A village sign asks for peace, a message repeated by people across C.A.R. who are desperate for an end to the country's conflict. Photo: Donaig Le Du
It was Friday night in Bangui. I was coming home from an early dinner when I realized that I had forgotten something – it was the little next-door cafe's karaoke night grand opening.
The lady who runs the place had been busy for days, putting cement on the terrace, terracotta pots with plants, nice aprons on the plastic tables. Someone who passed by for the first time would probably not notice anything, but I had been following the progress and I knew how much this meant to her, having a nice place for people to feel welcome.
The cafe itself sits on the brink of a road that was probably paved a few dozen years ago, right in front of a clogged canal where people throw their rubbish. So basically these days, when you sit on the terrace, you get a view of patches of mud, a dirty river and soldiers passing by.
At night you can forget all about it though, since there is no electricity downtown.
So on Friday night I decided to stay and sit there for a while. There was no point in trying to sleep anyway – the music was so loud I would have thought the band was under my bed.
The musicians were…well, they wouldn't have won an international competition but they were playing with their heart. Some of the customers had probably had a few too much of the local beer. But here they all were, singing and dancing in the dark. It may sound naïve but I had the feeling it was just a small moment of happiness, a moment of grace, just a few hours away from it all.
As for myself, it had been one of these weeks. One attempted flight inland cancelled because of horrific weather. One morning in the hospital with the nurses, the malnourished children and their mothers. Some very sick children, some pictures that I will never show because nobody should have to see that.
And the rain. Days of rain that changed the whole town into a gigantic patch of mud.
I do not know what it is to belong to a country that has been spiralling into violence for months, and I hope I never will do. We foreign aid workers are here just momentarily. We can go away, if ever we decide that we have had too much.
Whenever possible we have a bed to sleep in, water and electricity and food to eat, and it is just normal. We would not be of any use if we were sick and starving.
And, most importantly, we chose to be here.
The people of Central Africa were given no choice.
"The people of Central Africa were given no choice"
It is amazing to see how quickly you get used to things that no human being should consider normal. Long convoys of soldiers driving along the streets. Armoured vehicles and firearms everywhere. Gunshots at night that you give no more attention to than a car horn in any other city.
The people here, they are so tired of the war, of the violence. They are tired of going to bed every night not knowing what the next day will bring. It has been well over a year now. It has been much too long.
On Friday night, in the dark, on the little terrace next to my doorstep, I felt no different to those people – my neighbours. Enjoying a cool night, some music and a moment of peace. The peace ordinary Central Africans are longing for.