I am lying in bed. I hear gunfire, two loud shots… maybe mortar fire? I am not exactly an expert on guns. I wonder if I should go to sleep, or prepare myself to go the hospital. My medical team leader told me to rest this afternoon, in case there were mass casualties I would be in the first team to go to the hospital for triage and stabilization of injured patients. When I hear no more noise for a long time, and no calls on the radio, so I figure all is well and go to sleep.
The conflict in December has led nearly all of the population from Bossangoa to flee into two camps, one camp in a mission, and the other in a school. A population that has always lived as one, separated now by events that affected every single person in the country.
Some days earlier, I am asked to go to the school camp. Thousands of Muslims are camped out, and now preparing to be evacuated by the Chadian Army for their safety. I arrive and the sight is heartbreaking. Everyone is packing what they can in hopes they can fit on one of the twenty trucks leaving with the convoy. It is quite clear that not everyone will be able to go, yet everyone is staying relatively calm.
Convoy © Ashley Sharpe
I meet one of our staff members in the crowd. He looks at me with fear, distress and sadness on his face. We hug, as he starts to sob uncontrollably. He cannot let go, and neither can I. As he starts to shake, I feel my own tears streaming down my face as well. Finally someone standing nearby tries to get him to let go, regain his composure… He starts to apologize, for leaving, of all things. I stop him and tell him “Courage.” We say goodbye. I have such a helpless feeling as we part. We rounded up some large containers and starting mixing up oral rehydration solution for the small children who have a long journey ahead of them exposed in the heat in the open trucks. What else can we do in this moment?
Other times, all seems to be settling down, like things are moving in the right direction. Working in Outreach, travelling along the roads outside Bossangoa I see many villagers, hear their stories, and see their current reality.
We hold mobile clinics, where I try to take time to talk to the people we are treating. What I have been seeing on the road makes me believe that people are rebuilding their lives, trying to heal. Everyday more people are returning home from the bush.
Two days ago, I saw a man repairing his roof. The entire village had been burned, many houses destroyed. I stopped to talk with him. He told me his village was burned November 22nd. He fled to the bush, as did everyone else. He spent two months sleeping outside, exposed to the elements, and the mosquitoes (malaria, malaria, malaria!)
Repairing the roof © Ashley Sharpe
I feel it is promising to see people moving back in to their homes (roof or not), and repairing what’s left. I asked him how he felt about the situation, if he felt safe, optimistic even, since he was fixing his roof and all. He replied, “No, it’s not safe, the rebels are just that way a short distance.” He tells me that he is fixing his roof, so he can live there again, but if something happens in his village he will be ready to run again… So maybe not healed, but resilient Central Africans keep working on it.