Late in the 1990s, many villages in Masisi and Walikale territories were under war. During that period of time, I was a very young boy living in the Walikale territory within the village that separates the Masisi and Walikale territories. There had been no attacks on the village since wars started in the surrounding villages.
One Saturday, the village authority received a letter from rebels saying that they were going to fight our village the next Saturday. In their letter, they were asking the authorities to get ready, for they are coming to fight and plunder everything that will be found in the village. The village’s authorities did their best to protect their population by letting them know what was going on. So, they called all the people from the village to gather at the authority house. Everyone came to listen to the communication the chief had to share with them.
When the quorum was reached, the chief said: “I would like to thank everyone because you decided to respond positively to my call. I have one piece of information to give you. This morning we received a letter from the rebel group that is fighting in the surrounding villages. They told me to let you know that they are getting ready to attack this village, and then they need us to get ready because they are coming to fight us and they will plunder everything that they will find. I would like to let you know so that you may get ready according to the way you think you can do so. However, no matter their threats, we are going to respond if they try to come and attack us”.
The next week was a week full of stress because people were asking themselves how the situation would be on Saturday. All the men from the village were getting ready to fight, while they told all the women and children to get ready to leave the village by Friday and go hide themselves in the forest. When Friday arrived, all the women as well as the children went into the forest to hide themselves in the nearest forest on a certain mountain, from which they could have a direct view of the village. Since I was also a child then, we went with my mother to the forest that Friday evening to hide ourselves and save our lives. We spent that night in the forest under a shelter made of dry banana leaves. We couldn’t sleep because of fear. When Saturday arrived, we had been in the forest but had our ears and eyes on the village. We waited for the whole day, but we heard nothing until Saturday evening. We thought that maybe they would come to attack during the night. We waited, but nothing happened. On Sunday morning, they sent some youths who stayed in the village to come and let us know that those enemies didn’t come as they promised to. So they told us to stay there for that night, and if there is nothing happening, they will come to take us back on Monday morning to come back to the village. We waited the whole Sunday night, but nothing happened. Then on Monday morning, we went back to our village, and everyone thought that the chief lied to his people.
We lived without worry for one month until the day that the chief received another letter from the same rebel with the same content as the previous one. They promised to attack the village again on Saturday. The chief did again what he did before. He called all the people and told them again about the new letter he received. Then he said, “I don’t tell you to go again in the forest, but it’s better for women and children to go again in the forest and hide themselves because one never can tell. They can be lying or not. The reason why I will need everyone to listen to their conscious to make up their mind about leaving or not.”
It was a new week of psychosis, and people were in a dilemma because they could not be sure that the rebels were not lying as they had the previous month. When Friday came, the majority of people could not leave the village. They decided to stay because they thought the rebels were just kidding and would not come. Saturday morning and afternoon passed without any rebel signs. Then people said, “The chief was lying to us again, like last time”.
Then all of us slept, praying to God to protect us. Suddenly, at midnight, I heard some gunshots, but I thought I was dreaming about the rebel promise. But when I was awake, I could understand that it was not a dream but a reality. Rebels were already in the village. Then I went into my mother’s bedroom to tell her about what was happening. When she woke up, she gathered the whole family and told us to follow her.
She took a rope and tied all of us to our hips so that we would not get lost. And we just went to join that forest in which we were hidden last month. Fortunately, we could reach the place safely.
The fight continued in the village because we could hear the gunshot from the place where it was hidden. Unfortunately, it started raining, and we got so wet that we couldn’t sleep. And the gunshots were approaching the place where we were. We understood by then that they had discovered the place where we were hidden.
As the gunshots were approaching, my mother told me that we should have left that place to save our lives. We stood up and started walking in the forest in the darkness and under the rain. We just could not stop when we could not hear the gunshot. We rested a bit, but it was still night. Within my heart, I was praying that the morning should come so that we might know the place we have to go. But that night was the longest in my life because of the hard times we were passing through.
When it was morning, we could not hear any gunshot. We spent that day sleeping under the sun. Very late in the evening, we heard some voices calling out to ask if there was anyone who needed any help. We kept quiet, even if the voice kept on shouting. Later on, my mother recognized the voice, which was my uncle’s. Then she also shouted, telling him that we were there and needed help. When he found us, he gave us some food and started telling us what had happened in our village. He told us that many people who lived at the beginning of the village were all killed, but the ones that found the chance to escape were those living in the middle and at the end of the village.
It is painful to think about that longest night. I am now an adult, but that memory is still fresh in my mind. The world we are living in should be better so that these kinds of situations couldn’t happen. People should be thinking about the drawbacks of war, at least specifically in the case of babies, children, and women, especially pregnant ones, because they are the most vulnerable in case of violence. But since the sense of humanity and compassion have flown away from the majority of people involved in wars, this kind of society full of ethics, compassion, and love seems impossible in my beloved country. No matter how bad the situation is currently in my country, we hope and believe in a peaceful future.
8 July, 2023