The waters of the St. Paul River roil over ancient rocks through a maze of thick green covered land. An old steel bridge spans the waters. I do not drive over the bridge. I choose to walk. I hear the sounds of rushing water and as I take each step I hear quiet whispering voices. They speak softly and sadly.*
“I lost her on the border of Guinea. I never saw her again until I discovered she became a rebel’s wife. She was hard and I did not recognize her.”
“I saw them cut off my brother’s head then kill my sister. They chopped her children into little pieces. I will never forget.”
“I was forced to be a rebel’s wife and forced to work even when I was sick. I was determined to escape.”
“My children went with my mother and I hid in the bush. Lost, I thought I would never see my children again. Rumors were heard by my family that I was killed. Thank, God my brother came to search for me and found me.
“My papers, I lost my papers and I did not think. I ran back to get them. I heard gunfire.”
“They yelled at me because my baby was crying. We were hiding in the bush and they were afraid we would be found and shot.
“There were pregnant women every where giving birth but we could not stop they were left to themselves and the cries filled the night.”
“They said they would cut off my hand or my leg if I did not do as they said. They gave me a choice. Thank God, I escaped”
With each step I hear more voices and they tell me tragic stories and the sadness overwhelms me.
As I walk across the bridge in my imagination I see women, children, and men crawling to avoid the cross fire of the rebels and others in terror jump from the bridge into the river to their death. I see parents holding infants, and men protecting spouses. I also see those so numb with fear that they are absorbed only with their own survival. Most of all I see a determination to cross this river -the border between Lofa County and Bong County and a willingness to accept death rather than be captured by the rebel armies of Charles Taylor. I turn and gaze across the bridge and sadness fills me. I cannot believe and I cannot imagine. Yet I know the stories to be true. I have heard the stories with my own ears. As I take my last step off the bridge I hear a cacophony of voices calling to be heard. I am sad and silent.
*None of these stories represent any one person but are a synthesis of the many stories of survivors I heard over several weeks.
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