While Waiting at the Airport – My Africa Story – Part 3

Equateur province in the Congo is still recovering from the effects of war.  Jacques and I drove to the airport in Gemena to meet the plane coming in from Bangui.  The airport is occupied by soldiers.  From what I was told, these soldiers don’t learn how to dig pit latrines – any space will do.  It may be a long time before passengers use the building again. 

We sat and waited in the vehicle for about an hour – there was more trouble for the SIL plane getting out of Bangui than anticipated.  During this time we watched the soldiers drilling down on the tarmac. 

The ragtag army was standing in formation – some drill or listening to some political speech. Then they “marched” back up to the airport,some wearing bits of uniforms.  Most wearing flip flops rather than boots.  All with some kind of weapon.  Ammunition?  Hopefully it is scarce.  They look like they could hurt themselves – or someone else – by accident.

One group marches up to the other end of the parking lot, mostly in step – a semi-goose-step.  Maybe these are new recruits – not much for uniforms among the dozen or so young men.  One of them is soon down on all fours doing push-ups.  Must be the universal discipline measure for soldiers!

Then the whole contingent moved back up to the airport and began packing up.  Bed mats were being rolled up.  An assortment of packs from black plastic bags to school packs were hoisted onto backs or their women’s heads.  And off they went (marching is a bit too formal a term) down the road leading back into the city.

We have no idea where they are going.  If east to the front in Bukavu, they will be pushed to the front of any fighting.  They won’t know the local language and to the easterners they will be dispensable. These guys are young, ignorant and vulnerable.  Jacques says that any villages they pass through will be sure to suffer.  The soldiers have guns and they use this power to rape and steal as they go.

Later, we see that they have only moved into town, taking over a school vacant for the summer.  That did not make Jacques happy.  “The school will be destroyed.”  Getting an education is already difficult enough.

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