When I woke I was sitting hand tied to a broken, wicker chair. What remained of the daylight, seeped through the cracks of the aluminium frame and through what felt like an old ragged towel, which had been doused in kerosene, and left me blind from my left eye and seeing shadows from my right. I could see flickers of flames and shouting militia, who only could have been the 26s arguing amongst themselves as I regained consciousness. The room went dark and voices became quiet and faint. I was scared for my safety, a rose amongst the thorns of the African militia. I sat there for what seemed like months. They had stripped me to my under garments and stripped me of my belongings. I had lost all sense of time, all sense of location, all sense of hope. I wondered how long I had been out of consciousness, where had they taken me and why I found myself tied to a broken wicker chair?
As the questions mounted in my mind, the men who I had originally heard were now back in the room and speaking a language I was unsure of. I could only make out every second or third word of their conversation but they did not seem impressed by what had just happened, I’m assuming at the base camp in Tanzania, where I thought we had just come from. Again, I was completely disoriented …8 men dead…a container stolen…Charlotte had escaped! My heart sank deep into the wicker chair and a tornado of thoughts began to thrash around my mind! Had I left her to her death! What if they were now after Charlotte? I needed to escape and fast, and find Charlotte before these blood-diamond-craving lunatics did.
I knew by the tone of the conversation that they felt like it was my fault and if I didn’t act fast I was next, I reckoned! As I wriggled my way around the ropes that bound my hands to escape from the hold I was in, I felt a sharp blow just below my breast bone that knocked my wind from my lungs followed by a sharper blow to the back of my head. That was the last I remembered before they left the room, again, arguing profusely, tempers flaring and magazines loading! My time was now or never.
I woke again later that evening, this time I was alone. I was certain. All I could hear echoing around outside was the whispering of the wind and all I could feel was a shrivelling cold air that filled the space around where I was sat. I squirmed violently to free one wrist from the restraints, then with a helping hand the other. Removing the horrendously smelling blindfold from my eyes, I almost wished I hadn’t. The room, if you could call it that, was just about square with corrugated sheets of metal for walls and a grubby sheet of ply wood covered the roof. There were blood stained sheets to my right, vice grips, hammers and a set of clippers on a make shift shelf to my left. The floor creeped with mould and the moss roots were breaking through from below. Where on earth had they taken me?
When I stepped through what seemed to be a doorway, guarded only by what would remind you of your grandmother’s curtain, I had stepped into another world! Metal and plastic as far as the eye could see in any direction. My nose almost touching the back wall of somebody else’s ‘home’. The smell outside was deplorable. It was as if someone had taken a shipment of the entire continent’s rubbish and dumped it here in… in… It hit me. I have no idea where I have been left. Was I back in Cape Town? Were the men who picked me up the 26s? If I was still in Tanzania then I was in great danger. I needed to leave before… Damn it! They’re back… I have to get out of here!
I continued on my way, making my way through the narrow patch of mud between houses and all the while I could hear panic stricken militia in the houses behind me ramsacking and terrorising shacks in the hope of finding me! There were screams of terror that could be heard throughout the camp as I scampered hastily through the alleyways. There were now militia filtering from every angle with flashlights glowing and loaded riifles and belts of magazines rattling as the squelch of their muddy boots sounded closer and closer to my ears. They were closing in on my position. I could feel myself still catching my breath still from the blow to my breast bone earlier in the evening. I needed somewhere to rest soon or I was going to meet my death and if I was going to save Charlotte I needed to be at full health the next time I went back into the diamonds mine in Mwadui.
As the flashlight closed on me I saw a lady beckon me from the end of the next junction. She ushered me in as I passed and rushed me into a small hole that led under her shack out into the alleyway behind and covered me with an old dusty sheet. I heard the men that had been chasing me, storm into the shack, beating the woman and her two children into the corner while they ramsacked her home and attacked them with questions about my whereabouts. I feared for my life but even more so for theirs. I had an instant to decide and in that instant my life changed completely. This lady and her two children could not possibly suffer anymore on my behalf. When I came here first 4 years ago, off the plane they were the first family in Cape Town to offer me a place to rest and in return I began tutoring her and her family. They became my adopted family here in South Africa and took me in as one of their own and I became part of their community. It was only about 2 years ago I accidentally became involved with the numbers gang and was never allowed leave. And I still had not left!