Sebastian and Charlotte Amisi enjoyed a great deal of success working in Goma, a city in DRC, as tailors until the insecurity caused by rebel activities forced them to flee, permanently breaking up their family of eight.
“There was a lot of insecurity caused by Laurent Nkunda and his rebels. The rebels wanted to take our children to fight in the war but we refused. Many people had given in their children including our chairperson. We sent them to our relatives in Kisangani, Beni and Bunia. One day the army came to our home and demanded to see our children. The chairman had said that we had also given our children to the rebels, because she had given her boys to go to the bush. I told them that my children had gone to Beni. They arrested me for working with the rebels. They would let me go home and again come back and take me. Three times. Sometimes for one week, or two weeks and sometimes three weeks,” narrates Sebastian, in his rented house in Makindye division.
In detention, he was beaten, interrogated, denied food, and when it seemed like he wouldn’t survive the night, the rebels brought him and dumped him at his door. Having nowhere to go, the couple hoped and prayed that that would be the last time he would be taken and tortured, until Goma caught fire!
“One evening, it was October, I went to the market in Saka to buy food. When I reached I found rebels were there and bullets were flying so I ran back home. As I was running back, a bullet hit my leg, but I couldn’t slow down, I kept moving. When I got home, I found that my house had been burnt down. People told me that there was no one else left.”
The fighting had reached Goma. Hopeless and in pain, Sebastian run for over 2 hours until he fainted along the way.
“I woke up in Kibumba and they told me I had collapsed in the road. I walked several kilometers before finding a pastor who welcomed me and gave me thirty dollars. With the money, I got a bus that took me to Uganda. When I got to Kampala, I asked where there was a church for Congolese and they told me there was one at Nakivubo. The pastor welcomed me. After two days, I went to the Old Kampala police station and they also received me.”
Sebastian lived in the church for three weeks until a parishioner told him of a tailoring job in Kabalagala. He then started working and soon rented a one roomed house in the Kampala suburb where he stayed for one year.
“All this time I was very stressed and under pressure. I did not know where my wife and children were and if they were alive or not.”
As fate would have it, he chanced upon one of his neighbours from Goma who had found work driving a truck that transported goods from Kenya to Uganda. This is the man that would reunite Amisi’s family.
“When my husband left for the market that day, about 7pm, I remained in the house with my daughter. Four army men came to our house and barged in, looking for my husband. This was a normal occurrence for us so I told them he wasn’t around. Two of them left and the other two took my daughter into the next room. She shouted but they told her to keep quiet or they would kill her. They raped her and also wanted to do the same to me but then bullets started flying over the house. This was normal as well. We used to hear bullets all the time. We run out of the house and went in the same direction of the other neighbours. Houses were on fire, people were running and crying. Everyone was leaving for Beni. We found cars which took us to the outskirts of Butembo in turns. In Butembo, the truck drivers asked people if they had relatives in Beni so they could take them there. I did not know anyone there but it is the only place we could go. We went into a church and that is where I stayed with my girl until one day when I was walking, I met a man who told me he had seen my husband in Kampala. He asked me, “How come you are here and your husband is Uganda?” I told them I also did not know that he was in Uganda. I had looked for him everywhere.” Narrates a teary Charlotte, Sebastian’s wife. She rubs the streams of tears with the back of her hand and continues. “He told me he would take me to him after doing what had brought. He was a truck driver that transported goods all through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. We spent two days on the road but we eventually reached my husband in Kabalagala.”
On how he felt seeing his wife after two years, Sebastian blushes and giggles lightly, lifting the thick air that had settled over the room. He flushes a wide smile and says, “I was very happy. I thought she had been burnt in the house in Goma. I jumped around like a little child. I will forever give Glory to God for this.”
Sebastian and Charlotte, 68 and 64 years old now respectively, have made a home in Mubarak, one of the slums in Makindye division, barely surviving with no definite source of income. Charlotte was, eight months ago, diagnosed with Brucella and later a liver disease, which has rendered her unable to work. With support from InterAid, she receives medication to manage the pain, but her health keeps deteriorating.
“There is no life when you see your people suffer but you can not do anything about it,” says Sebastian.