. I had that experience once that I was laughing, I was being asked what is it, I can’t explain. There’s an animal called “Jer” [Marsh Mongoose in English], guys from my village might know, that animal is the size of a big cat. I don’t know about Canadian chickens, if you go to Africa, all our chickens are very adventurous. They like investigating.
When I’m around here I don’t even know how these chickens are, you just get chicken at McDonald’s you don’t know how that chicken tastes. Our chickens, they are funny. One of our chickens was just poking around. This chicken, the animal the size of a big cat, just want to warn you, this animal has a big, big asshole, really big. So there was flies around it, and you know chicken, he decided to find out what’s inside the hole. So all of a sudden he put the head inside. The animal woke up with the chicken head in.
All I can see is the animal running with the chicken in its ass, you could see just the wing. Maybe, you can see the picture. For me, I was just laughing my head off. My sister could see only the animal with the chicken inside its ass, but she didn’t know what happened. I was just laughing, soon, when I became normal, I explained how the animal is with the big round thing. They told me it’s called Jer, it traps things with the ass. So, that was the biggest laughter I ever had. I’m always trying to see how can I laugh that hard.
After that, the war festered. There was no more smiling and laughing like the way it is. During that time, my father took me to Ethiopia, and life in Ethiopia is difficult. After a while, we are not able to take care of ourselves, that’s when was trained. That’s when I was trained as a child soldier.
The bigger boys were actually taken to the battlefields, and the small ones stay in the camps. I’m going to go into the next part that I’m going to talk about which is the part I was talking about in the spoken word. So we’re like 400 young people, mixed with animals, and we’re planning an escape. We’re told it’s gonna take one month to take the general route to arrive where we’re going. By the end of the journey only sixteen people survived.
So the first one month we start the basic soldier skills. Any leaves we find, and vegetation we could get that we think is edible, we eat, but after a while it became more intensive. So what happened is we arrive in a swampy area, where we collect snails and roast them, some of the adults would laugh at you, later some of them joined. The big people died with their pride because according to our culture you can not eat snails, you can not eat vultures, so they just want to eat the right food, but for me I just ate what I could find. So what happened when somebody dies the vultures try and eat the dead body, we shoot the vultures and we eat the vultures. The situation became more tougher.
So, when somebody died, you put bombs around them, so that when the hyena come, the hyena will explode and then you eat the hyena, but the hyena come at a speed I don’t understand, the bomb explode, the hyena’s safe and the body is taken away. I don’t know how they managed to do that, and so here is my senses change as a human being, and I see my fellow human being, they smell like food to eat, you know for days we haven’t eaten anything, we haven’t been showering, the smell, in the head, I think I was turning into like an animal, because the people you look at them and they no longer smell like normal human beings.
So my friend was dying, I look at him and I told him, “I’m going to eat you tomorrow.” And so, I did not know, he only looked at me, he didn’t say anything, but I don’t know if he understood what I was saying. What I did was I went through that night, so I didn’t do anything, so what the place that we had the dead body, that we were trying to trap the hyena, I would sneak over there to see if there were any pieces that I could eat, when nobody’s able to see me, I wanted to sneak in and do it secretly, but I couldn’t find it, so I came under the tree, burying the sleep, because I knew when you try to sleep, once you sleep that is it.
When you’re starving, your stomach feels pain maybe the first day, when the evening come maybe there’s a little bit of acid burning, after a while, when the stomach knows nothing is coming and your body begins to eat itself, so if you’re really big, if starvation happened now, the person with the bigger body would probably survive the most, depending on how their body eat fast you know, if you have a big appetite, probably your belly will eat you quickly, so I don’t know we just have to find science.
The bigger people that we had took a longer time to lose weight, and so by that time when your body is feeling pain, the sleep becomes sweet so now your stomach is not feeling pain but you know, you are conscious that you need something to eat, but at that time you are wrestling, battling sleep, and so I what I did was I no longer sleep.
