THE NIGHT IS A CHILD ( A MURDER MYSTERY IN AFRICA)
BY DR. PELHAM MEAD III
Chapter 2- Settling In
As the week went by I began to adjust to the African heat, and the busy daily schedules: Morning prayer at 6:00 am, breakfast, daily chores, Teaching assignment to noon, Noon Day Prayer service, Lunch, rest time, Afternoon teaching assignment, Evening Prayer with song, dinner, prayer and mediation time, and evening vespers. The Nuns were most welcoming to have another hand to help in their mission.
As the second week progressed, I met the cook, Doto, who was a smiling cheerful heavy woman in her early 50’s. She was a woman who had been abused by her husband many years before. She took her two children at the time, and fled her village, and came to the convent at Kamenge. The Nuns hid her, and protected her in their convent. Later on Tutis rebels killed her husband when they raided her village. Doto began a new life at the convent cooking for all the Nuns, staff, women, and the children. She spoke Swahili, French, and some broken English. I knew she would be important to get to know because my CIA contact Swami would be delivering food to her once or twice a week, and I would need to make contact with him during that interval of time.
Bahati was another abused woman of late 30’s or early 40’s. She was the assistant cook for the convent. She was also a volunteer. Like Doto, she was always smiling and worked hard to provide three meals a day for the Nuns, staff, women, and children. Sometimes Bahati and Doto would come to Morning Prayer or evening prayer with the Nuns. They were always welcome. “Habari Doto,” I said in Swahili early that morning before Morning Prayer. “Nzuri,” she responded with a wild smile. She was busy chopping carrots in the kitchen at the time. “Jina langu ni Angelina,” I responded the first time we met. “Nafurahi kukuona Angelina,” (I am pleased to meet you Angelina) Doto answered. So, our first meeting, I had to rush to Morning Prayer. “Kwaheri Doto,” (good bye Doto) I answered as I rushed off to Morning Prayer.
The following week on Monday, Swami was to make a delivery to the convent. I tried to make sure I was around when he delivered the food to give him a short message that the Nuns, and the staff were accepting me, and there were no problems. As I was in my classroom with Sister Kathryn teaching our young children English words and phrases I looked out the window to see Swami in a white food truck. I excused myself with Sister Kathryn when we were teaching the children, saying I had to go to the bathroom. As I entered the courtyard where the food truck was parked, Swami noticed me coming toward the truck. As he passed by me with a hand truck full of boxes of fresh vegetables, I handed him a small paper note, and kept walking toward the bathroom. That was my first drop as the CIA called it. If problems developed or Hutu or Tutsi husbands made physical threats against me, I needed to inform the CIA at the American Embassy. I also had a throwaway cell phone, but I could never use it with anyone around me. I did not want the Nuns or staff knowing that I was contacting someone outside the convent.
A few days later Sister Margarette taught me a song we could sing with the children in Swahili. Sister Margarette was in her 60’s, grey hair, short and Italian. She spoke French, English, Italian, Swahili and several other African languages spoken in Kenya and South Africa. She was very talented with a guitar that seemed as old as she was with the many wrinkles in her face and hands. “Sister Angelina we are going to teach our students how to sing this simple song in Swahili,” Sister Margarette said. Here is the first line. I have written it down for you to memorize easier.
Let us begin in the cord of C with
Sina Mungu mwingine ila wewe (I have no other God but You)
Now A minor,
Moyo wangu watambua jemedari (My heart recognizes the Commander)
To the F cord,
Nafsi yangu yakutamani ewe (My soul desires You)
Back up to the G7 cord at the top of the guitar, and back to the C major cord again with the last line.
Roho yangu yahitaji Tabibu (My spirit needs The Physician)
(From the top)
Shuka kwa utukufu wako nikuone
(Let me see you come down in Your Glory) Am cord,
Shekinah, utukufu wako (Shekinah Glory) F major cord,
Utukufu wako (Your Glory), This last line we repeat four times in the G7 cord,”
I hummed the tune as Sister Margarette played the song over, and over on her guitar. “I wish I could play a guitar,” I responded. “Perhaps you can learn someday with practice,” Sister Margarette answered. “Perhaps,” I agreed. “Let’s take it from the top again Sister Angelina,” Sister Margarette said. “Sina Mungu mwingine ila wewe,” she sang the first verse so easily. All day long I was mumbling the song under my breath to memorize the Swahili words. It was a simple and beautiful song. I prayed that evening at Vespers that might one day learn to play the guitar like Sister Margarette. I am a Soprano, and several of the other sisters were sopranos also, with a few Altos to sing the second line of music. The church chapel echoed our beautiful voices given up for the glory of Jesus Christ. I slept well that night.
Toward the end of the first week our first crisis developed. Late in the evening of the second week there was a lot of noise in the courtyard of the convent. Dogs were barking, chickens clucking, and loud voices could be heard yelling something. All of the Nuns were in Vespers at the time. We stopped what we were doing, and rushed outside to see several of the woman staff members Hasanti and Halima carrying a badly injured woman who was bleeding from the face and arms. She was a local Hutu wife whose husband accused her of having affections for his brother in their tribe. He beat her severely almost killing her. After he fell into a drunken stupor, she escaped and walked ten miles to the Kamenge Convent. Mother Superior had the women and a few nuns take the woman into the clinic to be bandaged and cared for. We all returned to finishing Vespers afterward.
The next morning knowing the husband would try and follow his wife we prepared to hide her in the church in a hidden room behind the altar. As expected the raging mad husband showed up later in the afternoon asking where he wife was. The wife’s name was Ngozi Eze, and we hid her in the secret room behind the altar. The male volunteers tried to calm the man down. Matata and Bongani told him that they had no seen any women named Ngozi. They told him to look in the markets in downtown Bujumbura. After an hour of raving and ranting he decided to leave, when Matata threatened to call the local police and have him arrested. After he was gone Mother Superior sent Malaika to the local courthouse to file a restraining order against Ngozi Eze’s husband, named Gwembeshe Eze, for fear of her life. We knew now that Ngozi would be a marked woman until the representatives for the Church could file legal papers to protect her and possibly give her a divorce from her husband. The problem in these domestic abuse situations was always the children left behind. Sometimes were able to send someone to retrieve the children and sometimes we are rejected. Mother Superior told me it always comes down to money or barter in the end especially when the husband has several wives. “Sometimes it take a few goats or a donkey to trade for a battered wife to be free of her husband,” Mother Superior told me one day. After the husband was gone I went to the clinic to see if I could help the suffering woman with her wounds. She needed stiches on her face from a long knife wound. She also had deep slash cuts on her arms. Sister Louise and I sewed up her wounds while Sister Margarette put iodine on the bruises to kill any infection. Mother Superior supervised while we worked on this poor woman. “Ngozi, you understand that if you stay here with us at the convent that we will have to file legal papers first in order to legally protect you from your husband,” Mother Superior said. “Do you want to divorce your husband,” Mother Superior asked Ngozi? “Yes, Sister, my husband is crazy and he will kill me for no reason. I have no interest in his brother. It is his brother that tried to make my husband jealous and he overreacted by beating me senseless. (All this she said in Swahili and French) Sister Louise interpreted what she said to Mother Superior for me. I understood some of her French but not all of the Swahili. Another learning experience, I said to myself. I could see how the Nuns had all gone though this experience before and were well equipped to caring for abused women and hiding them for their own safety. Eventually, one of our male staff volunteers would take some goats or another prized animal and go out to the tribe and make an offer to buy the wife from the abusive husband. Once the husband got over his anger, money or barter always worked.
“Well I have to get back to my students,” I said and prepared to leave the clinic. “If you need any assistance Mother Superior, do not hesitate to call me, “ I said. When I got back to my classroom we worked with clay and made little animals with the children. They love to work with their hands and mold different turtles, frogs, and birds. After an hour or so of clay work we cleaned up and had the entire student wash their hands. One little girl named Abena was having difficulty washing the clay off her hands. I went over to the sink to help her out. She was the cutest thing with a little round face and a nice flowery blue African style dress on. I showed her how to use the hand brush to get the clay out of her nails. She smiled and thanked me, “Asante,” she said. I replied in Swahili, “Nakutakia siku njema Abena,”(Have a nice day Abena). Our paths had crossed and a little bond was created that day.
We kept Ngozi in hiding for several weeks until the paperwork was finished. Matata and Chinwe, two or our male volunteers took two goats and a bottle of wine to the husband of Ngozi to buy her freedom and to get the husband to sign a divorce decree from the courts. They left early in the morning after breakfast to walk the ten miles to the tribal village on the outskirts of Bujumbura the Capital.
