By Ada Jo Mann (Chad 1967–69)
It seemed like just an ordinary day
Safe in bed next to my husband as we lay
under the Peace Corps issued mosquito net,
listening to the lulling sounds of millet
pounded rhythmically each day
in the time-tested traditional way.
Soon our cook would arrive and begin
rattling pots and pans in the room we called the kitchen
I heard the children running fast to school
fearing the grass whip’s unfriendly sting,
if they were late and made to play the fool
because they failed to hear the school bell ring.
I rolled out from beneath the gauzy net
making sure to check for creatures hiding
in my well worn LL Bean slipper set
before padding off to what looked like a
well-equipped bathroom, but was powered
by gravity from a rain barrel on the roof.
Delicious anticipation of an upcoming trip
to the Central African capitol filled my thoughts.
I could almost taste the three course dinner
served at our favorite riverside café—
the soupe du soir, steak tartar and flan.
Yummy fare for just a girl from faraway Detroit.
My musings brought the thrill of reuniting
with the other volunteers arriving from afar
to share our stories and our fears at night
of this strange land where each of us had fled
from war and other things to make our mark
a fill our lives with meaning and delight.
And, then, the unexpected banging on our door.
I heard my husband run to find the cause.
Men were shouting, but I couldn’t understand
safely hidden on the throne a book in hand.
No time for idle dreams, I feared the worst,
and raced to see what this might mean for me.
I learned that everyone must gather on the field
beyond the town where soccer games were played.
No one could stay behind. What could it be?
We quickly dressed and jumped onto our bikes
grabbing water bottles, hats and snacks
not knowing just how long this trip might last.
The season of the rains was yet to come
so riding through the sand was not much fun.
We passed a lot of neighbors on the way
who greeted us as usual with “lalay”.
As we grew closer sweat began to blind
Still wondering what on earth it was we’d find.
Upon arrival all became too clear.
The crowd was large, but I could sense their fear.
The scene for all to see showed six sad men
each tied tight to a stake under the sun.
How long this had gone on, we couldn’t tell.
And what might happen next I feared as well.
The speeches roared from high above the crowd,
loudspeakers booming hateful, angry words.
We learned these men were from another tribe–
rebels plotting to unseat the ones in power.
This morning gathering was meant to fill
those watching in this heat with sickening chill.
Then the death squad came and took its place.
Each soldier aimed his gun on one man’s face.
I tried to turn away but found the scene
so horrible, I stood there riveted as in a dream.
And then the shots were fired so many times.
The restless crowd expelled a nervous sigh.
I tell this tale that happened long ago
because I see our present could become my past.
When evil men have seized the reins of power,
I fear our cherished freedoms may not last.
Ada Jo Mann was a health Volunteer in Chad. She later worked at Peace Corps headquarters in the Program and Training Support Section. In 1983 she co-created, and was the first Director of, the Small Project Assistance Program (SPA), a USAID-funded program that provides small grants to Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts. The program has endured for 30+ years and is still going strong.
In 2008 she is a co-authored Positive Family Dynamics. In retirement, she is writing poetry and participates in a Poetry Circle at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.