Part 2 Please start below at Part 1
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
I lay prone in my dark room; from the safety of my mosquito net I could hear the ceiling fan whirring about, but I couldn’t see it. There was a lot of noise coming off the street – even though it was night, it was also Ramadan, and so the nights were lively. After the long day though, I didn’t have the energy or interest to go out in the darkness – the jungle – and explore.
I thought about one of the stories that Njankluddy had told me earlier.
When Njankluddy had first arrived at the refugee camp, everyone went about looking for their friends and family. Sometimes you would find someone, but usually not because there were so many camps and so many dead. Eventually, people stopped looking in their camp, but they never stopped hoping that their loved ones were in other camps. About a year after arriving, Njankluddy ran into a neighbor of his from Kigali. The man told Njankluddy that he had been to another camp in Burundi and had seen one of Njnkluddy’s uncles there. Njankluddy got all of the information off the man that he could, and set about making his way to the other camp. He went around telling the story and asking for money to help get him there – mostly talking with volunteers, as the other refugees had no money to give. Soon, he had some money, not a lot, but hopefully enough to get to Burundi, and once he was there, he and his uncle could figure out how to get back to Kigoma. He said goodbye to his sister and caught a bus north to the Burundi border. The bus cost him most of his money…
…Njankluddy rode eagerly over the sylvan landscape of Tanzania, near Burundi. At the border, he explained his story to the guard, showed him his papers including his refugee card, and asked for directions to the camp. The guard explained it to him and ushered him through. The directions told Njankluddy how to get to the camp, but the modes of transportation that guard had described would cost money. Because he had very little, he would have to walk or hitch a ride with passing cars in order to get there.
He bought a few pieces of fruit and some water, his first food and drink since leaving Kigoma the day before, and began walking.
Before long, he was able to flag down a passing truck that allowed him to ride in the back. There was little space for him among the green bananas, but he didn’t care – the progress was intoxicating. At this rate he would be there tonight, and he still had a few coins for food.
But, the truck slowed and the driver informed him that this was as close as the truck would get, and that he needed to walk from here.
Njankluddy hopped off the truck and went over to some people walking along the road and inquired about where he was and how to get to his destination.
They told him that it was still very far if he followed the road, but a more direct way – over some hills and through some forests – would make it much closer. It would still take some time, but it would be much closer.
So, he set off walking along the trail, beginning to get very hungry, and the sky beginning to get dark. He passed over a few hills, and into a valley full of agricultural fields. As he walked down the path, a muscular man stood up from tending crops and waved him over. The man spoke to him in a language that he did not understand. When the man realized that Njankluddy didn’t understand, he paused and switched over to French.
The man asked “why are you walking through here?” and Njankluddy told the man his story. The man thought about what Njankluddy said and replied, “ok little man. Are you hungry?”
Njankluddy was of course very hungry and he told the man as much.
“Ok, then come with me to town and we can get you some food.”
So they walked into the village and the man bought some fruit and Kasava and water for the boy. They sat at a table together while Njankluddy ate. There were a few people walking along the dirt road, but mostly they paid no mind to the two of them. Another man eventually joined them and discussed something with the first man in the language that the boy did not understand. The new man was about the same age as the other, but smaller and much thinner. From a distance he could be mistaken for a boy of Njankluddy’s age. He had a large scar running down the side of his face from his hairline to his chin.
The first man turned to the boy and asked “where are you going to stay tonight?”
Njankluddy answered casually that he had hoped to make it to the refugee camp tonight, so he hadn’t really planned anything else.
“And no one knows that you are here?” The question struck the boy as odd, but the man’s voice was not sinister, it was just inquisitive as if he was trying to understand the situation so that he could be of assistance.
The boy told him that people in Kigoma knew that he was going to the camp, but no one knew specifically where he was.
The man thought about it and said, “you will need to stay here tonight, it is nearly dark.”
Njankluddy thought that this was fine and told him so. He would spend the night here and continue in the morning.
“I’m afraid that you won’t be able to keep going in the morning,” the man said this so matter factly that it raised little alarm in the boy. “You see,” the man continued, ”I know when I see a snake.”
– Njankluddy looked up, puzzled. A snake? He was more offended than scared–
“…I see you little man, and I know that you are just a boy. But you are a snake. A baby snake, but still a snake. So if you see a baby snake, what do you do? You have to get rid of it or else pretty soon it will grow up and then you have a big snake.”
The dread scar bent on the other man’s cheek as he began to grin. As if they had noticed the change in tone, a few passers-by started towards the table and sat down. They were all men in their late 30’s.
