11 Dec 2013

They frisk you for weapons but keep finding machetes here

First it was the airport at Bangui where we found some of the 35,000 who aid groups say are living (very) rough there among the hangars and planes.

A couple of days later we were in the Bangui monastery in the mud and human excrement – 15,000 at least there.

Today Unicef said that there were 20,000 at the Don Bosco Catholic educational institute.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

As we walked around with one of their staff he said casually there are at least 20 such sites around this town where Christians stay because they are terrified of the Muslim Seleka militia still going house to house by night looking for people to kill. Don Bosco is by far the best organised of these places.

They have speakers rigged up by locals so children can skip around and dance. So they can forget.

There’s a football pitch where the inevitable Arsenal-shirted lads are showing their fluid step-over skills in 35c of equatorial humidity (I could barely breathe) and what is it about the preponderance of Arsenal tops here anyway?

But again, football’s a chance to escape and forget it all.

And Unicef came by with a small drop-off of toys for the smaller children.

Toys? When people fear machetes, cholera, food shortages?

Well the children too need the space and time to forget and escape the horror and violence beyond Don Bosco’s high whitewashed walls topped with broken glass.

Yet the awful punishing reality pierces this place even so. French helicopters deliberately pass low over these camps. A treat for the excited children.

An endorsement of fear sadly, for their parents. French fighter jets roar high overhead and C-130 transport planes for the French army land closed by.

You are frisked at the main gate. We witnessed one man shown the door for being a suspected Seleka militiaman. If so – he’s lucky, people get hacked or beaten to death for that around here right now.

Another man is found with a machete. He’s visibly relieved when our camera turns up and we make a point of filming.

With us he is less likely, just a little less likely, he will be murdered on the spot if he can’t explain away the machete.

Eventually, whatever he says seems to just about satisfy the crowd. He melts away, minus machete, but with his life and body intact.

No – they try hard to forget in this relative haven, but the hatred, horror and fear pierce this place all the time.

Follow @alextomo on Twitter

Tweets by @alextomo