Chasing Ghosts with Arrow Boys (Part 3)

To read Part 2 click here:

The LRA did not come to Makpandu. The army had. The army had accidently come across the LRA near the Bire Kpatous Game Reserve along the Congolese border. There was a small skirmish, both sides incurring minimal causalities. An officer, who rummaged through the damage, however, noticed something unusual. Among the confiscated weaponry were a large number of Ak-47 assault-riffles—weapons known to be used by Kony’s personal bodyguards. The small patrol unit that suddenly entered Makpandu that night were called in to join the search; its leader, a friend and contact of Alison, stopped in Makpandu to share the fortunate news.

We get back to the Makpandu where a group of Congolese refugee volunteers are loading with the soldiers into the trucks. Peter hugs me and tells me to ride with him on the motorcycle. I pull away and ride with Alison instead.

We leave the army in Nzara. The volunteers come with us as the patrol unit speeds off toward the border. There, Alison mobilizes the Arrow Boys and the refugees.

“He will die in the Bush,” explains Alison as we move out. “One way or the other, Kony will die in the Bush. He knows this. He has committed too much atrocity to walk freely. And so he will die in the Bush,” he shouts to the men with him something and they cheer.

Peter is near by, but I continue to speak with Alison. “Some of the Arrow Boys are not happy that the Congolese refugees are with us tonight. They are jealous of them and listen too much to the Yambio radio stations that throw insults out at the Congolese. In truth, the refugees are hard workers.”

“But everyone is an enemy of LRA?” I say.

“And now you see, nothing is simply in South Sudan. The Arrow Boys provide the army with valuable information on the LRA, and tonight they returned the favor. We need collaboration if we are to capture Kony. No one can do it on his own and the refugees will be able to help guide us if we cross the border. ”

I nod, though I stop listening. Everything is the same. The dirt road kicks up with each step we take. The wind blows and trees sway. The crickets shout, the moon glistens, and Alison plans out loud.

Why aren’t the animals mourning? Why doesn’t the river dry up? Why do people keep going? Keep laughing? Keep eating?

For weeks after the night I was raped and the man I loved murdered, I asked these questions over and over again.

Peter had said it best. You have to keep moving. There isn’t a choice: you must keep moving to survive. Because ultimately, the question isn’t can you forget; it’s should you try?

“The boy in Makandu,” says Alison as though he has read my thoughts. “It is a sad reality. That is what the LRA does. They bring fear to the people. And fear is a dangerous thing. We must bring Kony to justice. Dead or a live. Justice.”

I nod, clutching the camera wrapped around my neck.

We arrive at our destination hours later. It is not common for the Arrow Boys to travel so far, but Alison is emboldened by the thought of ending the war.

The first rays of orange light breech the canopy as we enter the Bush. Two boys, Seba and Veronique lead the way with machetes, slicing through the thorny fingers that cling at us as we try to push through. Kony is an expert of the land. He uses its impenetrable terrain to his advantage. It is said that 80 percent of his army is made up of abducted children forced to march far away from their homes. The first day’s march is spent deliberately backtracking and moving in circles through the Bush to disorient the children. Those who refuse to march are beaten by the others. When the LRA was at its strongest and was still operating out of northern Uganda, they imprisoned over 65,000 children and created over 2 million displaced people.

The war has changed and so has Kony’s way of fighting. His guerrilla tactics are no longer directed by political aims as they once were. It is difficult to imagine, but there was time when the Alcholi people of northern Uganda supported Kony. Their common enemy was Yoweri Museveni government and Kony had promised to remove the yoke of an oppressive ruler. I am saddened to image the people proudly sheltering and arming a man that will ultimately mutilate, rape, steal, and murder their own sons and daughters. When it became clear that Kony’s political aims had given way to a pseudo-religious mission, one that the Holy Spirit commanded, the Alcholi people together with their former enemy, the Museveni’s government, pushed Kony out of Uganda.

Today, in the Bush, Kony’s sole goal is survival. His back is against a wall of enemies: The DR Congo, South Sudan, Uganda, and the Central Republic of Africa surround him. But Kony is just as dangerous and we are not here just to push him out.

I believe Alison is correct. Kony will die in the Bush. But I think of Jasphet’s father and know that a surrounded man is a desperate man. And so I fear that things will only get worse before they can get better.

We push on for miles and miles, but we find nothing. We rest for a while as Alison determines where we will go next. Some of the Arrow Boys lay down and go to sleep. I think to do the same, but Peter soon approaches.

“You need to drink and to eat,” he says, handing me a piece of bread and water. My stomach growls loudly.
“Thank you.”
Peter starts to walk away, but I tell him to come back.
“I’m sorry about last night,” I say. “I—”
“There is nothing to apologize for,” he speaks softly but makes it clear that the conversation is over. I nod and continue to eat.
“Where will we go next?” I ask.
“There’s a river not far from here. It coils like intestines around to the west. Alison thinks that he will certainly go this way to throw us off his scent, but is worried about crossing the river.”
“It will be difficult and we will lose a lot of time. And maybe we will lose the scent completely. But in the end we must go that way, if we are to capture Kony. So we will go.”

