6/30/2004

The small men

I walked along the yellow winding path, deep in the jungle. Monkeys swung and chattered in the trees above, and the morning dew slowly fell, gently caressing my face. A bird cried out above me, it screamed a beautiful melody, its voice rose high into the sky. The animals stopped to listen for a bit, and then wandered on in the search for their meal. The jungle would feed them, and give them everything they needed. It was their mother, it kept them safe, it provided their meals, it taught them.

The path continued, winding around hills, continuing across fallen palm trees that bridged the deep streams that occasionally ran through and watered the forest. I followed the path, drank in the streams, and looked around for something I could eat. Soon enough, I saw mango tree.

The thicker branches had been stripped by the monkeys, but the smaller branches still had a few fruits hanging on them. I threw sticks at them, and was soon sucking at the fruits. I felt content. I was going somewhere, I had food, and I had water.

After an hour, the foliage started to thin out. Not by much, but one still had the sense that ahead was a cleared area. And sure enough, within the next hour, I started to see small farms. They were no longer tended and were running wild, but cassava is a plant that is mostly spread by man. And there were cassava plants out here. I was approaching human beings.

The path suddenly widened into a street, and I was in a village. The village was enclosed in a fence constructed of bamboo and the houses were made of mud. Several of the houses seemed to not have been used for a long while, and their thatched roofs had collapsed inwards. I could see that there was at least one inhabited house, because a blacked metal pot steamed on the side of the house.

However, I saw nobody. So I walked towards the pot, though the village was too still.

I looked into it, and I saw meat cooking. It was an arm, a human arm, and the flesh had mostly fallen off. It had been cooking for a long time.

I fell to my knees, and raised my hand to block the sun, because it felt like a light was burning through my head. But the light did not come from outside, realisation seared and tore me from within, and my hand could not block it.

I realised that this was a pygmy village. I remembered that the rebels I had worked with regarded the pygmies as half-human, and killed and ate them to become immune to the bullets of the enemy. I saw the brown blood that stained the walls of the hut. I smelled the stench of death about the place. I saw the small footprints in the sand, tiny and delicate between the treads of military boots.

I heard the terrified shouts of the small men running from the big men, I heard the screams of the women and the children, I heard the machetes hit flesh, I heard agony.

I dropped to the ground and cried.

6/29/2004

Jungle Fever

The red of the dying sun pierced through the dark green palm trees, and lit up the brown earth of the congolese jungle, changing it to a murky yellow. I felt the soft flow of a gentle wind touch my neck, an evening breeze, scented with the pecuilar and thick smell of the queen of the night tree.

Then in the distance, I heard the coughs of a jungle cat, and the answering roar of some big animal. It seemed like the air suddenly chilled by a good number of degrees, and I felt fear creep into my consiousness.

I was all alone in the middle of a large forest, without any weapons, nowhere to sleep, and wild animals were yelping around me. I started to laugh hysterically, because somehow it seemed like it was always me that these things happened to. What was I doing here, and would the money I get paid for this take away the nightmares?

But I knew that even though the cat was a threat, the larger dangers to me were much smaller. They were creepy, slithery, crawly and lay in wait for the unwary animal. It would be the snakes, reptiles, spiders and bugs that would get me long before the animals would.

I shrugged and continued through the forest, using a staff I had made off the branch of a tree. The forest was thick, and almost all the vegetation had serrated edges. My legs were streaked with thin lines of blood, and small insects were hovering over them, rushing in to suck greedily at my legs. Mosquitos buzzed around my head like a halo, no, more like a crown of thorns. And I felt like I was walking towards my golgotha. I knew I would not survive the jungle.

After a few hours of tramping, heading in a general western direction, I started to get hungry and a bit desperate. I was in the congo for heavens sake, there are thousands of kilometers of untouched forests, nobody lives here, I could walk for years before I would see another human being. If the entire jungle did not seem to be growling and wanting to eat me, I’d probably have stopped walking, and simply given up right there. But the chirping of the crickets, the intermittent calling out of the frogs, the occasional screech of some animal I did not know did not allow me stop walking. I continued, even though it felt my legs would drop off at the knees.

At about 4am, after I had been moving for about 13 hours, I stopped. I unslung my bag, dropped it on the ground and sank into the grass. I saw a small ladybug-look-alike run from my shadow as I sank, and escaped just in time to avoid being crushed by my weight. I felt like that insect. I could have very easily died back in that village, but I did not, and now I was running in the jungle.

I watched it run, and I imagined it was some wierd twin of mine, everything I did my world, it would do in its insect world. When I fell in love with some pretty face, so would it fall for some pretty insect woman. When I escaped near death, so would it. When I died, so would it.

I smiled at my special lady-bug, and I saw a large insect a bit like a black cockroach jump out from underneath a stone, grab my twin-insect by the head and crush it. I jumped and shivered. I looked up instinctively, looking to see if maybe some kind of insect would also be jumping down on me. What I saw was worse.

The tree I was sitting under had snakes on it. 4 or 5 snakes, moving slowly, the moonlight reflecting off their skins.

As I looked around, I realised that most trees around there had snakes on them. I slowly stood up, carried my bag and continued to walk.

The sky become light before the jungle did, but I did not care. I was tired, more tired than I could remember ever having been. But I continued to walk. For several more hours, till the jungle was sliced in half by a thin path.

It was a footpath. A path like that meant that there were people somewhere around. But there was grass growing on the path. Where people walk regularly, grass does not grow. This path was no longer being used. But still, I had no choice. I would walk on it.

6/16/2004

The sound of congolese music

I was listening to music. It was a gentle song, a song about love. I had headphones on, and I lay on a mat in a room. Then there was a muted crash, and liquid raced underneath the door, closely followed by a blood red streak of flame. The floor burst into flame, and there was a gutwrenching stench of petrol, smoke and fire in the room.

