Thursday, December 09, 2010

Memories: Being Afraid

There are only two times I that I can remember experiencing fear for my personal safety when we lived in Africa.

Once was on the way to boarding school when I was about 10.

That time we flew. We lifted off from the rough airstrip at Mbingo, Cameroon and headed north and a little west toward Jos, Nigeria. It was rainy season and when it rains, it POURS! Our small, six person plane was unable to fly high enough to get above the rain, so the pilot had to land somewhere.

I don't know all the details and I should probably get those from my parents. What I do know is that we ended up landing on a Nigerian military runway under construction.

Our pilot could not get them to give him permission to land, but he did anyway. There was no place else to go, and he had to keep the safety of all 5 children aboard in mind. He chose to take the risk of landing in the hope that when they saw a plane full of children, that they'd back down.

I remember that when we landed it was a concrete runway strewn with debris, mostly rocks. I thought it was odd that they would leave such a nice runway so messy. When we finally rolled to a stop, a very angry solder with a big gun came running up to the pilot's window. He stood under the wing, protected from the down pour while he harangued our pilot. The gist of it was that we were forbidden to land and that we had to leave immediately. Our pilot calmly responded that he would do so as soon as the rain let up and had only landed to protect the children. It was very tense and I remember that we all just sat and watched silently.

I don't know if the soldier realized the truth of the situation or if he just didn't have a response to that. But he finally stopped shouting and we waited with him standing under the wing until the down pour became a drizzle. At that point he made it clear we were to leave immediately.

The second time was just before we left Africa when I was almost 14.

There was political unrest in Nigeria and we began hearing about things going on in the capital city (it was Lagos then). I remember that one of my classmates was afraid because her Dad had been shot (but not killed) in an attack on their compound. There was also talk about whether it would get as bad as the "last time." The last time was the Biafran War.

Suddenly, the armed guard that watch over our compound at night didn't seem enough. He was there for thieves, not mobs.

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