Life in a civil war is filled with terror and hardship, but also moments of grace and thanksgiving. Like his fiction, Dongala's account of his 13-year-old daughter's disappearance recognizes elements of both.
PW How long was your daughter missing?
Emmanuel DongalaChoof! Maybe two weeks, three weeks.
How did you find out?
We had to call everywhere, to the Red Cross, to all the international organizations, to the French. After a while we figured it out. We knew that she was with her French friends [the day she disappeared], so we knew she must be with the French. And then, finally, we found out that she was sent to Chad. Can you imagine?
And just left there alone?
Oh, no. They [the French military] took them all. And then the French went to France, so she stayed there in Chad, in a camp. And it was a very funny story. So when we found out that she was there, we went to see the, I think it was the HCR, and we said, "Where is our daughter? We want her to come back." [Mimics the voice of an official.] "Well our policy is when we have evacuated somebody from combat zone, we can't send her back to combat zone." [Laughing.] "It's against our policy." I mean, I understand, but we are her parents! So it was hard. Finally, we learned that she was coming [back] such and such day and time, so we… [Hunches forward and holds his hands by his chest, like someone tiptoeing forward. Then sits back in his chair.] I am a professor; I have read lots of books so I know that when a child is traumatized you have to prepare yourself psychologically. You have to be very careful what you going to tell her and all that. We went to the airport and we were… [whispers] "The poor kid. What are we going to say to make her cope?" And there comes Nora smiling, "Oh, Dad! It was great! I took a plane! It was fun! And we had food! Lots of food!" [Laughing] For her it was a nice trip that she had and she was happy. Isn't that amazing? And we felt stupid. But she didn't realize the danger at all.
That she had left behind? Or that she was in?
That she was in. You know, she could have… At 13, I don't think you realize…
Probably a good thing.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.