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Jalila Khamis: a beacon of inspiration

Seeing the woman who inspired me and thousands of people, be they human rights activists or law abiding citizens, was a majestic moment for me.

Even though it's been 10 months, it feels like just yesterday that I visited Jalila's house for the first time. I remember vividly the sad look on her husband's face as he recounted the story of her detention by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in March 2012. I observed him quietly as he passionately explained how helpless he felt when his wife was dragged from her bed in the middle of the night in front of her children, denied even a change of clothes.

She was taken into the custody of armed, ruthless NISS officers in a pickup truck. Sudanese men don't cry; they are tough and resilient. Yet Mohamed Ali Ghabboush was unable to conceal his misery as he recalled the unfortunate events of that godforsaken night. His beloved wife was missing; a mother, a teacher, an activist and a member of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). Jalila Khamis Koko's tragic story spread across social media outlets and international human rights organizations throughout her 10-month imprisonment. She spent 9 months in detention without charges, and was then scheduled to be tried. Her crime was that she testified on video about the humanitarian situation of civilians in the Nuba Mountains, who were suffering from government aerial bombardment and food shortage, among other things. 

It was good to be back in Jalila's house once again; and even better now that the mood was festive. Accompanied by two friends, I entered the living room and sat in the very same spot I sat in last year during my first visit. We were offered water, and I drank from what seemed to be the same glass I drank from last time. Everything seemed eerily familiar, yet everything was drastically different and the circumstances could not have been more contradictory. Seeing the woman who inspired me and thousands of people, be they human rights activists or law abiding citizens, was a majestic moment for me. It rejuvenated our hearts to see this strong woman in real life, smiling and greeting guests as they approached her. 

She sat across from me and I introduced myself for the first time. I admire her strength and can't help secretly hoping one day to become half the woman she is. She addressed me and my two friends as she narrated her horrific experience while detained by the notorious Sudanese organ. She suffered through intimidation by the NISS who kept sending her false memos while she was in jail. She was threatened with the death sentence and accused of treason. She explained that she remained undeterred and refused to accept any documents from the NISS; only official memos notarized by a court judge. Eventually, the case against her was closed for lack of evidence. She is now a free woman, but she lost more than precious time with her family. She lost her job and her primary source of income.

"Back in 2005, I went to the Nuba Mountains like I habitually do. I saw the children of the village which I hail from walk 3 kilometres a day to get to school in a nearby village, only because there was no school in my village. I fought and struggled to obtain the necessary documents to open a school in my village. I received some resistance from the village people and the mayor at first, but eventually I was successful in opening the school. I went back to Khartoum and returned with volunteer teachers and items donated for the construction of the school. Everything was made of very basic materials. The children did not need to walk 3 kilometres a day and reach school in exhaustion."

These are the sorts of the things Jalila was targeted for. As her activities expanded and her reputation grew, she earned the respect of her community in the Nuba Mountains. However, this all came at a great cost. The NISS would monitor Jalila for years and try everything in their power to hinder her success. Today, Jalila remains a beacon of inspiration and a solid rock of will power and bravery.

About the author

Maha Elsanosi is a blogger and freelance writer based in Khartoum, Sudan. She is a correspondent for Global Voices and an editor and columnist for 500 Words Magazine.

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