Inspired by the experiences of Quanuquanei “Q” Karmue
Story by Robert LeHeup
Q was 8 years old when the 2nd Liberian Civil War kicked off, his father having been trapped outside of the country while Q, his mother, and three siblings were left to fend for themselves. Having been subjected to war crimes the likes of which destroy any innocence remaining, Q and his family are at the brink of starvation, having eaten mashed up portions of palm fronds and whatever else they could get their hands on, praying that their bodies could digest what little they were given.
In spite of the fact that they were part of one of the tribes that was being persecuted, and given that they were starving, his mother concluded that she would go to a church two miles up the road, where she was told they were giving out rice to those in need. Q, not wanting to leave his mother, decided that he would go with her, toiling the harsh, dry road whose heat not only fell onto them like a blanket, but was also reflected back up to them from the hot sand on the ground.
As they approached the church compound, Q noticed trees looming over a wall made of dried mud and stone, as though the branches were keeping vigil over the consecrated land. Beyond the trees was a small church, much too small for the large amount of people milling around the compound. Yet still, Q and his mother could feel those church doors beckon to their aching souls. And so, bolstered by the gentle breeze God’s grace, they got in the massive line of people looking to get a couple of handfuls of rice.
Q couldn’t help but stare at the rice as he got kept shuffling forward. It seemed to be reaching out to him. It was so close… so very close… and then he heard the question.
“Which tribe are you from?”
Q’s mother looked shocked. Then she asked “Why does that matter? Aren’t we all God’s children?”
“What tribe? What tribe are you from?” was the response demanded from a man wearing thick glasses and a sheen of sweat, guarding over the rice like the trees did over the courtyard.
Q’s mother was a proud woman, and rightfully so. She was the matriarch of her village, strong and centered, having raised a large family with her strong husband, in an environment both brutal and gorgeous. She was the source of fortitude for those who were surviving with her, the brilliance that shown out of her eyes giving the sort of hope that many could argue only comes from the strength gleaned from Faith in God. So what happened next was not what Q had expected.
“Please!” she pleaded, her knees bleeding from her prostration. “I’m begging you. My family is starving and all we ask is a little bit of rice! Please! We are all Christian here!”
And she told him. And he shook his head, jabbing his finger in the direction from where she had approached.
“No! No you do not get any rice! You go away!”
She was cut off in every sense, both in spirit and word.
“You are not the Chosen Ones! We are God’s Chosen People! You cannot have any rice!”
She held Q up for the man to see.
“But we’re all God’s-”
“Now go away!”
And with that, she was defeated. Broken of resolve in a way she had never known. Scourged by circumstance and the inherent cruelty mankind shows in times of desperation. But she met the moment with dignity. She dried her tears, and with all the energy she could muster, she walked back to her hiding place two miles away, Q in tow, crying not because he was hungry, but because his mother was hurting. Because he knew how deeply her sorrow was building as they got closer to the rest of their family. And that sorrow continued through the night, as gunfire echoed out into the night, the wind carrying faint whispers that had at one point been screams. This was the world in which they had lived for weeks, and they had slowly become used to it.
However, she had taught them well, not just by words, but by her own actions, and so they were strong. Strong enough not to panic. Strong enough to keep going. Strong enough to have faith in her Faith. And as that journey continued, as they were walking inexorably to another checkpoint and another cautious, painful step to hope, they eventually found themselves walking past the exact church that Q and his mother had visited a couple of days before. The Chosen Ones who had denied her family a few grains of rice in exchange for a holy gesture.
And scattered on the dried ground that pushed up so much heat… in the doorway of the beckoning church and the branches of the trees that guarded its walls… lay the bodies of the Chosen ones, having been butchered and defiled by a passing rebel faction.