Sunday, March 25, 2007

A night without gunfire

This night began like all other nights that summer in Chad. My family said our prayers and headed outside to sleep under the stars. The long night of cool breezes across our bodies was worth the risk of a morning battle with a pesky fly. Protected by the large walls of our compound and the flimsy fabric of our mosquito nets, we settled in for another peaceful night in Africa. This night though, there would be no peace.

Bang – bang – bang. Gunshots rang out in the night - jolting me from my sleep. Disoriented, I struggled to understand the situation as my father appeared at my bedside. With a few swift motions he untucked my netting and scooped me out of bed. Another series of rifle fire forced me to flinch. This time, the sounds that poured over our compound walls were obviously closer. Voices were yelling, guns firing and chaos reigned.

My family rushed indoors, closing the large steel doors to our house just as more shots rang out. We headed to my room because it offered the best protection. A former bathroom, its two windows were small and up high. Huddled together in my parents’ embrace, my sisters and I listen to the firepower display taking place just a few hundred feet away. Silently we sit as the shouts and shots pass us by and continue up our street, around the corner and away into the distance. That night, we slept inside.

The next morning my father went out to see what had caused last night’s gunfire. The answer was a mad cow. A cow worked itself loose from its restraints and charged through the village streets in the middle of the night. The gunfire came from desperate herders intent on intimidating the cow into submission. As the chase continued throughout the streets, the cow became more and more frenzied, eventually forcing the herdsmen to kill it to prevent more damage.

Looking back on this night, the comical reality of the situation is overshadowed by the reality of the emotions that swept over us from hearing gunshots. We were scared. We were uncertain. We were waiting helplessly inside our house as this unusual event took place outside our walls.

Today in Eastern Chad and Darfur, gunfire is not unusual - it is a nightly event with no funny story in the morning. The nightly terror is real and people wake up in the morning to find out which relatives have been murdered and/or whose livelihoods stolen. The gunfire is incessantly denying men, women and children a peaceful night’s sleep. The gunfire is a constant reminder of the mass atrocities taking place across this region, the rapes, the slaughters and the pure hatred.

The crisis in Darfur has rained so many bullets over the heads of my friends that the big news of the day is when there is NO gunfire the night before. I friend of mine living in Abeche remarked in a recent email how it was the first night in three months without the heart-stopping sounds of the conflict echoing off her walls.

We must all work together to end the gunfire. With more than 200,000 people already dead in the dust, millions in peril and no end in sight to the mass crimes against humanity – the situation looks bleak. There is hope; this recent night without gunfire is hope. One day at a time, we must devote ourselves to giving my friends in Darfur one more night without gunfire.

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