And so on the night, I was waiting to eat my friend, there was no hope, no nothing else. What I remembered praying to my mother’s god, and I say, “God if you’re there, give me something to eat, and if I survive, this part of my story, I will always give the prayer to you.” And so the whole night I waited, nothing. I say, “He doesn’t exist, so I’ll eat the person and I’ll still talk. So I’ll say, I called him and he didn’t come.” And so that’s the things that was going in my head, and so I said, only wait, so I waited until 11 when my friend died.
So, a crow came on top of the tree, a black crow, and a friend of mine shot that crow. The sad thing is, I happened to be the only person that ate that crow, and he died, later on, and so sometimes the crow is seen as bad luck, but that’s the crow that saved me that time. So I ate everything, from the claws, to the feathers to the intestine, to the eyes to the head, I didn’t throw anything out. Then after a while, more miracles happened, so what happed was more vultures started coming, more snails, they were hiding in the water, it became like a miracle.
And so people heard about us, the few people who left, so we got rescued. This is where I end up in a place called Waat, I met a British aid worker called Emma McCune. And then Emma McCune smuggled me to Kenya. She risked her life during that time, later I came to learn about what she did, she rescued about 150 child soldiers from different areas of South Sudan and managed to find ways for them to go to school.
In our mind what she saw was when she looked at our complex situation, and she was really upset how aid was like a form of business at that time, because you’re just giving people food, they ran out of their homes, not showing them a way so that they can plant food in the refugee camps, you’re just giving them one meal a day, no schools, so kids are born there, growing in the refugee camps, it was a form of a way of crippling people.
So if you are in a refugee camp it’s like you are in a big prison. You can not move to go away, and life is difficult. The most honest refugees in the refugee camp really find it difficult to survive. Maybe I just can leak you information in case in the future you be a refugee. So this is what we used to do, in the refugee camp, what I used to do was, because in the end it’s one meal a day, so food is gonna run out.
So I’ll register myself to three or four women as their child. So, which women? Then I get a group of friends of mine, so we become children, lucky that they didn’t take fingerprints, they would take photos, but you know kids look the same, so that family would have a lot of food, so that’s why they are able to have two meals, the ones that are so honest, that just want to eat their one meal a day at that time, really suffered, so that’s how I survived.
So Emma, what she saw is education, educating the women and giving the children opportunities was the way to save the country, and so she helped so many women, and she helped establish schools under the trees, where kids are trained under the trees, in different places.
So Emma died later, so life became difficult for me, and then I became an accidental hip-hop artist. I use music as a painkiller. My fate was what gives me hope to see tomorrow. So one of the things that I did was I started a charity called Gua Africa which worked with families and individuals to help them overcome the effect of war and poverty.
James Nguen worked with Gua, so now they are going to build a well hole in one of their hometown, which is really exciting because there’s no clean water, and because of the oil, anything could happen, the pollution could take over. So if anyone has helped him build that well hole, thank you.
So Gua Africa worked with families and individuals to help them overcome the effect of war and poverty, so the first thing we used to do is find sponsors, to come and put people in schools. How it started was in Nairobi what I did was, with a group of young people we used to go to peoples’ houses and knock at their doors and ask if we could clean their house or their toilet, their fence. They’d ask, What are you doing this for? And we’d say, Give us something, any donation, we want to put somebody in school. And sometimes we were lucky, we’d clean somebody’s house who owned a school or a college, and so we’d give them a scholarship, later on it became Gua. Gua after my big song called Gua, so we called it Gua Africa.
And so now I’ve been planning to build a school in honor of Emma McCune. I thought I was that famous that I would raise the money in one month, but I was humbled through Facebook and Twitter, but luckily we managed to raise funds. When we went to build schools, the village asked us, Why do you want to build a new school? Can you refurbish two existing schools? And later come and chase your dream. So we refurbish existing schools, which are now putting like around 2,000 kids in school.