Peter was correct. Alison ordered the Arrow Boys up and we continued up for a while until we did indeed reach the murky river. We walk north until we find the narrowest point of entry, about thirty feet wide.

Alison is the first to enter. He takes his bag and holds it high over his head as the water rises to his chest. It is slow going as he wades through. I wait back with Peter, taking pictures.

Finally, it is our turn. I hold my camera bag over my head. I am shorter than Alison and the water rises to my neck. The river is cloudy and I cannot see where am I going.

“Just keep moving. There is nothing to worry about. Only crocodiles and snakes,” laughs Peter.
“Not helping!”

The Arrow Boys, many already on the other side, are looking back and laughing at me. Even Alison is finding it hard not to grin. When I finally make it to the other side with my camera safe and dry, the men clap. Peter grabs my hand and we bow together.

We continue wandering, though our pace is much slower now. Once again, just a Peter predicted, the tracks have gone cold and we are no closer to catching the LRA than we were the first time we patrolled. Alison orders the group to stop once again as he figures out our next course of action. We have wasted most of the day already. I take a picture of one of the refugee volunteers with his head down.

“What is you name?” I ask the man.
“Jessica,” I say walking over with an outstretch hand. He reaches up and takes it. “Nice to meet you, Fresnel. Do you speak English, then?”
“Yes. I learned in university, but I speak French better. Do you speak French?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“English then.”
I nod. “Don’t worry, Fresnel. We will find them. We will capture Kony.” It was a stupid thing to say and I don’t know why I said it. I just wanted to believe. But we were lost and Fresnel knew that and so he didn’t smile.
“Things working differently here. In Africa everything is much, much slow. There is not going to be car chase. It will be a marathon and this Kony knows. He can survive a long time in the Bush and that is why we must wait,” he says, gesturing that I should sit with him. I do. “We must wait.”

Alison, meanwhile, asks for a group of volunteers to scout out the area. He does not want to venture too far and risk straying away from our water supply, a creek a hundred yards south. Four people come forward, including Peter, which makes me feel uneasy.
“Where you from?” asks Fresnel.
“New York,” I say.
“I never been to America, but one day maybe I go,” he laughs. “One day, maybe. Do you have husband there?”
“No. My fiancée died.”
“I’m sorry,” says Fresnel. I wait for him to ask how, but he doesn’t. Instead he says, “My wife and my three children are all safe in Makpandu. We moved away from the Congo in time.”
“Why did you leave your family to join the Arrow Boys, then?” I blurt out before I can stop myself.

Fresnel looks taken aback by the question and I apologize. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, then says, “because it is the just thing to do. When I was Université de Goma, the genocide was operating in Rwanda,” he takes his finger and draws a map of the Congo in the dirt, which I take a picture of. “The University is near the northern shores of Lake Kivu, which is near the boarder of Rwanda. I was young and I was not married. All I wanted to do is to study my health sciences so that I will become a doctor of children. When the Hutu genocide of the Tutsi began my friends and me would hear news travel across the lake. Horrible news that we knew could not be true, but was. When the Tutsi succeed in pushing the Hutu powers out, they poured over the boarder into villages near Goma with more than two million refugees, their militias among them. When the first refugees arrived, that is when I left the university and traveled north to the village of Dungu where I meet my wife. I left Goma because I feared trouble would follow. And it was good I did this because from Goma, the Hutu continued their attack and rape and murder of the Tutsi who lived in the Congo. And that is when war would brake out and so I was happy I left.”

“But you were not safe in Dungu for long,” I say piecing Fresnel’s history together. “When the aerial assault in Garamba fails to kill Kony, the LRA retaliate against the surrounding villages, including Dungu. And so you and your wife and children fled to South Sudan and settled in Makpandu.”

Fresnel nods. “And now war will follow my family here. But I am tired of running. I am tired of war. The Hutu and the Tutsi, the LRA–everything. I am tired. And so I will not run anymore. I will fight and I will chase if I have to. That is why I have left my family in Makpandu and that is why I am with the Arrow Boys,” he closes his eyes again. “I am tired of running from wars I did not start.”

The patrol does not come back and Alison is worried. He says that we are to stay the night and set up camp. Fresnel asks me if I’d like to go fishing in the creek with two other refugee volunteers. I am worried about Peter and want to stay with Alison, but Fresnel insists and so I go.

The creek dips into a shallow valley surrounded by a group of small hills. Fresnel introduces me to his two companions: Régis, who is young, tall, and looks like a soldier, and Walia, who is older and missing two front teeth. The two men do not seem interested in speaking with me. They each reach into their sacks and pull out nets and wade in the creek. I follow after, but Walia says something to me and I turn to Fresnel to explain.

