The Smiling Child of the Equator
By Rais Neza Boneza
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After escaping from the rebel forces, crossing the hardest of bush; most of the time tired and exhausted by thousands of kilometres on foot, thousands of refugee people from the Democratic Republic of Congo reached Tanzania, weak and harassed by sickness and the incertitude of times.
Two hundred kilometres, east of the Lake Tanganyika, at The Camp of Mkuggwa, for 3,000 people, food rations have been reduced and suffer lack of funds and misuse of humanitarian infrastructures. Mortality rates are steadily climbing, especially among children. Malaria, meningitis and pneumonia are on the rise.
It is in those situations that Ornella, 7 years old today, resettles with her family in Norway, where she has been living. For weeks they were hidden, waiting for the precious opportunity to cross Lake Tanganyika and gain safety on the other side in Tanzania; a voyage which can be deadly and very expensive. Private boat owners charge the equivalent of 100 per head, a high price for miserable, impoverished, and anxious villagers. After more than three years in Camp, today Ornella is at barnerskole in Klębu, a new world, new culture, and new languages for her. “I have got many friends at school,” she said, ”but I do not understand what they say, we just enjoy our games.”
Although her camp experience in appalling conditions, with no sufficient foods, subject of diseases and without any program of education; she is now enjoying the look of her teacher and dream to be one day like her. “I like Vivan my teacher, I would want to be a teacher too and sometimes she reminds me of my hunt” she says. Probably one of the rare moments where she can try to remember the folktales of the green and deep forest of her land plunged in a deadly war, which involves more than six other countries. “ Sometimes I think that it is just a dream and tomorrow I will just wake up and find out myself and the family trapped in Camp without food and clean water and without my friends” she argued; “I fear that” she add looking at the snow.
Ornella is the youngest in a family of three children. She seems to enjoy her new environment, snowing and blowing wind of the quiet forest of oak view from their house on Skarpsnovegen. She speaks Swahili and little French. She has friends who speak only Norwegian or little English; when asked how she manages to communicate with them, like a genius who has just found the missing formula, and smiling she answered: “I smile.”
I remember one day at culturehuset, an artist told me “far from your land or from any hope, you could find a smile waiting for you.” I understand her words and feelings now; seeing Ornella, that child of the equator playing with the white sand of the winter in her hands reflecting the dark reflect of her skin the only link with the lost country in the centre of Africa where she used to belong.
By Rais Neza Boneza