The Protagonist

By Espoir

Have you ever lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch?

This has been my life’s headline for the past seven years.

I come from one of the conflict zones in today’s era, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). DRC is one of the wealthiest and poorest countries in the world. The paradox is that this country has more natural resources than any that I know but its wealth does not benefit its actual population.

In 2015, I had to flee the country due to political conflicts and moved to Malawi. I left everything I owned behind as I was about to write the mid-term exams for my second year in college. My dreams for education, my family, my country, and everything I was attached to were left behind. I still remember how empty my backpack felt because I only moved with two pairs of jeans, a pair of sneakers, a toothbrush, and two golf shirts. At this point I knew everything was over. I had no hope given the hardships, the one incomplete meal a day, the bricks I made for shelter within the refugee camp, the five hours spent on the cue at the borehole to get twenty liters of water, the days I felt useless. Six months of bitterness went by like this.

Then one morning, I woke up before the alarm clock (the neighbor’s rooster was my alarm clock as it used to crow every morning at 4; but this time, I was awake at exactly 3:55). This day, I woke up with energy levels that I hadn’t had for a long time. I felt like I could do anything and nothing imaginable was going to stop me. On a typical day, I would spend another fifteen minutes before getting up but this day I got up the minute my eyes opened. It felt like something was going to change this day, but I had no clue what it would be.

I resumed my morning routine of taking a thirty-minute jog, which is the same jog that I used to take before everything fell apart. But after thirty minutes, it felt like thirty minutes was too little. Without hesitating, I continued for up to forty-five minutes. I couldn’t get any prouder because of the forty-five minute milestone. Getting back from the jog, I went to the borehole as usual and got my two twenty-litre jerrycans of water. On a typical day, I could have just fetched my containers but the energy levels were just extraordinary. I even helped two ladies who found me at the borehole extract water. 

I went home with my two jerrycans and took a cold bath right away. I took my regular breakfast which was soy porridge. After breakfast, I took a notebook to list and reflect on things that needed to change. This was never a routine of mine, but I felt different this day, and for whatever reason, I was writing in this notebook. I wrote the word “education” down because it is the only word that came to mind. After spending fifteen minutes with only one word on the page, I decided to visit a higher education institution that was offering online programs in the camp. 

Everything in that building reminded me of home. I remembered the life that was taken away from me. Students having group discussions reminded me how my classmates and I used to gather to talk about trending news and what we were going to do after school. One discussion’s facilitator reminded me of my accounting lecturer because his hands were covered by chalk dust (people used to call him my brother because I was excellent in his class. He was my favorite). All my dreams. My dream job, dream house, and family came back alive in blurry images. My eyes were filled with tears but I did not allow anyone to see them as I grew up knowing that a man does not cry (apparently this was not true).

I saw students in the building learning through desktop computers. These people are pursuing their dreams, I said internally. I am sure people who saw me that day thought I was mentally deranged as I was staring at everything around me (the bricks, photos in frames, people, ceiling, chairs, computers). I accidentally collided with the guy who was carrying some reams of papers (watch out, watch out…he screamed). No one got hurt. It was at this moment that my mind came back. The tears in my eyes were fading away. I smiled as I realized that there was still hope for me. 

This visit showed me exactly the place I needed to be if I were to turn things around. I remembered the one word that I wrote on a page of my notebook at home. It is at this moment that I said enough was enough. This is when I decided that I was going to be the protagonist of my own life. I knew I was not going to be admitted to the online classes on the same day or week but I had to start somewhere. As my English was not good enough to join the online program, I registered for an English as a foreign language class. This gave me some sense of pride as the energy levels of this day were put to good use. I knew my life was not going to be the same. I went home with a smile on my face that hadn’t been there in a long time. Instead of viewing the camp as a place of confinement and suffering, it became a place of opportunities that only an explorer could see. Most importantly, this place became a zone of resilience.

1 January, 2023