And so I’m still on the way now, I’m building an academy. We Want Peace, I just want to ask you guys what is peace? What do you understand by peace? “Co-existence” Awesome, off the hook. “Love your neighbors” that is super peace. “No fighting” off the hook. “Justice” that’s big, peace, justice, that’s super big. “Food” yes, without food there’s no peace. “Equality” yes, that’s big, without equality there is conflict. “Respect” a man likes respect even in the jungle, all the animals, even the birds want respect. “Ability to resolve conflict without hurting anybody” it also means everybody’s gonna be happy, it also goes down to food, say we go hunting together, and I just decide to give you the tail, what are you going to do? First of all you think it’s a joke, if I really go on, you say, How far you go with this joke. Next time you won’t want to hunt with me.
This is the way I put it, Peace is Justice, Equality and Freedom for all. Peace is when my belly’s full. Peace is when conflict is managed in a mature manner that the violence can be prevented. So if you look at the West now, the people in the United States, Europe, Canada, they have tough times at one point, but because of education, they are able to come up with a formula of how they can be able to manage the conflicts.
How do you manage the conflicts? It’s being able to provide resources, being able to give people freedom to speak, being able to give them opportunities to establish institutions that can protect everybody. And so when those institutions are not there, for example, if Canadians never had free health service, and then the roads are not properly, and then maybe the tax are so high, the police are so corrupt. What do you think would happen?
It would take just a while, then an uprising would come, and a politician an opportunity to side with the public and manipulate the system, and it could end up into a war if it is not punished. So, I see peace as possible because conflicts that are managed, if it become a chronic disease it will lead to war.
Peace can be managed, so that’s why you need justice and equality and freedom, so at least you calm the situation down. Then after that you need to establish institutions and you need to provide resources, because as the population increases, the resources decrease, and demand is high and there will be more conflict.
I just want to ask, what question only to students. If you had this question before, don’t put your hand up because you’ll be cheating. This question is, whoever win I’ll give you a free CD, and plus I’m going to sign it, you can store it, and when I become really big one day…What’s the biggest battle you have to fight in order to make the world better? “You need to manage the peace within you.” you’re about to start a religion, you’re deep, but that’s not what I’m looking for. “Laugh and living without your past” Jesus, it’s what he came to tell us, but it’s not really exactly. I like what you’re saying but I think I need to explain it much better.
Okay, you guys are students, you’re students, what is the biggest battle you have to fight, when you enter a class, if you are a girl, the next girl sitting there has stolen your boyfriend, or somebody say your mouth stink, that’s not the biggest battle you have to fight. I’m just giving you another hint, your sandwich box is ready, your juice, and you are kicked out of the house, and you say, No I want to sleep, your mommy wakes you up, No you have to go. What’s the biggest battle that you have to fight in Calgary, in this University, that will equip you so once you go out you’re gonna be a superhero. “Forgiveness” “Perseverance” are the ingredients that we need for us to actually do this.
“Education” Simply, it’s education! You are here. Your main number one priority is to get that degree. Don’t be distracted, that’s the biggest battle you have to fight here, probably took a loan from the bank, and somebody else wanted this like you, you may end up with debt without even getting your degree. Once you have your degree that’s your biggest backup, you can pursue whatever you have and you’ll be in a better position. You know how to compete and find the opportunity to help you.
Why education, for me I think education is going to help our world better. Through education we are able to manage the conflict we have, we are able to have geniuses to come up with many ways in which we can predict the things in the future and manage them. I just want to take you back to a small journey, the thing that helped me heal and be able to forgive. When I was trained as a kid, I hated Muslims. I wanted to kill as many Muslims and Arabs as possible because I thought that’s what was killing us. Because of education, I was able to read and write. I was able to find out, then, I was able to forgive.
