“Ta ta ta ta ta ta ta” Machine gun fire rang as I swiped my eyelashes with their first strokes of a daily make up routine.
“The shots came from up the hill, close to the government soldiers base” We were informed by the sub-chief, aka our bush papa. Somehow he always learns information faster than anyone else.
We’re not unfamiliar with gunshots, but during such sensitive periods of on again -off again war, it’s always good to find out their exact locations. Both where they took off and where they landed.
But never the less, it wasn’t much of an immediate concern, so we began our meetings, still groggy eyed with only one cup of tea in me, our sweet soldier. Sigh. The first appointment of the day. Demobilized from 3 years of battle, he was no older than a child sitting before us.
We met with him. We met with his family. And we began to make arrangements to bring him to Goma to… start over.
As the time slowly ticked and we made the village rounds, we gradually headed up to the UN base for a security check and a few questions about the landing point of several dozen bullets from the morning.
They described it simply in their makeshift tented office, “Well, FDLR soldiers came in, killed a government soldier, then fled. We’re on high alert but we’re hoping it’ll calm down soon. Lay low today and we’ll stop by your house tonight or tomorrow for another update”
(FDLR were originally Rwandan rebels. They’re responsible for much of the acts in Rwanda’s ’94 genocide
The Government soldiers are the “good guys”. )
Heading down the mountain we tried to carry on as usual, minus anymore village visits.
Lunch. Construction. Play with my puppy. Another meeting or two…
That’s when we were interrupted. Kylene and myself, walking home from the land, we heard it again: “ta ta ta ta ta ta” Rapid gun fire from young men holding Kalashnakov’s.
Then no more than 30 seconds later and the shots were followed by women running frantically in our direction.
“TURN AROUND!!!” They rattled in Swahili, “They’ve entered the village!- RUN!
We didn’t have to ask who. But rookies to a rebel raid, we still didn’t quite understand what was going on. We did know the look in their eyes though, sheer panic and absolute terror. And on a dime, Ky and I turned and started running with them, awkwardly laughing and occasionally glancing over our shoulders to see if we should be ducking the resounding gunfire.
We hadn’t run long until we caught up with the men of our team. “We heard the gun shots and came for you” They said with more awkward laughter.
It all happened so fast. Climbing into the land cruiser we sped down the road in the direction that everyone was fleeing to see what was going on and get our things from the house.
It was the most surreal moment of my life as we approached our village and ran directly into the mass exodus. The entire population, like a red sea of people, crowded the streets, pressing to get out of harms way.
It was like we climbed into the set of Hotel Rwanda or Blood Diamond. (Minus Leo of course) But instead of seeing random faces pass us with loads on their backs and bed mats on their heads, we were seeing our family, friends and staff members fleeing for their lives.
I think it hit the hardest when we saw our mama.
“WAIT!!!!!” The car hadn’t even come to a complete stop when I jumped out. I ran to her side and she grabbed me for a moment.
“Sandra! Go! Go get your things and run!”
It’s hard to describe the moment. Your emotions switch into high gear and parts of you want to cry at the horror of it but you’re so turned onto “go” mode that you wouldn’t dare waste a second with a single tear.
As my heart flew up to my throat all I could think about was: “This is heaven’s time to show up! How DARE they [the rebels] attack MY village” as we just prayed and prayed and prayed bumping down the rocking road.
In these bizarre fractions of time, war becomes a whole lot more personal. Passing our kids one by one on the road I had a whole new awareness of their everyday life.
Moses. Grace. Ushindi. Our sweet little 4 year chatter box- Ushindi. His name means “Victory” in Swahili. He waved as we passed him going the opposite direction.
I couldn’t imagine him as such a young boy knowing so much war. He studies at our school and we’ve heard him boast several times “My school is the best in Congo!” Now, surely not in school, his future layed in limbo as he ran for a tomorrow.
Speeding home, sub-chief was waiting at our little wood house. We fell back to awkward laughter that it took us 3 hours to pack our car from Goma and 2 minutes to pack in that moment. Adrenaline surging through our body we shook as we threw our things in the car.
The “ta ta ta ta ta ta ta” of machine gun fire and bombs blasting just up the road was our motivating time clock to keep us on point.
Fleeing the village we drove that evening to a safer location about an hour and a half away. Sadly a switch seemed flipped and our province of North Kivu as a whole was in uproar.
An understatement as fighting still reached us there, this time however the gun fire that sang out, acted as our ironic lullaby and we learned what it really means to “cultivate peace” in your heart, not letting your outside circumstances govern your inner core foundations.