The prompt for Sunday Scribblings was Why I Live Where I Live. I could tell you of my wonderful multi-ethnic, multi-generational neighborhood filled with loving friends and people who are never too busy to give us a hand with big projects, share their garden bounties or just stand and joke with us in the street. I could tell you about the process that brought us to this residential paradise and how two years ago, when we were thinking about moving, we found a way to stay and have not regretted that decision once. But, another story is clawing at my heart this weekend, and I just can’t rest until it is shared. It is the story of the Night Commuters of Uganda. Children forced to leave their homes each night for fear of attack from brutal rebel soldiers. If the story moves you, I encourage you to visit one of the websites I list at the end where you can take action and make your voice heard.
The rocks in the road search for the soft spots on her feet to cut into the skin. “Ha!” her feet seem to mock the craggy rocks, “There are no more soft spots here!” Beatrice lifts her feet and sees the small clouds of dust in the twilight each time she puts her bare foot back down upon the road. Her feet are calloused and tough and the toes are large and muscular. Her feet are her freedom and Beatrice studies them each night as she walks.
Her brothers William and Joseph walk beside her. Since her parents were killed by the rebels, Beatrice has watched over them closely. During the day they work together to collect twigs of just the right size for their grandmother to make brooms that they will sell in the village and the nearby camp. Compared to others, Beatrice and her brothers are fortunate. Their grandmother is able to provide enough for them to eat each day and keeps a fierce eye out for those in their Village that would take advantage of the young children. Nights are a different story. Grandmother is no match for the rebel soldiers that will storm the camp like a swarm of unwelcome bees. The soldiers come for the children and anyone who protests their actions, will quickly be silenced by a rebel machine gun if their lucky. The unfortunate ones are beaten, tortured, maimed and left to suffer with the signature of evil men with no boundaries in their desire to inflict their anger and resentment on the poor villagers. The war is a fog of evil that penetrates men’s hearts and erases their memories of love and peace. How else could they do what they do?
Beatrice raises her head as she hears a rumbling in the distance. She quickly motions William and Joseph to her side with a look of her deep brown eyes and a wave of her hand. They move to the edges of the road, ready to jump deep into the brush and burrow deep to avoid the rebel soldiers that might be in the approaching jeep. With a cautious eye, she watches as the jeep grows closer. It drives at an even, slow pace. Not the jerky fast, then slow way that the rebels do as they harass the evening walkers. Beatrice watches with cautious curiosity as the jeep passes. Inside she sees the most amazing sight. A light skinned woman! Why would anyone who is not from Uganda, come here?
Walking faster now, Beatrice motions for William and Joseph to keep up. They are close to the safe place now. Less than a mile of their four mile walk left. The sky is getting darker and it is better to arrive before full darkness. The guards are much less grumpy if you get there before full dark. As the children arrive at the gutted school at the edges of the city, piles of garbage and debris are scattered in the road. Beatrice wrinkles her nose at the smell that the heat of the day has left behind. Though they are tired from their day of work and the walk, Beatrice and her brothers jog towards the large wire fence that surrounds the school’s play yard. They join other children waiting in line to enter. The Ugandan Soldiers look official in their uniforms and little William salutes them as he walks through the gate. The soldiers look sadly at him and do not smile. Instead their eyes move quickly to watch the distance and the edges of the road for the rebel soldiers who sometimes snatch children just as they are on the boarders of the safety of the school yard.
Each night Beatrice and her brothers come here. They are safer here than in the village so this is where they sleep. Before laying their burlap sacks on the cement and settling in for the night, Beatrice sees the woman from the jeep again. She is on the outside of the fence with a man with a machine on his shoulders that has a light shining from it. In the woman’s hand is a stick with a puffy top. She is walking around the perimeter of the fence calling children to her and talking with them. She has another woman with her. A woman dressed in beautiful African robes and a headdress. Beatrice feels a strange sensation as she looks at her. A tightness in her chest and a pain behind her eyes seem to spread through her like water spilled onto a patch of cracked dessert sand. The women and the man with the machine on his shoulder come closer and wave Beatrice over to them. Slowly she approaches, keeping her eyes down at her feet – her freedom feet. She will run if these strangers try to hurt her or her brothers.
Instead the beautiful African woman asks her, “Tell me my dear, why do you come here?” The white skinned lady looks searchingly into Beatrice’s face and the man points the machine at Beatrice. It doesn’t look like a real gun and in the recesses of her mind, she goes back to the time when she was a child in school and thinks to herself, “I have seen one of these machines before – they capture a person’s image.” She breathes evenly and relaxes as the man looks kindly at her.
Beatrice answers, “Because this is where I must come to live. If I stay at my home, the rebels will come and take me and my brothers away. If I want to live I must come here where it is safer at night. If there is to be hope for me and my brothers, we must survive and we cannot survive the nights in our village, so we come here.”
The white-skinned woman smiles a small, sad smile. The man with the machine lowers his eyes and the beautiful African woman with the robes and headdress gently grasps Beatrice’s chin through the fence and looks deep into her eyes. “We will tell your story my daughter,” she says with firmness in her voice. “We will tell the world of you and your brothers and your friends and we will tell the world that you need a safe place to live. A safe place to play and to go to school. And we will keep telling them until they hear. Until then, you come here, you stay here and you do what you must to survive.” With knowing eyes and lines of sadness around them, Beatrice feels like the woman is looking into her very soul and seeing the horrible things she has seen. Feeling and absorbing the pain, the sadness, the grief and even going to the hidden places and seeing the rage in her heart. For a moment, Beatrice feels like a child again.
And then they are gone. The jeep rumbles off into the darkness. The children settle in on their burlap sacks and relax in the cooling temperatures. The only sounds come from the guards boots as they crunch the gravel beneath them as they walk the edges of the fence, watching the distance and guarding their precious and willing captives. In the morning, they will open the gates and Beatrice and her brothers will walk back to their Village. And the stones in the road will again be disappointed – there are no more soft spots to cut.
If this moved you or you want to know more:
http://www.savedarfur.org/ will send an electronic postcard to Pres. Bush asking him to stop the genocide in Darfur.
You can sign a World Vision online petition that demands that end of using children as soldiers
Send an email to President Bush and your Congressman asking them to step in and demand an end to the war in Uganda.
Other helpful links if you want to know more: