On Time



Achen is seated by a small swamp. This is no ordinary swamp; it has come about over a period of two weeks of none stop rain which has flooded the land below the village where Achen lives. There are lots of flies around her because this swamp also has all the feaces and garbage from the village. It is a dumping ground. Achen does not seem to mind about the filth around her and she is not bothered even when a house fly rests on her nose. She just chases it with a wave of her hand like it is a norm. The truth is that Achen’s village is not a village anymore. It is a camp- a simple collection of small makeshift huts in a large open area. The occupants like to call it their village though, because it is the only home that they know now.

Each hut houses a family and is so small that a grown man cannot stand in it. There is one communal bathroom in the middle of the camp that serves almost thirty households with the latrines filling up faster than they can be dug. There is no room to fit a bed and it fits two small mattresses on the floor. The hut is the living room, dining and bedroom all in one. Most of the time, the occupants are forced to eat outside their huts because of the lack of space. There are hundreds of these little huts with only about twenty centimeters between one hut and the next. The children hardly have space to play and only make do with the open spaces near the boreholes and feeding area.

Achen can see the trucks at a distance and she stands up to get a better look. She thinks that she is seeing badly when they disappear behind a hill. Achen shakes her head and sits back down. ‘‘It must be a dream”, she tells herself. Just as she is starting to believe that, the trucks appear and this time it is so clear. Achen claps her hands. They are the food relief trucks and they are heading towards her village. She has to hurry and tell her mother.

Achen has to be early to be among the first people in the line. That is the only way that she can guarantee that she will get some food. Lately because of the bad roads leading to the camps, the number of relief trucks has reduced tremendously. The few that come cannot feed all the people and the rations are so small that sometimes a couple of people do miss food. Achen runs as fast as she can and she runs into a number of people who are also scuffling around the camp looking for their food containers.

She enters the hut panting and she wakes up her sick mother in the process. She is looking everywhere for her food container and the hut is dimly lit so she is knocking things over. She almost falls on her sleeping mother who is startled.

“My child, is everything alright?” she asks weakly.

“The trucks have come Mama, I want to be the first in line”, Achen replies without looking at her mother. She is in a hurry and she does not want to be delayed by anything, not even her mother.

“Do not forget to take the right papers”, her mother says, gathering as much energy as she can manage so she can sit up. Achen turns and sees her and she goes to her and forces her to lie back down again.

Her mother calls her back, “Achen…”

Achen stops in her tracks and turns to face her mother, “Yes Mama?” She is worried that her mother might want water before she leaves. Her mother sits up slowly yet painfully on her mattress on the floor.

“No Mama”, she says but her mother insists and sits up. She looks at Achen and has a serious look on her face. Achen startles and walks back toward her mother. Under the dim light in the hut, her mother says, “You cannot fail. If you do, we will die.”

An excerpt from an upcoming book; My War Song by Achiro P. Olwoch