Today was one of “those” days here that really should be blogged about. I’ll just start, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me.
This morning I took Olivia to school and noticed that north of Pierre Payen there was rubble, rocks and debris on the road. Some broken glass. I thought there must have been an accident the day before and made a mental note to ask Yonese about it when I got home. I got home and didn’t remember but rather went about things for the next couple of hours.
Mid-morning our friend Bev phoned to ask if I knew about what was going on in town because they had come out our way (I passed them on the road) and on the way back they encountered a “manifestation”. Manifestations are protests for any reason that people deem necessary.
I asked Yonese what was going on and quickly remembered “We’re not in Kansas anymore”.
She told Chris and I that on Saturday night a man from Pierre Payen had been assassinated. They had caught one of the guys and were holding him in prison, but the people wanted him released so they could take matters into their own hands. They were afraid he would be released and able to do what he did again.
This afternoon Sheena and I left to go to town to do some errands. On the way through Pierre Payen we got stopped in a manifestation right by the market. The traffic was blocked from the other direction, and there was a group of men blocking the road. The semi and trailer in front of me wasn’t being allowed through. The guys were yelling, and wielding machetes and clubs. I wished I had a camera at one point because one of the guys was running around in a helmet, while flashing his machete. I guess it’s good to be safe.
The semi at one point was being forced to pull over. I think they were actually trying to get him to block the road as is normal in situations like this, but he wasn’t playing. He started backing up, so I backed up. He backed up some more, so I backed up some more. I realized that he was going to keep backing up, so I checked my mirrors and saw that there was a big gap between me and the truck behind me, so I went to back up, and backed into to front left corner of a tap tap that had been in my blind spot. The tap taps had been driving down the right shoulder, so I think that he actually came up from behind me after I checked my mirrors and just happened to be there when I backed up.
I stopped, and then got out, dreading the fact that there were already animated people on the road, and yes, some of them had machetes. Any time there’s an accident everyone around feels like they need to get in on the discussion. When I got around the back of the car the tap tap was no where to be seen. I guess he felt the same way I did. The dent is minor, thankfully.
I realized they weren’t completely blocking the road, so I decided to try to go around the truck and they actually flagged me through. We went on our way and did our errands in town. We got Olivia, and made our way home.
We got to the outskirts of Pierre Payen and saw a truck blocking the road. They had moved a van truck across so no one was getting into Pierre Payen from that direction. I knew a back way so quickly whipped the car around and headed for the dirt road. On the way down the highway, a bird flew into the front of my car. I saw it coming from the side, and wasn’t sure if I had actually hit it, until I saw feathers fly up. Poor bird. Wrong place, wrong time.
There were a few others that were smart like me, coming from the other direction. It was about a 10 minute detour. We were almost back to the highway when I came upon several vehicles parked in the road. As people came by on foot I asked if the road was blocked. It was. The protestors had realized that people were getting through, so they had taken things into their own hands again and blocked off that means of getting around. We sat. And sat. Sheena and I played Yahtzee on my iPod. Olivia had a snack from the bag of bread we had bought. We sat some more.
Eventually Kelele, one of our workers, came by on a bike. By this time it was about 3:30 pm and the work day was done. He stopped to chat. The road was in fact all blocked up, and the traffic coming from the south was backed up as far as people could see. I asked if he knew more of what was going on.
He said that yes, someone had been killed. On Saturday night a local Kazek (a locally elected volunteer that serves in a role sort of like a mayor) was driving his motorcycle, that he uses as a taxi. A guy approached him and said that he had someone who was sick in the next corridor over and asked if the taxi driver would give him a ride, and said he would pay $100 because it was already dark. The driver agreed. When they got to the other corridor a couple other guys ambushed them and the three of them killed the taxi driver. Apparently they used machetes and it was pretty bad. They stole the bike. The police have caught them, but the community is angry. The man that was killed was well respected. However, the people manifesting want the men released into the communities hands so they can deal with things themselves, and they’re protesting for the police to do so. Kelele and I agreed that it doesn’t make much sense to block the road, to block people who have nothing to do with the issue, from traveling through. In many cases busses and the like aren’t even carrying passengers from the local area.
About five minutes after chatting with Kelele I saw the drivers of the vehicles in front of me come running back to their cars and trucks. One driver passed by my window to his truck behind me and said that they were opening the road to let us out. As soon as the cars started moving everyone made sure to make a quick exit. I think we were all afraid we would get stuck again. When we did get up onto the national highway the line of traffic was amazing. I haven’t ever seen anything like it. It stayed that way until after dark when they finally opened the road up. I’m so thankful that someone managed to talk them into letting us through. It’s so frustrating to be minute from home and not able to actually get there.
Part of the reason that I wanted to share this was that we have been criticized repeatedly over the years for the issues the mission has faced in this community. They must be our fault some how. We must be to blame. It doesn’t matter how often we share the stories of not only our experiences, but also those of all the other missions in the area. We still get blamed, and often by people have no experience or understanding. Our own workers will say that this is a bad community. Other expats that are familiar with the area say it’s a bad community. When people, good people, get killed by being hacked up by a machete so a motorcycle can be stolen, I’m sorry, but that’s not a marker of a good community. There is trouble there. This place has a reputation. And, it’s reputation has nothing to do with us.