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As the hot wind was silently brushing across the dirty ground, I slept quietly without a care in the world. Although every night was different, this night felt especially right. The weather was hot, the village was quite, and I had my sister, Roseline, lying right by my side. Even though I was only nine years old and three years younger than my sister, I felt as if I was the parent in this family. I have looked after her and taken care of her as if she was my own child. I know that may sound fictitious, but in my village this is all too common. Everyday I think about my mother. I think about her long, brown hair and big, brown eyes. I think about the way she used to hold me every night and I never thought I would see the day when she would let go. It seems like only yesterday when she would sing me to sleep. Her voice was like chocolate, so delicate and sweet. I have never met a person more empowering and selfless than this woman. She gave her life up for my sister and me. It will be an image that stays with me until the day I die. It was January 7th, 2006 when I saw my family’s lives flash before my eyes. Our village was sitting around the fire singing songs to praise our lord. The sun was just starting to set and a cool, dusty breeze blew throughout the village. I sat on my mother’s lap as we watched the fire glow and crackle. Throughout the village, my mother was known for her empowering ability to see into the future. She constantly got flashes of village member’s lives and she used this talent to lead us into a more hopeful future. As I sat on her lap, I didn’t have a care in the world. Within the matter of seconds, a small jeep rolled up to our village and out walked two men who seemed to be command officers of the Lords Resistance Army. Almost half of our village scattered into their tents in fear. I sat there as they slowly marched up to the fire.
“Rose Awolowo stand up.” An officer commanded.
“Yes.” My mother slowly stood up.
And with that the man grabbed her and began to drag her across the ground while the other officer watched from a far. A group of four men from my tribe ran to her and began to fight for my mother’s life.
“I command you all to stop! Let go of the woman!” The other officer roared.
The village went silent.
“Let go of Rose and no one else will be hurt. We need her. She will strengthen the LRA. If you do not let her free, I will personally kill everyone in this village.”
The four men immediately let go and my mother stopped fighting. Everyone knew how much control the LRA had and they realized they had no other choice.
As I slept soundly in the tent, I was awoken by footsteps. The village was unusually silent and I could easily make the footsteps out. They didn’t sound like the footsteps of a little kid sneaking out of his tent. They didn’t sound like a father taking a bathroom break in the middle of the night. I knew I had heard these footsteps before, but I couldn’t quite make the connection. Within seconds the realization hit me. They were the footsteps of the LRA and they were back. The footsteps were so distinguishable- loud, with a clunk of every boot hitting the ground. I sprang up and tried to shake Roseline awake. She just murmured and told me stop. I continued traumatically shaking her as if our lives depended on it. She finally woke up, startled and confused.
“What Emmy? What is wrong?”
“They’re here! I know they are! I... I... I can feel it!” I stuttered.
At that moment my nerves skyrocketed. I began to feel what anxiety was like for the first time. My stomach was twisting uncontrollably, with the feeling of every organ being ripped in half. I could hear them going tent to tent, opening the doors and looking inside. We sat there silently and waited to see if they would come to ours. I immediately grabbed Roseline’s hand and recited our family’s favorite prayer. It was the prayer that got me and my sister through everything.
“Almighty God, the Great Thumb we cannot evade to tie any knot; the roaring Thunder that splits mighty trees: the all-seeing Lord up on high who sees even the footprints of antelope on a rock mass here on Earth. You are the one who does not hesitate to respond to our call. You are the cornerstone of peace.” We whispered together.
Within a minute later, the footsteps grew louder and louder. I feared their unwanted arrival into our tent. The door to our tent swung open and the head of an LRA command officer popped in. He began to look around and we had no idea what he was looking for, until his evil, dark eyes locked with mine. He stepped into our tent and swiftly grabbed my arm with one hand. He forcefully dragged me onto the dirty ground outside. Roseline tried grabbing my other arm, but there was no use. This man was one hundred times stronger than Roseline.
“Nooo! Let him go!” My sister cried.
The man continued to drag me across the village with a cold, blank expression across his face. No one even dared to step out of their tents as they feared they would be next.