I dragged myself out of the way, and grabbed my gun. I pushed open the shutters of the hut, and jumped out, my arms shivering and my teeth chattering. There was a woman crouched beside my hut, and I shot her twice in the head.

Immediately, there was an answering roar of a large gun. I hid beside the body of the women, and struggled to insert the chain of bullets into my gun. As I did so, I heard the gunfire increase, and it seemed to me that there must be an army in the village. There wer gunshots coming from everywhere. I fitted the bullets into the gun, and held the gun in front of me.

I ran out into the street, and started shooting at every moving thing I saw. I saw 3 soldiers, and gunned them down. I saw two more run out of a hut, and I shot them. Smoke rose from the sides of my gun. A few villagers ran out of home, and I shot two of the children before realising that there were not on my side.

Then I heard a machine gun roar behind me, and saw bullets hit the ground around me. I felt burning sand hit my legs. I turned around, and saw corpses on the ground, and then saw soldiers behind me. There must have been around 50, and they were all shooting at something or the other. There was a large vehicle with a machine gun mounted on it, and the gun was pointing directly at me.

I grunted, dropped my gun, and started running. The gun roared again in my direction, and I saw the mud wall of the house in front of me shatter. I ran, ran as fast as I could, and yet it seemed so slow.

I jumped over a shrub, running towards the bushes.

From the left corner of my eyes, I saw two soldiers running towards me, shouting and holding automatic rifles in their arms. I felt like an animal being hunted down, and I felt my slipper tear. I jumped, bounded, and reached the forest. I ran into the undergrowth, and felt it tear my trousers. I felt thorns enter my legs.

The men continued to shout, and then one of the them started to shoot. The clack clack of his gun sounded so near, like the voice of death whispering into your ear. I continued to run, and ran into a farm. I saw blood on the leaves, and saw a body on the floor. It was a man, and he was crawling, and dripping blood.

I jumped over him, and he looked up for a moment. There was blood between his teeth, and his eyes were dripping with tears. He looked at me like I was not there.

I ran into the dark jungle, and continued running. For an hour, I continued to jog through the bush, till it got too thick to run anymore. But still, I could hear the distant banging of guns being fired in anger.

And I stopped running. And as I stopped, I noticed that I could hear music. I felt on my head, and I still had headphones on. The song had changed, and now it was the deep drums of the congo playing, a primal beat mixed with the screams of a woman.

My headphones were connected to my computer, which was in my bag, which was still strapped to my back. But I had no electricity, and my batteries will only last for 20 more hours.

I have no food, I have no shoes, I have no compass, I have no gps device, but I have a computer with a satellite internet connection. And I have some money, and everything else that was in my wallet.

I have to somehow figure out how to use my satellite radio connection to discover where I am. I'm sure it is possible. Then I have to get out of here, this is a jungle, and it is getting dark.

Is it OK to Kill a child?

Last week, patrolling a little town, a boy jumped out of the bushes holding a gun. I shot him, and he started wailing loudly. He cried like children cry. I was not sure what to do, and since his gun had fallen far away, I walked up to him.

My bullet seems to have hit him somewhere in the stomach. The boy would die, I knew. There were no hospitals in the area, and I was not going to take him in my jeep to the nearest one (30km on). If it was not a child, I would have left him there.

But he was wailing and shouting out loud, so I dragged him out of the road (so no car would smash him up, that always looks nasty). I pulled the tiger grass to cover him, walked out to the middle of the road so I no longer saw him, and shot into the grasses. He stopped wailing, but I didn't go to look.

The congo is a disgusting place. Equitorial Guinea is also not a nice place. The coastal waters of Sao Tome are rough and brown. It is hot, humid and sticky. The grass is long and green, my uniform is heavy and stinky. The men are uneducated, uninformed and thieving. The houses we stay in are dirty, and there are cockroaches everywhere. Outside the houses, it smells of shit. There are clumps of shit in the bathroom. There are only two brands of cigarettes one can buy out here, and the ones that are menthol are disgusting.
As are the prostitutes, fat women with flopping breasts, or thin women with dripping diseases. They are loud and cheery, laughing with their friends, and shooing of the children that hang around them. Those whorehouse children, they do not know who their fathers are, and some may not be sure which of the women their mothers are. They are usually under ten, yet they steal like grown men, they shoot like hunters, and they curse worse than sailors.

There are three mulatto boys in our local whorehouse, and they swagger about like they own the area. They tell tales about their fathers, tales they cannot know, tales about rich men and miners. Their soft curly hair grows wild, their mothers do not let them cut it, because that hair is their status symbol. They are called the white boys, and they dance down the streets together.

The local alcoholic drink burns. The alcohol content is high, and it varies in quantity. One always has to touch it with the tongue before gulping it down, lest you roast your stomach and throat. Or vomit and lose your meal, a worse fate.

The meals here are monotonous. It is the same rice with beans from the same sweaty, old and fat woman. She is dirty, her wooden spoon is dirty, her bowls are encrusted with the meals of yesterday. She is constantly screaming obscenities towards the prositutes, always in some fight with the one woman or the other.

Bullets are getting hard to find, and I am getting constantly ripped off. Nobody wants to sell bullets to us, because we are the foreigners.

We are not going to be here for much longer, the government is coming in. We have burnt the roads, but it will not hold out the troops for long. We have mapped our route through the forests already, and the batteries they have here can hardly pwoer my gps device. I have bought 30 AA batteries, and they will only last about 3 hours. I keep needing to switch my device on and off. The batteries are chinese.

In a few days, we will be at the coast, and I will jump into the atlantic and get this dirt out my body, out of my clothes, and maybe out of my soul.