Nothing is there to stop the winds
Voices on climate change
The adolescent boys pushing the cart had been forced to make a pit stop. Heavy-laden with wood stacked more than twice their height, one tyre had gone flat and needed to be fixed before the journey could resume on foot. The combined strength of Fleuri Miabe and his 15-year old cousin was all they had and used to push their load along the narrow highway. Without further problems, they hope to arrive in Bangui with their ware within four hours, sell all of it and make their way back to the village before nightfall.
We came across the two boys while they still some 20 km away Bangui where they were headed with their ware for the day. Fleuri is 16 years old. He is the second of eleven children in his family and he has ambitions of being a teacher or a doctor. Next September when school reopens, he will be studying to take the national examinations to end his basic education. If he passes, Fleuri Miabe should leave his village for higher studies in Bangui, the capital city. Math is his favorite subject in class, which he figures is not as difficult as French. He does not learn physics in school, but he knows something about spreading weight to get a good balance when stacking wood. Each piece must be carefully placed and tied, so the weight is delicately balanced, and nothing topples over.
For the boys, school holidays mean rest from books, but not rest from physical work. The volume of their load could easily surpass 200 kilograms in weight, yet Fleuri and his cousin have been doing this almost every day for the last two years, whenever since school is on break. “I am putting away some savings towards my school expenses near year” he confides.
“In our village, the nearby trees that blocked the winds and prevented the rains storms from removing our roofs houses are all gone. These days, nothing is there to stop the winds. Two years ago, we could get the wood about 2 km away from our village. The place was cool, and the forest was dark with the many trees over our heads. They have all been cut, and now there is no shade from the sun while we pack. We also have to go 3 kilometres or beyond, before we can get enough wood for a load.”
Elsewhere on the banks of the river Oubongui in the 2nd Arrondissement of the capital Bangui, 16-year old Hilarion Kanga’s family had relocated to safety in 2019 after their island Bongosua (also known as the island of monkeys) was threatened by unprecedent floods. No one on the island stayed behind, even if as Hilarion tells us that “every child and every adult born on the island knows how to swim. The river is our playground, and there is rarely a drowning accident.”
When the fast-rising waters from weeks of torrential rain threatened their lives and livelihood, all 2,036 inhabitants of Bongosua island packed bag and baggage and headed for the mainland Bangui. Those who had the means even strapped their metal kiosks unto canoes and brought them along.
They pitched camp just across the river in a disused industrial cotton factory belonging to the SOCODA company. Hilarion liked his life on the island better than. “We really have no home here; we are crowded and there is not enough space for us all ... I do not even know where to find some of my friends anymore”
Hilarion, who is the second of seven children did not start school until age 8. By then, he could look at gathering clouds and “tell if the rain will be a short shower or a torrent, or which side of the river would get the rain.”
During school vacations, he helps his father to fish. “I think we caught more fish on the other side of our island. Here, there are many of us here trying to fish at the same time.” There is nothing like a closed fishing season. “When we don’t fish, somebody else is busy fishing. At first my father put the small fish back in the river. Now we take everything in the net, big or small. I think if people can find other jobs to do, they will not fish every day. The river will rest, so the fish can grow.”
Mango trees on the island of Bongosua are price family possessions because they are sold as wood to burn mud bricks for construction in Bangui. “Any size is good, small or big, so long as it is mango it will burn well.” I worry these days when I see the clouds gathering. I don’t like the violent winds because l fear it will destroy our tents [makeshift homes] and cause all the mango fruits to fall down before they are ripe.”
Both 16-year old teenagers Fleuri and Hilarion admit that the natural resources that they and their families depend on for survival are dwindling – fewer forest trees and less fish from the river. At the same time, where the weather was cool in the forest and on the island, “these days it is sometimes very hot and sometimes very cold, but I don’t think we the people have anything to do with the changes happening now.”
Both boys say they have learnt about the environment in school. They themselves have noticed the changing weather, but neither of them understands its association with human actions. “We learnt it will get very hot, or too cold and wet, with lots of rain. It is already happening, but I do not think we are the cause. The world is just changing” concludes Hilarion philosophically.