“I will be back, Roseline! I promise!” I yelled back violently.
My sister ran after me acting as if she could actually prevent me from leaving. I have never seen something so daunting in my whole life. The officer threw me into a truck and walked abruptly to the driver seat. As the truck began to rumble and slowly drive away, I watched my sister kneel on the ground and sob. She was the only one outside of a tent and at that moment I realized she was the only one who actually cared about me. My friends and the people I looked up to as parents didn’t even step foot outside their tents to take a look at me. I didn’t blame them though; I was just another boy that would be forced into raping, killing, or torturing people I loved.
I sat in the back of the truck and watched my village become the size on an ant. Within ten minutes of driving we came upon another small village. The truck bumped to a halt and the command officer stepped out of the driver’s seat. As he slowly began to walk towards me, fear kicked in and the hair on my arms quickly rose. He stood in front of me and glared into my eyes.
“If you dare to step foot out of the vehicle, I will send a bullet through your head.” He warned me. I sat there shivering in fear as to what the officer was planning next. He walked around the village going through tents, just like he did to my village. As he came up to the seventh tent, he paused and stepped inside. He was only in there for a matter of seconds until he violently began to drag a young boy out onto the ground. The boy struggled to free himself from the officer’s tight grip. A group of four people jumped out of the tent and began to weep as the realized that nothing could ever stop the officer. He dragged the little boy, who seemed to be around my age, over to the truck and threw him in the back. As I locked eyes with the boy, I saw a glimpse of my past life.
There was a small pond about twenty minutes outside my village that my mother would always take my sister, brother, and I to. The color was a deep sea green and more clear than any water I have ever drunk. This was the only pond close to our village and we usually went there to wash up every Tuesday. My brother was three years old at the time and he always ran ahead to splash in the pond before anyone else. One Tuesday in particular, he ran ahead to the point where we could no longer see his figure. This did not faze us through, as there was nothing around to harm him. As we approached the pond, we began to hear cries for help. Soon did we realize that my brother was being captured by the LRA. What would the LRA need with a three year old boy? My mother stopped dead in her tracks and kneeled to the ground. She wept for hours on end as she came to the realization that she may never see her baby again.
As I peered into the young boy’s eyes, I saw the same darkness and despair that flowed throughout my mothers eyes the day she lost her son. The boy sat with both arms stretched around his knees and continued to show little expression. I figured there was nothing better to do than break the silence.
“Hello.” I tried at first. Silence filled the air.
“Have you played Mbube Mbube before?” I asked. This caught his attention and he slowly looked over at me.
“It’s one of my favorite games.” He answered. “Matter of fact the kids in my village played it yesterday.” I was thrilled to find out that he enjoyed that game just as much as me.
“Wow that is awesome. I wish some kids in my village adored the game as much as you. Every afternoon I would constantly have to convince my friends to play, but they never seemed the slight bit interested.” I explained
“I always ended up playing the lion, but it didn’t bother me since I got to call all the shots in the game!” He exclaimed.
It felt weird starting small talk about a game, but in a way in gave me a burst of energy. For the first time since I was taken from my village, I started to feel alive. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this journey and in a sense it distracted us from what was bound to happen. At that moment I sat up and looked straight forward into the darkness. I realized that we couldn’t distract ourselves for much longer and we would soon need to face reality.
“What is going to happen to us? Where are they taking us?” I questioned.
“I hear there is a place not far out of my village where they train boys to fight. It only lasts an hour or so and then you are completely on your own.” He said.
“I can’t do this. There is no way I can do this. I would almost rather die than be put through this.” I doubted myself.
“Boys like us are forced into this everyday and they make it through. My best friend in the village, Sunday, was captured two years ago. A little over a year later he escaped and returned home. Although he said it was the worst year of his life, he said it wasn’t too difficult to escape. If he can do it alone, we can do it together!” He exclaimed with hope.
After hearing this story, I began to gain some hope. I found it strange that we were having an in depth conversation and I still did not know his name.
“By the way, what’s your name?” I asked awkwardly.
“Tony Biobaku. And you?”
“Emlyn Awolowo, but you can just call me Emmy.” I responded.
