Mamadou sat in the sun, watching more people arrive. He wished he’d been able to bring his paints and brushes and some canvas. He wanted to paint the relief he saw on the faces of the new arrivals when they made it to a place which would seem like some kind of hell to anyone who hadn’t just been somewhere worse.
Mamadou wouldn’t have been there at all if he hadn’t climbed the tree to see what was going on in the village. From the tree he saw the village being invaded by a group of ugly young men.
It was well accepted by Mamadou’s ethnic group that they were better looking and cleverer than the other dominant ethnic group in the country and so when he saw that the invaders were all ugly he had an idea of what was going on.
Mamadou expected that the ugly invaders would punch the men of his village a few times (as a demonstration of their superior power) and then leave but what happened was so much worse. Mamadou was shocked at the ferocity of the attack. The village men, then the women and then the children were bashed, whacked and chopped using an assortment of improvised weapons. The only survivors were those who weren’t found – Mamadou because he was up a tree, a teenage boy called Saidou who had been out searching for a lost cow and a woman called Howa with a small baby strapped to her back who had been out collecting medicinal bark. Everyone else had been sticking close to the village, which was what they normally did during the wet season.
The guilt that Mamadou now felt was incredible. Although he knew that if he had tried to help he couldn’t have prevented what had happened, he would rather have been down in the village to be killed with everyone else than be alive, having watched but not done anything. Every might since then he’d had dreams where he’d see injured people still breathing and he’d be walking away, leaving them to die.
After the attack Mamadou had rushed to check everyone, hoping to find signs of life but had found none. It was only the return of Howa and Saidou that kept him from collapsing.
Howa quickly became hysterical when she returned and Mamadou had only just managed to calm her down and begin explaining what he’d seen when Saidou returned with his cow.
Howa had lost her husband and her two eldest children. Her husband’s brothers and their families had also been killed.
Saidou had lost his mother and sisters. His father and two older brothers were fortunately away.
Overall, 45 villagers had been killed. They weren’t Mamadou’s relatives but he considered them to be his family because he was closer to them than he was to his own brothers and sisters, who all lived overseas.
Saidou insisted that they leave the village. He wanted to go and find his father and brothers. Saidou’s distress was showing itself as anger and Mamadou suspected that Saidou was planning for revenge.
Howa didn’t want to leave the bodies of her husband and children. Mamadou didn’t think they should leave either. He felt their duty was to bury the dead in the proper way (although he knew that it was going to be impossible for them on their own).
Saidou eventually managed to convince Mamadou and Howa to leave by pointing out that they needed help and that his father and brothers would be able to organize it.
Secretly they were all also scared of staying.
So, they all set out towards the town where Saidou’s father and brothers were. The walk was many kilometres, but they hoped they would be able to return with help before sunset.
It was now weeks later. They were all in a refugee camp across the border and Mamadou didn’t see how any of them would ever return to their village.
Although Mamadou wished he’d known he should bring his painting supplies with him he was glad that they hadn’t known of the extent of the attacks when they left their village looking for help. He didn’t know how he would have been able to decide what to do if he’d known what was really going on.
It was only when they reached the town that they started to realize that it wasn’t just their village that had been targeted, but their whole ethnic group.