It Happened, Not Again

Like former South African President Nelson Mandela said, “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” This meant something to me when I read it the first time because I was reminded of the struggles I had to go through in order to “climb the mountaintop of [my] desires” and find peace in my world that I lived. Many people are waiting for their personal apocalypse, but for me, it happened, it happened when I was three years old and I am not ready for it to happen again.

My personal apocalypse happened when I was three years old and my parents woke me up in the middle of the night. This apocalypse came too quickly and hindered me from living a typical childhood. I missed the opportunity to play with dolls and dress as a princess. More and more questions arose in my head that no one was ready to answer. I began to realize that this could be the end of my life and my world. I was wondering where we were going and grew concerned due to the size of my family. My parents had five children at the time plus my uncle’s two wives and their children. This was a lot of individuals trying to escape. I woke up to my mother holding my clothes and bags in her hands, I looked at my dad, and he was carrying my baby brother, Cedric.  This was difficult for me because I was only three years old and I was woken up in the middle of the night without knowing what was happening. I was not ready to leave the world I thought I grow up in. My family stood in front of me waiting for me to wake up and start moving, but I did not know exactly which direction to go.

Meanwhile, political unrest began to plague the country of Congo. Anti-Mobutu rebels invaded from the neighboring country of Rwanda and eventually the rebel leader, Laurent Kabila, emerged as the new president of the country. My grandfather was serving in the military at the time. The rebels and violence spread throughout the country as Kabila’s army attempted to eliminate any potential threats, including previous supporters of Mobutu. My grandfather and his entire family became the “potential threat” to the new government under the rule of president Kabila. Kabila sent his soldiers throughout the country to murder all Mobutu supporters leading my family to escape from the country to save our lives. On the same day that we escaped, my grandparents were pronounced dead.

We started running behind my house into the bushes with my entire family and no one was allowed to talk. We walked during the night and hid in the bushes during the day, but this was still difficult for me as a child, along with my other siblings and my cousins. While we were still wandering in the bushes, we could not find a solution to our suffering. We stopped in the middle of the day and prayed the rosary because we thought God would help us find the solution to our problems and get us to a safe place where we could lay our heads down and sleep for once. One night, my parents lit a fire on a hill and we surrounded the fire with the rosary and a candle that my mom had in the pockets of her dress. We prayed to the rosary while baby Cedric was crying. We stopped a lot during our night walk and my dad would try to make a house out of the tall grasses and make us go to sleep. My mother was worried that if the people found us sleeping, they would kill us all at once and our lives would end just like that.

Just when we thought we saw our way to safety, we were still missing one thing: money. As we continued to walk, we saw a train that we thought would help us get to a safe place, but we were told that we didn’t have enough money. It was a terrible time to be asking for money, in order to rescue people who have been running away for who knows how long. We kept walking with the hope that one day we would find peace. My parents prayed all the time, which allowed them to connect to one another and God, who would ultimately help us get through it all.

We continued our journey on foot walking for months until we reached our “safe haven:” The Copperbelt Province of Zambia. There were no options; we did what we needed to save ourselves even though Patric had a very hard time walking. Ntumba still suffered from his sickness. Cedric and I (Elizabeth) had to be carried. We had to walk to live. In order to live in Zambia, people needed papers or to speak the languages spoken in the country. My family was able to speak only the languages spoken in Congo; therefore, we had to face a new problem with the immigration of the country. The police were talking to my parents, but mom and dad were unable to speak Bemba,which was the Zambian language. We were arrested and put in jail for over two weeks because people thought we were a “threat” to Zambia. The prison life was not easy because we ate the same food every day. Beans were our prison meal. It made Patric and Ntumba even more sick and there were no doctors that would help them. Luckily, my brother, Cedric, and I never got sick while in prison. We were released and sent to the refugee camp, where we ended up spending ten years.

In Alas, Babylon, Peyton is a little girl who has been surprised by the announcement that she, her brother and mother, would have to move to a different city to live with her uncle because of the nuclear war and her father’s position in the military. This little girl was forced to change her whole life and leave what was important to her behind. Peyton started witnessing all the bad things the adults talked about and lost her sight for a few days because of the nuclear bomb that was dropped on the United States by the enemy. Peyton was missing her childhood because she had to be around people who were much older than her. Just like Peyton, I was just a little girl growing up in the world of misery. A world where everything seemed terrible and I did not understand what was going on in my life, which blinded me from reality. I was forced to leave the place I called home because my family wanted to escape and find refuge. My world was ending, just like Peyton’s world was ending. I missed the time where children would be children because I was around adults who wanted me to act and think more like them. I was forced to act older than many people my age because I was born into a life that caused me to grow up too fast.

After spending a few weeks in the prison, my family was then sent to a refugee camp where we ended up staying for ten years. This place was my new home. I had to forget about my past and begin to get used to my new environment. I began going to school and that’s when I started questioning my whole life. I was so confused that I started questioning my parents because I was tired of not knowing. I finally had my parents to help me understand the reason why we were in the refugee camp.

These series of events in my life are applicable to the “shadow of death” that Mandela referenced in his quote. However, he also talks about the “mountain top of desires.” These mountaintops have also been evident in my life through my opportunities in United States and my opportunity to receive a higher education. I have been given many opportunities that most people do not get and I am glad that I can finally follow my dreams. After living through the traumatic events in my life, I have learned a lot. Peyton learned a lot from being around adults, which made her begin to act like an adult. She proved everyone wrong for not believing in her. My family is proud of me for being the person I am today and I would not have been if I did not go through what I experienced at such a young age.