“Now,” the first man started again, “we are going to take something from you because the snakes have taken so much from us.” He let this hang in the air for a moment and then drew a large knife out from somewhere and began motioning it at the boy.
Now Njankluddy began to panic and yet he didn’t know what he could do. There were six of them at the table, and everyone of them, except the scar, was much bigger than him.
He began to think how this would be his last day, and how that was ok because he had lost his mother and father and brother and he was all alone – except at this he was disgusted – he wasn’t alone! His sister was back in Kigoma, and he couldn’t allow her to be alone.
A few people came loudly out of a hut down the road. They were play fighting and walking towards the table – shuffling really. They were loud and drunk.
The first man began motioning at the boy with the knife. “So we are going to take from here,” he tapped Njanluddy’s knee with the blade, “to here,” and tapped his foot. He then said “and from here to here,” and tapped the other knee and the other foot.
“And I’m gonna take an arm,” the scar proclaimed. The table laughed in unison. Njankluddy began to recite a prayer that the Jehovah’s Witness people had taught him in Kigoma.
At that moment, one of the drunks stumbled hard and fell into the table, knocking everything over.
The first man exploded from his chair, furious, screaming at the drunk and waving his knife around.
With that, the boy was out of there – first sprinting into the woods and then running, running. Nowhere in particular, just away. He could hear noises all around him but he kept running. His tormentors pursued him, but soon the sounds around him grew faint.
He found a small road and followed it. Outside of another small village he saw a Muslim man carrying water. Exhausted, he blurted out the story between breaths. The Muslim pulled him off the road and said that he would give the boy some money and a change of clothes. He instructed the boy to stay off the road. They is an army of rebels, he explained, and the come out of the woods every now and then and kill people. They had been active since the violence in Rwanda, and had settled in the forested hills around this area. The Muslim would let the boy stay at his house, but then the rebels might come and kill his family and he couldn’t allow that. The Muslim led the boy back to his house, made him hide in a bush, and then disappeared inside. A few moments later he came back and gave the boy some money and explained where to get new clothes how to get to a main road where he could get a ride back to safety.
Njankluddy went into a neighboring shop, hurried and panicked but trying to look normal so that he didn’t draw attention to himself. There, he bought a Muslim tunic and then immediately changed into it behind the store. He hid his clothes in a bush and dove back into the woods. Behind him, he saw a group of men carrying lanterns and machetes go into the house of the Muslim.
He ran. Without thinking about anything but the main road, he ran. He stayed off the dirt road and worked his way through in woods in the direction of the main road.
Suddenly he was there. His heart soared, he was at the main road! But no one was there, the street was black. It was very late. He looked had in both directions but saw no lights. Njankluddy wanted to run down the road, but what if they got a car and started to drive around looking for him? No, he had to stay near the road but off of it. Besides, he just knew in his heart that a car would come by soon and carry him to safety.
So, he picked a big mango tree, he climbed it, and he waited. He waited and prayed. The seconds ticked away slowly and no lights appeared. Time passed in darkness.
And finally a light did appear – but with great dread he realized that the light was not on the road. In fact, it was several lights making their way slowly through the woods, along the road and in his direction.
They moved so close that he could hear them speaking quietly in their language and he waited and he prayed.
Soon, he could see their faces. They were so close – the first man out front carrying the big knife, the scar was smiling in the thrill of the hunt, four more men followed behind. Now he could see the tops of their heads as they walked directly under him. He did not move, he did not breathe. Silently, in his head, he prayed.
And then he saw their backs as they passed by and continued down along the road. The lights grew dimmer and they were gone. Njankluddy tried to stay still but he shook uncontrollably. Tears covered his cheeks.
But just then, he had reason for hope. Down the road, two bright lights moved towards him. It was a bus. He came down from the tree as fast as possible and got out into the road.
He thought how he had heard that these buses will not stop at night, no matter the situation, as a method of defense? Well, he resigned his fate to the bus, deciding that he would stand in the street and not get out of the way. He would rather have it run him down in the street than let the mob catch him. The bus seemed to hesitate and then it braked. It stopped in front of him, the door didn’t open, and a guard pointed a rifle at him.
He said merely “help” in Swahili and nothing happened. He then said it again in English and the guard said something and the door opened and he hurried on board and the big bus took off into the night.
Within moments they passed a bunch of lights that had come to the road. The driver sensed the source of the boy’s fear and gained speed. The bus passed by the mob at a safe speed, but not too fast for Njankluddy to see the faces of his tormentors. The scar was no longer smiling and the first man was still holding his knife – pointing it at the bus.