October 9 to 12: 4 days of house lockdown
No movements, whatsoever. Not by car, not by foot; not to the market, not even to the little donut stand right across the street. You spend your days between eating, sleeping and discussing with your housemates, all while keeping an attentive ear to the surrounding. Gunfire and explosions, helicopters and convoys. Your ears automatically perk up at the slightest sudden sound. You stop your conversation, you mute your movie. You just listen. And then, with a small sigh of despair, you resume what you were doing. On certain occasions, you wonder if those sounds are real. That gunshot? Maybe it’s just someone chopping wood. That crowd you hear from afar? Maybe it’s just your neighbor watching TV. The worst is the sound of the rain because it drowns out everything else.
October 13: Back to work
On Monday morning we receive a phone call. The vehicle will pick us up at 7:45am sharp. Part of you is excited to go back to work, part of you wonders if it’s safe go on the road, but all of you is happy to get out of the house.
Expats were the first to arrive to the office. We greet each other, talk about our hibernation and exchange the bits of information we have about the context. We were all at different stages of sanity (or insanity, whichever end of the spectrum you were closer to), glad to be back to work and hoping this bout of violence is only transient.
Slowly, our national colleagues arrive. We greet each other, talk about our hibernation and exchange the bits of information we have about the context. The headings of our conversations were the same but the contents of our paragraphs differed greatly.
One of my coworkers walks into the office looking spent. “How are you?” I ask. “I’m fine,” he responds. He is evidently not “fine”. I try again, “No, how are you really doing?” He pauses, takes a breath. Then he tells me how difficult the last couple of days were. He lives in a tense area. His family and he had to pick up their essentials and run out of their house several times; every time they would get wind of the rebels coming. My heart breaks at the thought of him running out of the house, in the middle of the night, with his child in one arm and his belongings in the other. He responds, “What do you want? This is survival!”
As I walk towards the photocopier, I bump into another colleague. “How are you?” She tells me of her sleepless nights, her fear of getting looted, and describes the burnt-down houses in her district. She worries that food may become unaffordable as there are fewer and fewer carriers willing to bring crops to Bangui. She is anxious about her travels to and from work because of blockades set up by rebel groups.
And then there is this colleague who, thankfully, escaped on time when shooting erupted at a barricade. And then another, whose sister got hit by a stray bullet. And another, and another, and another. In times like these, a simple “how are you” does not yield a simple answer.
Central African Republic is in a state of emergency. Over 5000 people have been killed in the past year and over 400,000 are displaced from their homes. You might not have heard about this because it is grossly underreported in the media, but now you know. Do not forget about this country, help spread the news.
Watch and share this video to learn more about the situation in CAR: http://www.msf.org/article/video-central-african-republic-suitcase-or-coffin