Early that evening they returned without the goats and the bottle of wine. The husband drove a hard bargain, but they got him to sign the paperwork for the divorce decree. Mother Superior decided it would be safer to send Ngozi to work in the Convent in the Congo rather than have to go into hiding for a year in Bujumbura. “You will be safe there until we can call you back to our Convent in six months or a year,” Mother Superior explained to Ngozi. Ngozi cried for her children and her family, but she knew Mother Superior was right that if she stayed at the Convent, even with the legal divorce, her husband when drunk might come looking for her.
Ngozi left in a taxi for the railroad station in downtown Bujumbura. Mother Superior had given her some cash and a letter to the Mother Superior at their Congo Convent to allow Ngozi to reside there until the danger from her husband was over. Ngozi left with only a small travel bag of used clothes the Nuns put together for her. That was the last we saw of Ngozi for a year.
Ebola and AIDS were two deadly viruses everyone in Africa was afraid of contracting. Nuns had heard horror stories of the flesh eating Ebola virus which had no cure. Fortunately, a Doctors and a volunteer woman assistant came down with Ebola were flown back to the U.S.A. to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia to be treated with a new serum from San Diego, California which had not been approved by the FDA yet. The serum and treatment of containing the virus worked and the volunteer worker was released first and then the Doctor recovered and he was released. Small portions of the serum were being flown to Africa to use in combating Ebola in some patients that have the disease. Mother Superior had a discussion one day about the symptoms of Ebola or AIDS and how we should proceed. We were told to use plastic gloves at all times and facemasks to prevent inhaling any viruses that can transmit through the air. AIDS required direct contact and in that case we are to inform public health to prevent an epidemic. We were all afraid of both diseases but went about our work daily without showing the fear.
Two months later.
Two months later Swami my CIA contact left some news articles about the Nuns that were murdered at the Kamenge convent a year before. I was briefed about this tragedy at the CIA but no follow-up was provided. Now the CIA wanted me to ask the Nuns what they knew about the murders and the murder caught. Some Nuns had gone on record in the Newspapers a year ago saying that one man could not have done all these killings in one night. The killer was declared a mental patient and sent to a Mental Hospital without a trial. The local authorities called it case closed, but many lingering facts do not support the local police version. The CIA wanted me to find some facts that could not uncover, but at the same time I was to be extremely careful and not to enter into any tribal villages seeking information about the massacre.
One day Mother Superior and Sister Elaine Luna went for a day trip to a tribal village ten miles away from the convent. Mother Superior wanted to check up on several abused wives that she had worked with over the years to see how they were doing. This gave me an opportunity to enter Mother Superior’s office after she left with Sister Elaine. I made an excuse I wasn’t feeling well that day and would spend the morning in bed in my room. No one was around Mother Superior’s office at the time and the door was unlocked. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but I started with the file cabinets that seemed to have a file on every child and every abuse mother that attended the clinic over the past ten years. I search through file cabinet after file cabinet until I realized that if I checked abused mothers that were counseled in the spring of 2014 I might find something of interest. I did find that Sister Olga Raschaetti worked with some Hutu women that were abused from a tribal village nearby. The woman’s names were in the file and the months they stayed at the clinic until Sister Raschaetti was murdered. That seemed strange, perhaps the husbands of the battered Hutu woman took revenge on the Sisters for sheltering and treating the runaway Hutu wives? There were several husbands listed next to their wives in one folder of a file that Sister Olga had kept. I wrote the names down: Tumbuka Nkruma, Simisola Oluwaseyi, Opeyemi Omobolanle, and Nwanneka Nkiruka and stuffed the paper in my pocket. As I was closing the file cabinet, Malaika one of the volunteer teaching assistant walked by the office but did not realize I was behind the closed door. I waited until she left, then I slipped our of the office and back to my room. I now had a theory the vengeance might have been a motive for the Nuns being murdered. I would inform the CIA of the men’s names so that they could investigate these Hutu men and see if they had ever threatened any of the Nuns or Mother Superior. Noonday prayers were being offered, and if I did not show up some of the Nuns would begin asking questions as to where I was? I hurried over to the chapel in the church and arrived just in time for the first hymn of the service. I had to find a way to see if any of the Nuns knew who these husbands were that I found in Mother Superior’s file cabinets.