So I just want to go to a small argument to conclude the point. I come from the tribe called Nuer, and when I was growing up as a kid, kids from 5, 6, 7, going to 12 years old, you’re trained how to fight, so there’s a different way, the little kids will train with mud. Once you graduate from mud you use cow dung, dried cow dung, so you know the cow dung thrown at you, it really hurts. So little boys from this village will go and fight little boys from the other village and they hurt each, but they’re not going to explain, Oh, we got beat. That’s their training. By the time you reach 7, 8, maybe 10, 11.
Now you put a stick on it, so you find a boy with like five sticks, and you often throw at each other. If you find a place where people are super missing, they miss, you throw. Then, when you become professional, you can actually be throwing something. So where I come from people were really expert in going even to war barehanded, because when the spear is thrown to them they miss it and grab it. The heroes we have, that’s how they used to fight, by missing a spear and catching it, and putting it in his hand and hitting somebody over there.
So, what were they training for? Our elders built ideologies. As a kid I grew up knowing Dinka people eat people to their animals. And so, they would go and take Dinka cows, so we were excited to go and raid their cows. But as a kid you are afraid to. They eat people. But now we justify why we should have their cows, because they are animals.
So, even I had a friend of mine who was a Dinka guy. I used to sleep with him on the same mat. Sometimes I used to worry, and sleep with one eye open, thinking this guy, probably a tail is gonna pop out of his ass, he’s gonna bite me. So I never even trusted me friend, because I knew the thing in my head, They eat people.
So, the Dinka people had their own ideologies, so they say they are landlord, they own the land and they are children of God. So they plan their own battles, and they come and raid our cows. So I look at it like to compare this when Arabs came to Sudan, and to say the land was given to them by Allah, that they came from the mouth of God, and so they are special.
So whoever accepts Islam at that time was given better favors and was treated better than anybody who hasn’t accepted it. And so, what they do, is those who have accepted that faith will go and raid those people who haven’t accepted the faith and enslave, and take their things, so they do the killing. So we have people who have been trained in their thinking. That’s why you can see someone flying into a village with a horse and screaming, Allahu Akbar and smashing the head of the baby. To them, that kid is not of their faith, it’s God’s will that they do that.
So, I compare that ideology to when European came as they brought Christianity we begin to pray, close our eyes, the land was stolen, people were sold as slaves, countries were colonized, and they build on ideologies that black people are still developing. They are not human beings, they are still apes, they are still behind. And so, when you look at it, I realize human beings are the same all over. They are the same, depending on where that person is, whoever come with their idea, they will try to indoctrinate a few people and mobilize themselves for their own interest, and they go out and rob you.
But now because we have education and institutions have been established, people are asking questions. And that’s why the civil rights movement was able to be a success, because there were institutions established, and people were educated, people were beginning to question those institutions, and say no, why? This person is normal. This person is the same as me.
I see education as a way to help bring us humanity together, and we can be able to educate one another and learn to share this wonderful home we call planet Earth, so that’s why I use my story for social-emotional learning. And I believe in the technical aspect of education. That allows us to train our mind to do things technically, and combining this, you know a long time ago people used to share stories, that’s how we educate ourselves.
So, this argument is what made me understand about hating yourselves, our Arabs, because I could see myself in them too. So information can help you to forgive and move on. I’m just gonna do now a song or two, and then I’m gonna do questions. The song I’ll do is called, Emma, dedicated to Emma, as I told you about Emma McCune.
If you learned anything tonight or tomorrow, talk about it. Somebody just told me now that the UN people down in Sudan are saying there’s a possibility that in South Kordofan that the genocide there could be worse than in Darfur. So everybody’s going blind, and now people are getting slain there. And so there’s a way we could all play a part by putting a spotlight in Sudan, talking about it, even tweeting about it. And then somebody will find online doing research this organization that I’m trying to put together and support me. If you look at it as ethnic cleansing, now the people getting killed are not Christians, they are Muslims, so now the real picture is shown.
They’re trying to kill them to chase them out of their land, so they are moving in and want to use their land to bring the people, the ethnic group that the government is supporting, and feel should have this opportunity. So I think that’s not the right thing, so we can play a part in putting a spotlight on this.