Two weeks ago, my friend Otilia came over to my house to borrow some nail polish. I sat on my esteira (bamboo mat) with her as she started painting her nails, and eventually took over for her and started doing the painting. As we were sitting there, somehow our conversation moved to the civil war that ended in Mozambique 21 years ago after 16 years of conflict and fear.
I asked Otilia where she was during the war. She is 40 now, so she was a child/teenager during the years of the war. She told me that she lived in Beira and witnessed things that she would never forget.
For example, she told me stories of RENAMO soldiers entering a house, holding a father at gunpoint and threatening to kill him if he didn't take advantage of his daughter.
Another story was that of a soldier on school grounds holding a professor at gunpoint in front of a class of students and forcing the professor take of all of his clothes.
The last story that Otilia told me is something that happened to her aunt. She was forced by a soldier to take off all of her clothes, lay back, and spread her legs. Then soldiers took dirt and sand and shoved it up inside her. Using a pole, they packed the sand and kept putting more until her aunt could no longer stand up or use her legs at all.
Otilia has scars all up and down her legs from walking for miles upon miles in the dewy grass trying to outrun RENAMO soldiers.
I was in tears listening to these stories. My heart breaks knowing that my Mozambican friends and family were put through this only 21 years ago. And these stories only make the reality of the current political tensions in Mozambique that much more terrifying.
Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of political tension and unrest between the majority party in Mozambique, FRELIMO, and the opposition, RENAMO. RENAMO has officially ended the peace accord that was signed at the end of the civil war. This does not necessarily mean that there will be another war but it does invoke fear in many Mozambicans, especially those in close proximity to the areas that have been targeted with RENAMO attacks. With local elections coming up on November 20th, many Mozambicans fear that these attacks will continue and perhaps escalate over the coming weeks.
Though not many have died in the attacks, Mozambicans in targeted areas have fled their homes in fear. Other Mozambicans are terrified to travel outside of their towns. These attacks are unpredictable and random, invoking fear of traveling (and even living) in Sofala province.
Don't get me wrong, where I am living in Messica is COMPLETELY safe. I feel comfortable and safe at site. But it is devastating to think about what would happen if things escalate further. I don't want to leave my friends, family, and students. It would break my heart to see Mozambique head back down the path to war, and I pray with all of my heart that doesn't happen. Analysts say that war is unlikely. I pray that they're right.
But regardless of if a war breaks out or not, Mozambique is in need of prayers. Even with no official war these small attacks are causing citizens to live in fear. They are fleeing their homes. There are random people that are being injured and dying in the crossfire in attacks on the national highway in Sofala. This is no way to live.
Pray for peace in Mozambique. Pray for successful dialogues and uneventful elections this November. Pray for all of the Mozambicans that have fled their homes and are living fearfully in the bush. Pray for all of the Mozambicans that have witnessed traumatic scenes from the war that will be with them forever. Pray that they will never be forced to witness them again.