“He say that you should not come in the water. There is crocodiles in the waters. Walia has been bitten by a crocodile before and nearly lost his leg. Fresnel yells something back at Walia, who, with a toothless grin, pulls his leg out of the water, rolls up his pants, and points to a heavily scared region in his thigh. Régis laughs at the look on my face and returns to fishing.

“He survives, though, which is one of the few miracles that have happened in the Bush. But we don’t test it on you,” Fresnel says seriously. “You come sit with me,” and he pulls at my arm. “Let them catch. We will play.”
“Play what?”
“Do you know what is Tsoro Yematatu?”
“No? Then I will teach you.”

Fresnel walks back to the creek, sticks his hand in, and grabs a fist full of rocks. He opens his palm and instructs me to pick three that I like. He does the same and tosses the rest of the stones back into the creek so that they splash on Walia, who shouts at us. Then Fresnel draws a cross inside a basic triangle with two equal sides on the muddy ground.

“Your job is to get your stones to create a row of three,” he says adding 7 circular points on the board: three along each side of the triangle and one in the center of the cross. “You begin by putting one stone in one of the points on the board. Then I go and put a stone in another point on the board. Then you go and so on, until all six stones are on the board. We then take turn sliding our stones along the lines and into the open points, until you have a row of three. When you get a row of three you win. Understand?”

“So it’s like Tic-Tac-Toe.”

“What is Tic-Tac-Toe?”

I draw a board next to his and play a mock game to show him.

“Tsoro Yematatu is better,” he says and we begin. He’s right. The ability to move your pieces after setting them down makes for a more challenging game. Fresnel laughs as he easily beats me in the first couple of matches. Finally, though I get the hang of the game and he claps when I get my first win.

“I must be a good teacher,” he says.

“I must be a good student.”

Régis is the first to catch a fish. He yells back at us broadly gripping a squirming fish in his strong hands. Fresnel takes a cloth out his own sack and lays it on the ground where deposits the fish. I watch for a few moments as the eel-like fish gasps desperately for air. A Bush fly lands on it and Régis winks at me, then continues to fish.

A number of the Arrow Boys migrate towards with firewood. Fresnel helps them get the fire going. Some take out their own nets, while others sharpen branches into spears and take up fishing. From the looks of Walia and Régis, they are not happy to have company, but they say nothing.

By the time the sun sits low in the horizon, Alison’s joins us and says that the fire will let the patrol know where to find us. Sure enough, he is correct. Peter leads the group of men toward us. Alison greets him eagerly, but is soon disappointed to hear that the track has gone cold once again. Alison thanks him for his effort and beckons the men to sit and drink.

It is a strange feeling and for a while the search for one of the world’s most infamous criminals fades to the back of my mind.

When I was growing up my father used to take our family hiking near Bear Mountain, NY. We’d help our mother pitch our tent on the camping grounds, while my father went fishing. As the sun would set, we’d cook the fish on the fire that we made the real way.

“We don’t use start up fluid in our family,” my dad would say. The real was the teepee way. First, my sister and I would collect 10 or 12 stones to create a circle around a patch of open ground. Then we’d collect the same number of long thick sticks, preferably those with a forked edge. We’d jab the stick into the ground on an angle, with the forked sides resting on one another at the center like a teepee. The key is to leave an opening on the side of the teepee facing the wind. That opening becomes the doorway where we’d pile high grass, woodchips, twigs, and smaller sticks. At this point my dad would tell my sister and I to close our eyes.

“No peaking!” he’d insists then point a long finger in our faces to test that they were really closed. I’d always flinch and he’d tackle me and tickle me. “Keep them closed.”

When he knew for sure that we weren’t looking, we’d her him strike a match or two and toss them into the doorway.

“Tada. The real way!” he’d say, when the fire would catch.

“You used a match!” we’d yell and stomp our feet at him.

“If don’t see something, how do you know it happened? Now get your camera out of the tent, Jessica, and take a picture of me and your mother. Then I’ll take one of my laides.”

I turn to Alison and ask, “Can you tell everyone to gather together before the sun goes down? For a picture,” I explain.

Alison takes a bite of cooked fish, wipes his hands clean, and tells the men. Many of them groan and he barks at them to quiet down. Fresnel, Régis, and Walia, on the other hand, are the first to get together. They wrap their arms around each other in the center of the photo and smile happily at me.

I bend on one knee and focus the lens upward to capture part of a small hill where the sun is setting in the background. I take the first picture, then tell everyone to push closer together and again some groan. But ignore them and focus on Fresnel who is smiling now eagerly.

“Okay. Last one, everybody…ready—”

But then I see her. She is sitting in a narrow clearing on the hill just to right of Fresnel’s ear. I zoom in on her as much as my camera will allow. And what I see make me nearly vomit on myself.

“There!” I yell. “Alison! There!”

Click here to view part 4:


One thought on “Chasing Ghosts with Arrow Boys (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Chasing Ghosts with Arrow Boys (Part 2) | ru-storytelling

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