Congo war child recounts harrowing escape

Tajiri Florette, from Longmarket Girls School, left her village in the French-Kituba-Swahili country when she was 10, accompanied by a group of people who rescued her from violent clashes.
“I just remember running until we were safe, but some things I will never forget,” Florette said, like the living conditions, school, and leaving her family without saying goodbye.
Painting an image of a poverty stricken family and country, Tajiri said a proper meal was a foreign concept. The daily diet was basic, if there was food at all. “My mother would make maize meal (pap) and sometimes my father would bring home fish.”
School was “difficult”. She and her sister walked long distances to classes, often without shoes or a uniform, to overcrowded classrooms. “The conditions were not the difficult part but understanding the French-speaking teacher was,” she grinned.
At the time, she barely understood the concept of war, despite often hearing shots and screams in the distance, but she has vivid memories of her mother hiding her and her sister under fishnets whenever gun-toting soldiers arrived.
One night the gunfire was particularly close. “When you hear gunshots, your instinct is to run, and there was also screaming and shouting.”
She ran, finding refuge in the bushes with others. But once there, she realised none of her family was with her. She wanted to return to look for them but the people with her said no, fearing for her safety. “They said it was not safe,” she said.
With those in hiding who had also managed to escape the attacks, young Tajiri walked for kilometres not knowing where they were going. “We’d stop only for food and water,” she said. They walked for days, crossing into South Africa and heading southwards, until they reached Pietermaritzburg CDB.
On arrival, the woman who had accompanied Tajiri told her to wait in a parking lot, that they would be back. Hours later when it was dark, no one had returned.
“I was lost and hungry; but still I waited.” A man, Ernest Nkunzimana, noticed the little girl and asked her what she doing alone. In Swahili, Tajiri said she was “waiting for my group”. To her surprise the man spoke Swahili too and offered to take her to his house for the night.
She has been living with him and his wife, Esperande, ever since. “She is now my mother. They opened up their hearts and home to me. I love them.”
Tajiri is very grateful to those who have opened up their hearts to her, but wants to return to her country to help other.
“I want to pass on the culture of helping, and would like to become a doctor or teacher.”

Bongeka Sibisi

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