Juru Joyce is a South Sudanese vendor who sells beans and peanuts at the market in Adjumani town, in northern Uganda. I’ve come to talk with her specifically about those peanuts. During my time reporting on the South Sudan crisis, which has overwhelmed Uganda’s refugee settlements since fighting flared in July, I have learned that a common food is central to this cross-border story: peanut paste, a.k.a. peanut butter. Everyone eats it, if they can. If they are lucky enough to have it (many recent refugees don’t have money to buy it, and it’s not part of the rations they receive in the settlements). Peanut paste is a key ingredient in so many dishes eaten by Ugandans and Sudanese alike. It’s a symbol of unity, and also of the losses suffered in war. So I go to Joyce with questions in mind. When I step up to her stall, I don’t expect the story she reveals—though I am not surprised. I’ve heard a lot in the past two weeks.
In 1991, Joyce fled warfare in her homeland, seeking refuge across the border in northern Uganda. Like thousands of others, she lived for years in a Ugandan refugee settlement until one stormy night in 2004. That night, she suffered a blow like no other. Soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army raided her settlement, kidnapping children to be swept into their notorious war machine. Joyce fled to the bushes and survived. But the LRA captured her kids, and those of her brother and neighbor—10 in all. She has heard or seen nothing of them since. After that, Joyce says, she wanted nothing to do with a refugee settlement ever again. So she moved to Adjumani town and struggled to make a business. With the help of a charity, she was able to start selling beans and peanuts in the market. And she earns enough money now to eat three meals a day.
More than 1 million South Sudanese refugees are now living in neighboring countries; 185,000 of those have arrived since July. Every day, thousands more arrive at the border. In just two days last week, 6,715 refugees crossed from South Sudan to Uganda. 6,715 in two days! The UNHCR is drastically short of funds for this crisis, and the World Food Program has had to cut rations for anyone but the newest and most vulnerable recipients. The newest refugees receive hot meals of porridge in the morning, and posho (maize) with beans in the afternoon. Those living in settlements currently receive rations of sorghum, maize, fortified corn/soy blend (CSB), and oil and salt if it is available. Time and again, when I ask refugees about food, they tell me how much they miss, and how much they need—for flavor, for nutrition—the peanut paste they no longer have.