The First Reflection on My Existence

By Barhalibirhu Nfundiko Honore

My name is Mu’ndeke., and I was born in Munangi, a village in South Kivu, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The village is situated in the heart of the forest surrounded by bamboo trees, and a river streams through it. The houses are covered by grass. I was always happy to breathe the fresh air and admire all kinds of wild animals in the forest.

The people of my village lived a good life together. They used to hunt wild animals, and shared their meat with everyone. Our parents loved one another. Us children, in turn, loved one another. I used to play all kinds of games with my friends. Most of our parents were farmers. Milk and sweet potatoes were our everyday foods. We grew healthy and strong, and we felt united with everybody in the village. The problems of one were the problems of everyone. Likewise, the happiness of one was the happiness of everyone. Our parents were able to pay our school fees so we could learn in the one and only school in our village. At school, we spoke French, the official language of the country, but outside, we spoke Mashi. We lived a good life together.

It was midnight, somewhere in 2005. I was 15 years old, and I dreamt that the whole village was crying. I jumped out of bed and rushed outside, and found out it was true: everybody was crying. I started screaming. My parents, sisters, and brothers woke up, and came rushing outside. We didn’t know what was happening. Our whole family started crying and screaming, but we did not know why we were crying and screaming.

When I calmed down somewhat, I looked around and saw people that I had never seen in my village. They carried strange lights. They also held small axes, knives, spears, machetes, arrows, and guns. My parents, sisters, brothers and I screamed and screamed and screamed. Then, all the people in the village started running. We also ran, but the gunmen caught us, and brought us to the middle of the forest near my village where my friends and I used to hunt wild animals and play games. Almost all the people from my village were caught and brought to this place.

In the meantime, there came another group of people holding guns, machetes, and axes. They started cutting people down, including children, women and the elderly as if they were cutting trees in the forest. They raped young girls and women. The boys were told to sleep with their own mothers to save their lives. Soon they approached me and told me to sleep with my own mother. My mom loved me so much that she told me, “My son, I am not ready to see you being strangled, please come and sleep with me.” I didn’t want to see my own mother naked in front of my father, and my younger brothers and sisters, so I stood up immediately and ran away.

Some of the gunmen followed me. I heard bullets, arrows, and tear gas behind me, but not a single bullet struck me. All I could feel were pains in my eyes, as if they were filled with chili powder. I couldn’t breathe, but I kept running and running. When I recognized a tree in which I used to play hide-and-seek with my friends, I dove into the pit underneath.

Inside the pit, I saw the biggest snake I had ever seen, but I dared not leave. I preferred to be killed by the snake than sleeping with my own mother. I heard the gunmen’s feet banging. They were talking, I think in Kinyarwanda. They must be Rwandans, I thought. After a while, they left because they didn’t know there was a pit beneath the tree. Meanwhile, I was waiting for the snake to bite and kill me, but surprisingly, it was asleep. When it had been silent outside for a while, I climbed out of the pit as quietly as I could, and left the snake in its very deep sleep.

I went back slowly and helplessly to the spot where I left people from my village. It was 5 a.m. and I thought I was not myself, but rather someone else. Almost everyone in my village, including my family, had been strangled to death. The village looked as if it had never been inhabited. I went into my father’s house and took a machete and returned to the spot where the cadavers of my fellow people were left lying like flies and decided to kill myself. Then, I heard children crying.

I looked around and saw three children—one boy and two girls. I moved around and saw four more children; they were all girls. I didn’t know the children’s names or their ages, but they seemed to be between 3 years and a few months old. I baptized them myself. All my friends were killed; children were killed; fathers were killed; women and girls were raped before they were killed; and I thought, “Why not me?” Then, I understood I had survived to take care of the seven orphans, so I decided not to kill myself. I was content to live a new life with the seven orphans who became like my own children.

23 February, 2023