Two weeks later I was talking to Sister Margarette about the dangers of working with Hutu abused women, Tutsi abused women, staying out of politics, and local hatreds. Sister Margarette. “You know Sister Angelina you have to be very careful when counseling abused wife’s of Hutu or Tutsi tribesman,” Sister Margarette commented. “Sometimes you could be could be very involved in saving a women from her abusive husband and not realize the danger if the husband is violent and seeks revenge or justice as he sees it, Sister Margarette said. “I understand Sister Margarette and I am learning,” I responded. “What happened to the Nuns that were killed a year ago,” I asked Sister Margarette. She had a startled look on her face when I asked the question. “I cannot talk about it Sister and you would be wise not to ask anyone,” Sister Margarette warned. “Ok,” I responded. It was obvious a painful and secret kept by all the Nuns for some reason. I went about my daily activities painfully aware that none of the Nuns were going to be helpful in discovering the real facts about the murdered Nuns a year ago.
That evening Mother Superior returned with Sister Elaina just in time for evening prayer. “How was your day in the Hutu tribal village,” I asked Mother Superior?
“It went well,” she said and that was all. Getting information from Mother Superior was like pulling teeth. She was always very secretive and spoke very little about sensitive issues of politics and the Hutu and Tutsi situation.
The next day Swami came with a food delivery. I gave him a paper note with the names of the Hutu men of several abused women that Sister Olga has treated in the spring of 2014. I need the CIA to research these men and see if they were still alive or whether, they had ever been interviewed by the local police after the murders. I could see that I was never going to get any information from the Nuns without arising suspicion. Perhaps there was some other explanation that I was not aware of involving the murders? After Swami delivered the food for the day, a priest visited Mother Superior. His name was Father Michel Tognazzi, and this was the first time I had seen him visit the convent. “Sister Madeline, who is this Father Michel Tognazzi,” I asked. “He is the Priest in charge of our Convent assigned by the Vatican,” she said. “Oh, I said, I wonder why he is visiting Mother Superior,” I asked? “It is usually about some major issue,” Sister Madeline said. “He seldom comes just to visit,” she said. I wish I could be a fly on the wall that day, but that was never going to happen, so I kept my doubts, and questions to myself. Father Tognazzi stayed for evening prayer, and then left before darkness.
I would not discover the real reason for Father Tognazzi’s visit until a month later when Mother Superior mentioned at dinner one night that there was some trouble with some of the Hutu tribes, and we were warned by Father Tognazzi to be careful with both Hutu woman and Tutsi women and children. Strange how Mother Superior mention this as a matter of fact? I guess she had gotten use to the political dangers of working with Hutu and Tutsi women and children? It was very puzzling to me. I prayed about it that night.
One day I spoke to Bongani, one of our male volunteers, who was working in the gardens outside the church building. Speaking in Swahili I said, “Habari Bongani,” (Hello) “Hujambo,” (are you fine?)? “Sijambo,” he responded while planting some beautiful flowers. “Ninaitwa Angelina (My name is Angelina) ,” I said. “Nimefurahi,” (I am pleased to know you) he responded. “Do you speak any English Bongani. “Kidogo tu,”( Just a little bit) he responded. “Your flowers are beautiful,” I said. “Do you like living here in the convent,” I asked. “Yes, Sister, he responded. “How old are you Bongani,” I asked. “I am age 23 Sister,” he said. “Where do you get these beautiful flowers,” I asked him? “Some people give them to the Nuns as gifts, and other flowers I dig up myself growing wild,” he said. “They add much beauty to the church,” I said. “Thank you Sister,” he said. “I will see you later,” I said. I went to teach my students wondering in the back of my head what kind of a life Bongani had working as a volunteer for the Sisters?
Mother Superior asked me one day if would like to visit the Cathédrale Regina Mundi, “Queen of the World Cathedral in the Capitol city Bujumbura.” “Yes, Mother Superior, I would be thrilled to see the Cathedral. I have never see it before,” I said. “Good , we will bring Sisters Kathryn, Louise and Madeline with us today,” she said. “Matata will drive us to the Cathedral,” she said. When we went outside the buildings, there was Matata in a Jeep ready to drive us to the Cathedral that was nine miles away from the convent. “Bon Jour, Sisters,” Matata said. We all eagerly climbed into the jeep for a day at the cathedral in the heart of Bujumbura. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Cathedral. It was surprisingly modern with a high tower the dominated all the buildings around it. The interior of the nave was very large and could handle hundreds of people. Everything about the Cathedral was modern. I was used to Cathedrals built in Gothic style as in America with St. Peters Cathedral and the Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C.. We spent some time praying at the small chapels around the outside edge of the Cathedral. The bell tower was most impressive rising about seven stories above the ground. At the gift shop we purchased a few religious items to give to our staff at the convent, and to give to battered woman we counseled. We ate lunch nearby at the Sion public market, and had a most entertaining day.