Mary Achol has experienced a lot in her 85 years. She's raised
five children, steered her family through decades of unrest and conflict and
witnessed the birth of the state of South Sudan.

Now blind, she can only get around with the help of her
grandchildren. Calling her Acholdit ('Old Achol') out of respect, they guide
her slow, halting steps with the help of a walking stick.

So when last month violence once again erupted in her
hometown of Bor, Acholdit had to rely solely on her family’s help to

Narrow escape

One of her five children, Joseph Anyieth Akech, told me the

“I put my life aside to save her,” he told me. “And slowly
we managed to get out of Bor town to a swamp in the north.”

“But more problems arose when [rebel militia] the White Army
advanced to our hideout in the swamp. She could not run on her own and I had to
carry her on my back to small hiding place nearby. The bullets were falling
like rain.”

I heard even more distressing stories
from people fleeing Bor, such as that of a very old couple left behind by
relatives who must have thought they would not survive the flight into the

Dr Agoot Alier, the commissioner of Bor County, has also said
many other elderly people were found dead when the government troops recaptured
the town from rebels on 18 January.  

Living history

In a striking phrase, Acholdit’s son Anyieth told me that
old people are like “living histories”. Young people regularly gather around
them to hear wise sayings and stories about their community, he said.

It’s also traditional to gather around an old person’s
deathbed to listen to their last words and the blessings they pour out to the
young ones. 

Thanks to her son’s bravery, Acholdit has survived to pour
out her blessings to her family, who are now in the relative calm of Yei in
Central Equatoria State.

Other families, however, are without their grandmothers and
grandfathers, a vital link to the past lost forever.

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