By ERWIN CHLANDA
It’s been a long road for Nyapal Lul from war torn South Sudan to entertaining a capacity crowd in Monte’s with her singing, dancing and stunning good looks, surrounded by other women musicians in a Desert Festival highlight.
Trouble is her journey is only at the half-way point – if that.
Ms Lul last hugged her youngest child when she was 11 months old. She’s more than four years old now.
The oldest of her five children is 18.
For Ms Lul her art turned into her misfortune: She composed and performed a song critical of the South Sudan government.
It was enough to expose her to being killed, by “unknown gunmen” with no fear of ever being brought to justice.
“You don’t say yes to me, I’ll kill you.” That was the motto, says Ms Lul.
Sudan became independent from the British in 1956, with the north being mostly Muslim and the south Christian.
The country soon became embroiled in civil war, famine and disease for much of the time.
The south gained its independence in 2011, but far from achieving peace, warlords began to fight and civil war broke out again in 2013.
The notorious Al-Shabaab, sympathisers with Al-Qaeda, are part of the mix.
South Sudan ranks 154th in the World Happiness Report listing 156 nations, and has the worst score in the American Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index (formerly the Failed States Index), surpassing Somalia.
The majority Dinka tribe is the base for the government of South Sudan.
Nyapal belongs to the second-biggest tribe, Nuer.
She, her mother and children fled to neighbouring Kenya after her song had made her a target.
Yet there is no guarantee of safety in Nairobi: pro-government thugs cross the border, and informed by a network of spies in Kenya, are quite capable of enacting bloody revenge. Ms Lul was a marked woman.
In 2015 when she was invited to sing for the South Sudanese community in Melbourne, she got on a plane and decided to seek refugee status in Australia.
It was goodbye wanton violence, hello Australian immigration bureaucracy.
Ms Lul received a protection visa. Her hope unsurprisingly is to ultimately be given permanent resident’s status.
She has no idea where in the process she is at the moment.
Her last contact with the authorities was in January 2016 when she was finger-printed.
Inexplicably the condition of her visa is that she does not leave the country.
She doesn’t know why.
“Perhaps the Australian government feels responsible for my safety and it can only guarantee that while I am in Australia,” she says.
Perhaps. But this means she can’t see her kids, nor her husband. And she has no idea when that will be possible.
WhatsApp calls every second day are the only contact. It used to be every day but they all found that too upsetting.
Ms Lul has worked and performed in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
She came to Alice Springs because she had an aunt here and because she had no difficulty finding a day job.
That is as a child carer in the Gap Neighbourhood Centre, where she has advanced to team leader in the toddlers’ room.
She has tears in her eyes when she talks about cuddling the kids she looks after, thinking about her kids, so far away and no-one knows for how much longer.
He income – never high in that industry – has to stretch a long way: she supports her mother and her five children in Nairobi, Kenya, and of course, herself here.
That means putting a roof over their heads, food on the table, medical care, and school fees. Before she found her job in Alice, the children weren’t going to school because they couldn’t pay.
The money Ms Lul sends home also looks after the child of her sister. She was shot, and managed to stay alive only long enough to give birth.
Ms Lul lives in a shared house and until recently was working two jobs.
She manages to save about $250 a month – and she will need it, to pay immigration lawyers or agents when it comes to applying for her family to be allowed into Australia – eight people.
Agents’ charges can be found on the internet. Samples: Partner visa $1850; citizenship $1500; parent visa $1950; 186 and 187 visa “special offer” $3400; 482 visa – TSS visa $1800; 189 and 190 visa $2600; child visa $1950.
So this is what our policy is towards asylum seekers: We acknowledge the plight of those whose lives are acutely in danger. And then we make their lives a misery for year after year.
Ms Lul draws strength from the companionship of women musicians (video below) and from fellow Nuer from South Sudan who congregate for prayer and socialising in the Anglican church from 11.40am on Sundays.
It’s after the normal service – this is how they wanted it and the church obliged.
There are also Dinka tribespeople in Alice Springs. The two tribes don’t mix but there is no overt hostility between them – “This is Australia,” says Ms Lul, whose resilience is astonishing.
Her newest song, the first with lyrics in English, performed at Monte’s two weeks ago, has the title: “Never give up”.
She says it is dedicated to all the people of South Sudan. She has gone beyond taking sides. It’s for anyone “losing hope that peace will come in South Sudan”.
By ERWIN CHLANDA