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Returnee profile: Richard Luka (32)

 INSP 06 July 2019

Richard Luka grew up in Khartoum, but he was always aware of the fact that he was a southerner. "In school, I spoke Arabic, but at home we spoke our mother tongue, Bari. My parents used to tell us all about Juba. Whenever we saw Juba on television, my parents would call us over. It looked so beautiful to me. My dream was always to go back there. I knew it was my home." (1218 Words) - By Danielle Batist


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Richard Luka (32) came back to South Sudan in 2006. Photo: Simon Murphy

The Luka family's life in the north started when Richard's father left his home town of Juba in 1972 to go to Khartoum. He left on his own at the time, to find work. Later, he came back to Juba to marry his wife. They went back to Khartoum together and started their family.

In 1995, there was fighting in the area around Juba. Images of soldiers in battle were shown on the military programme that Richard always watched on TV. "We used to watch that programme together with all the family. We never missed an episode." Seeing his home town being attacked sparked a form of patriotism inside him that he hadn't felt so strong before. "Me and my brother said to my father: Dad, can we go fight?, but he refused to let us go. He said: finish your school first. Then you can go and fight for your country." He had never been to Juba, but he knew it was his home and he wanted to protect it.

Growing up in Khartoum, he didn't feel an outsider. In school, he spoke the same language as the other children. He had friends and felt accepted. But there was always the longing for home.

His father decided to stay in Khartoum to give his children the best possible education. He was a tailor by trade and worked hard to keep them all in school. After secondary school, things started to get more difficult financially. His father got older and could not work such long hours any more. Richard was a very bright student and got admitted into university to study Economics. He enjoyed his studies a lot but had to stop after one year, in 2004, because the family could no longer afford to pay the school fees. Upon quitting his course, he joined his father in the tailor shop.

The Luka family had a couple of boys, all close to each other in age. None of them could continue their studies, and increasingly, they became restless. "Every month, we used to ask my father: 'Can we go back to Juba'? What's the point for us to stay here? But my father would say: Not yet. I have to arrange things first. We have nothing left in Juba. When the time is right, we will go back."

When John Garang died in 2005, the situation became worse. "We were worried. We had a chief who looked after us, but who would protect the south now he was dead?"

In 2006, father Luka decided that the time was right. He took his family to register at the UN office that was in charge of facilitating the journey home for South Sudanese. They had to bring all their luggage to a central place in Khartoum. Then they were brought to the harbour town of Kosti, where they had to wait for 21 days. They were given some money for food to feed the family and awaited their departure.

Richard remembers the day they left very well. "As soon as we got on board and left the harbour, all of us went on deck and waved. We sang: 'Bye, bye, Arabs, we leave you now. We were so happy it was finally happening."

The boat journey lasted for a month. It was a slow steamer and it had to dock along the way to deliver and pick up goods. The boat was crowded and mosquitos pestered the passengers on board. The UN had put people from different tribes together on one boat, which caused some unrest on board at first. But soon, they started to interact. "We all had the same experiences so we shared them", recalls Richard. "One month is a long time, so we really got to know each other. By the time we arrived in Juba, we were like one big family. I still visit some of them now."

When the boat docked in Juba, all passengers were picked up by a returnee support charity. They were well organised and looked after the new arrivals. They took most families to Bolk, an area on the outskirts of Juba. But when Richard got off the boat, he didn't want to join the group. "I wanted to go straight to our family land. I told my dad: you can't stop me, I am here now. I left the boat before them and run up to the first man I saw. I told him where I wanted to go, but he just laughed at me and said that is was very far to reach. It was getting late and he was worried I would have to travel in the dark. He asked me if I even had the money to travel, as it was very far. I said no. He was really kind and he said to me: If I had the money, I would give it to you now. I understand how much you want to go home'. That's when I realised: these are my people. I am home now."

Richard went back to join his family and helped them built a new family home. He has since married and lives in his own house with his wife Nora Joan, whom he met in Juba. She is nine months pregnant and about to deliver the couple's first child.

Life back in South Sudan has brought him happiness, but the family still faces difficulties. Richard spends his days as a small scale farmer, growing a few crops and cultivating land, but it is hard work and he is worries that he won't be able to provide for his young family. "It gives me sleepless nights thinking about how we will cope when the baby is born. It worries me a lot" Richard's dream is to finish his university degree, so that he can get a better paid job. He knows he is capable of doing it, but the costs and the responsibility for his family hold him back. "How will I provide for them if I am studying?"

With independence now around the corner, Richard's hopes are high for the future of his country. "I hope the politicians will make their promises reality. We need quick development on all fronts- education, food supply and jobs for the poor. I hope that life will be easier everyone, so that my child won't have to struggle like I have struggled."

Richard and Nora's baby will be one of the first children of the new Republic of South Sudan. When asked how he feels about the fact that his first child will be born on South Sudanese grounds, his eyes light up: "It is very special. I will be the proudest father in the world." He has already decided on the baby's name. Whether it will be a boy or girl, her name will be Hora - the Juba-Arabic for Freedom.

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