Letter from Bangui: the long walk

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Letter from Bangui: The long walk

Christina is running away from political violence. This is a common story in the Central African Republic. By Ruby Diamonde.

Christina is from Bocaranga, a market town in the hills. It is in the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR), in the beautiful forests. But Christina doesn’t live there anymore. She and her three young children are now staying 160 kilometres away, in a different town, Bouar. It is only 100 miles away. But Christina and her kids walked, or ran, the whole way.

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Sarah John

I met Christina in Bouar, at a local centre d’écoute (listening centre) to support Central Africans who’ve suffered violence. She’s been in Bouar for almost a year, but her situation has not changed much.

‘I lived in Bocaranga most of my life,’ she tells me. ‘When the Seleka rebels took over our town [in March 2013] everyone ran into the forest, because we were all terrified. We slept in the forest for nights, me and my husband, Jean-Pierre, and the kids. When we returned to our house, Seleka came to the door.’

Jean-Pierre had a job with the local farmers’ council, and the rebels knew he had a salary. ‘They demanded money,’ says Christina, ‘and when he told them he didn’t have any money they shot him dead. In front of me.’

Seleka, five rebel groups working together, took over the country of CAR last spring. A lot of violence and fear started across the country. They killed Christina’s husband, then the Seleka rebels stole everything they wanted from her house, and then burnt the house.

Christina was totally shocked and she took her children to neighbours and friends in another part of the town. But no-one was safe in Bocaranga – the rebels were attacking everyone. After three weeks of fear, Christina decided she and her children had to leave.

‘We didn’t know where to go,’ she says. ‘But lots of people were moving, and I thought we might be safer in Bouar.’ They took a few things they had found in the fire, and they walked day after day along simple roads and through the forest. In the first months after Seleka took control, hundreds of thousands of Central Africans left their villages and ran to the forest because the rebels attacked and raped so many people.

Christina has two sons and a daughter. I asked where they stayed as they were walking towards Bouar.

‘Sometimes we slept outside under trees, sometimes in people’s houses,’ she says. ‘We did not know them, but they always let us sleep with them and gave us some food.’ She tells me that every time she came to a villager’s house, the family invited her and the kids inside and gave them food. ‘No-one ever told us to go away.’

After two weeks of walking, they were very tired. They arrived at Bouar. Many other people had run away into the town and local families were looking after them. One local family took Christina and her kids.

The host family was kind, she says, but she and her children have no room of their own; they sleep on mats in the main living space and, after almost a year, their few belongings are still in bags.

There are more than 6,000 Central Africans in Bouar with no homes. Many, like Christina, can’t go home because they have no home to return to. Christina earns a little money doing washing, and her family lives on about 100 Central African Francs(about 20 US cents)a day. They eat cassava, cassava leaves, and a few vegetables. She’s going to a local employment training scheme, hoping to start a little business selling hot food, but she has no money and no-one to borrow money from. Her host family has finally asked her to give them some money to live with them and she can’t pay them anything, so she is worried they will tell her to leave. She is happy that her kids are going to school, and she likes the centre d’écoute.

There is a lot of violence in CAR, but Christina’s old home, Bocaranga, is calmer now.

I ask if she would think about going back.

‘Impossible,’ she says. ‘Our life there is finished. Now we need our life here to begin.’

Ruby Diamonde is not her real name.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/columns/letters-from/2014/04/01/letter-from-bangui/

(This article has been simplified, so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).