We both looked away from each other and out into the darkness of the night. I started thinking about everything Tony told me. About the fact that there was a chance we could both escape and make it back to our villages safely. I realized that growing up without a father has made me stronger than ever. Although I would love to meet the man that made me who I am, I knew growing up alone was for the better. I always watched out for my mother, sister, and younger brother as if I was the fatherly figure in this family. This allowed me to mature at a faster rate and become stronger then most of the kids who grew up with a father or someone that acted as a fatherly figure.
The truck began to rumble and hit a bump when I noticed that I must have been sleeping for at least an hour. I looked across the truck and saw that Tony was sleeping peacefully with his head nuzzled into the corner. As I began to watch the sun rise, I heard faint noises in the distance. I couldn’t completely make out the words, but it sounded like a lot of enraged yelling. I looked forward to see a field of around fifty people, mostly kids between the ages of eight and seventeen. The kids were dressed in all green and carried around a large gun. I started to shake Tony awake, knowing that we were nearing the camp. He awoke and crawled to the front of the truck to see what was ahead of us. I could hear my heart thumping in and out of my chest. My body was quickly heating up like a stove and sweat began to seep out of my pores. I knew what was ahead of me and I couldn’t control the way my body was reacting. All of the sudden, the truck came to an abrupt halt and the command officer stepped out of the vehicle once again. He slowly walked to the back of the truck and commanded us to jump out.
“Come with me and do not talk.” The officer demanded as he dragged us by our arms to a small hut nearby.
Once we entered the hut, we immediately got brought over to a lady for a uniform fitting. Although they called it a “fitting”, it was the farthest thing from that. They pulled us onto a bench and picked random uniforms out of a brown box for us to throw on. The officer commanded us to strip down and put on the uniforms that were completely over- sized. The sleeves of the army print jacket went at least four inches past my finger tips and the pants brushed the floor as I stood up. I didn’t mind this though because they were a big change from the dirty, ripped clothing I wore daily. From the hut, the twelve of us were brought back outside where a large man handed each of us an AK rifle and told us to organize ourselves into a straight line. I made a point to stand next to Tony because it comforted me knowing that there was someone else in this with me. Throughout the next fifteen minutes, two command officers taught us the basics of fighting in a war. We learned where to place our rifles, how to hold them when shooting, aiming techniques, and the correct way to pull the trigger. For the first time since I got taken away from my village, I felt happy. Learning these techniques made me feel manly and in a way it provided me with an abundance of entertainment. But as soon as we finished training, my excitement slowly dwindled away and fear shot threw my body once again.
It was just starting to reach mid afternoon, when one command officer ordered four of us to get into the back of another truck. I immediately noticed that I was getting separated from Tony and right before we left each other’s sides he whispered, “Hey Emmy… Once we get out of here, we’ll play Mbube Mbube everyday together.” And with that, he smiled and walked away. Although I only knew Tony for a matter of hours, he gave me hope that this would all be over soon.
I jumped into the back of the truck and it slowly drove away from the training camp. I was stuck with three other boys who seemed to be in their later teens. We were only in the truck for about five minutes when it stopped at a large village. I saw all types of people my age and older running around the village without a care in the world. Moments later our truck caught the attention of a father and he began to yell for the village members to run. It was then that I began to acknowledge what was about to happen. I frantically started thinking about all my options. In reality, there were only two choices to pick from. I could fight against the innocent people of my country, or I could easily end it all right there. I weighed out my options only to realize that time was slipping away. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the roaring of the command officer. He jumped out of the truck and ordered us to begin shooting at the hundreds of innocent people in front of us. The four of us scattered in different directions and I ran to the middle of the village where I came upon a young boy and older girl. Both of them kneeled in the dirt, covered their heads with both arms, and began to quietly cry. As a stood above them with my gun pointing at the young boy’s head, I imagined my family in this situation. These two kids could have easily been my siblings and in that instance I realized that this was not what I wanted. There was no possible way my finger could pull back the trigger to kill these two children. That was the moment that I made the biggest decision of my life. I slowly raised the gun up to my head and within seconds I took my own life.