Afraid that the NPFL rebels would kill the entire family, dad asked Dr. Josef Howard, a man whom he trusted, to take us to our mom in Buchanan. Mr. Howard and his cousin walked with us from Du-side to Harbel, but he did not protect us as promised. When my twin brother and I reached the "Iron Gate," Mr. Howard, a member of the NPFL rebel group, left us to speak for ourselves, and walked way ahead. Through the divine favor of God, the two NPFL rebels at the checkpoint only checked the bag we were carrying, but did not ask us for our names and tribes as they were accustomed to doing.
We reached Harbel in the evening, and Dr. Howard told us he was going to see his girlfriend in Smell-No-Taste; abandoning us in Harbel to fend for ourselves. We were only 13 years old and unfamiliar with the surrounding neighborhood. We asked a man for direction to go to Buchanan to mom, and he told us to walk to "Cotton Tree." While we were walking around in Harbel, we met some of dad's friends, but they were frightened to take us in their homes for fear of putting their families in harm’s way. The NPFL rebels were killing Mandingo and anyone perceived to be a member of the Mandingo tribe.
Hussein and I walked for more than 30 minutes before reaching the "Cotton Tree Gate." While walking to Cotton Tree, Hussein became exhausted and sick. I had to ditch the bag I was carrying on my head by the roadway in order to help him walk. The "Cotton Tree Gate," was a notorious checkpoint where the rebels killed countless number of people. When we arrived at the gate, a rebel soldier ordered us to enter the office for interrogation. While walking toward the office, a young lady, who was dad's student, rushed to us and gave us a hug. She told the rebel commander we were her cousins and quickly pushed us under the gate. We walked few meters away from the gate and sat close to a building.
Miraculously, the same day dad sent us along with Josef, mom and a French doctor called Dr. Jeroun from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), went to look for us. Just in case some of you are wondering why mom was able to look for us without being harmed by the rebels...There were three factors that played in her favor: Mom was born and raised in Nimba; she speaks Gio and Mino fluently, and she was a registered nurse. Additionally, mom was the directress for the Government Hospital in Buchanan, and her expertise was desperately needed. She was hired by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) when they arrived in Buchanan, and rebel commanders were given straight orders not to harass medical practitioners.
When she reached Du-side, dad told her he had no other option but to send us with a fellow whom he trusted to Buchanan. Mom and the French doctor immediately dropped the food supplies they carried, and left the house to find us. We did not eat all day, and the young lady who told the rebel commander we were her cousins could not protect us for long. We sat at the building facing the Cotton Tree checkpoint; while the NPFL rebels continue to pick people from the line, question and kill those suspected of been an enemy. We watched in horror as men and women begged for their lives. Many people were taken behind the checkpoint and shot at point blank range. I could hear numerous voices crying and screaming helplessly.
The feeling of facing extreme fear is indescribable; one have to experience it first hand to understand how it feel to live in fear. Late in the evening still sitting hopelessly, I saw a jeep with a lady and a white man wearing white suits drive at the checkpoint. She jumped down from the jeep, surrounded by heavily armed rebels. To my surprise, it was my mom helplessly crying and asking the rebels if they had seen her kids. My twin brother head was resting on my leg as I leaped to my feet and started running toward my mom screaming her name Tetol!Tetol!
We ran down the hill screaming and crying, and mom's face lighted up as she walked towards us. She was weeping uncontrollably and saying “thank you Jesus! Thank you Lord"! We hugged for about two minutes before walking in the direction of the jeep. The heavily armed rebels surrendered the Toyota Jeep, as we maneuvered our way into the backseat of the truck. The atmosphere was tense, and one could smell terrible odor of decomposed human beings. A rebel commander asked mom to please give one of his bodyguards, who was wounded on the arm, a ride to Buchanan. Mom and the French doctor agreed to take the injured man to Buchanan.
The civil war was marred with extreme cruelty from all sides of the political divide; however, there were few people who selflessness enabled many people to live and tell their story...Watch out for PART-II