For the last several weeks there has been low intensity military trouble around Mungele. Two groups have been intermittently shooting at each other, creating anxiety in the general population. Unfortunately, the people here are accustomed to shootings, battles, and war. They have grown used to armed men entering their homes, stealing animals and other belongings. When military activity gets too “hot”, the population flees into the jungle, sleeping in the dense forest until things calm down.
Seven days ago, I took the early morning car to Mungele for my usual Saturday trip. Nearby there had been some military activity a few days previously so there were not many patients. At 10:30 a.m. I departed to return home.
One hour later a battle began in the village and continued for hours. Soldiers from both sides were injured. When a truck transporting cargo and passengers passed by, it was stopped and the wounded from the Congolese army were loaded on for transport to the hospital in Lubutu. Shortly thereafter, bullets sprayed the truck. Miraculously, no one was killed, but seven of the civilians were struck. The truck rolled on to Lubutu. Since there is no mobile phone coverage outside Lubutu town, the injured arrived in the Emergency Room without warning. At 10 p.m., the hospital personnel heard the roar of the truck’s engine, lots of shouting and moans, and then eleven bleeding, gravely ill people arrived. Almost all of the injuries were severe and it is still unclear whether all the patients will leave the hospital.
The staff of the Centre de Santé and the population of Mungele and nearby communities had fled their homes and were encamped in the jungle. Virtually every home was pillaged, burnt, or both. In the Centre de Santé, all the doors was broken down and many items were stolen. Fortunately, though all of them were living in the insect-filled jungle, the staff of Mungele’s Centre de Santé were thought to be all alive and unhurt. All total, they spent five days in the intermittent torrential rains before most of them reached Lubutu. I was worried for their safety and was relieved to hear no one had been physically injured.
Today, seven days later, I went back to reopen the Centre de Santé. All was well until the car reached Amisi, the village 5 kilometers before Mungele. In the two towns, the only humans I saw were looters, leisurely stealing everyone’s possessions. With me came the two consultants, the pharmacist, and our receptionist. We cleaned for one hour and then opened for business. Magically patients appeared. They were examined and given treatment before hiding again. It is in no way safe for them to return home.
Clearly the local population was happy we were back. So was I.