The thing about homes made of mud bricks is that when the thatch is gone–burned away– and the rains come, the homes melt back to earth.
Kouki was first attacked by the Seleka in March, 2013. I write this as March 2015 approaches. In these past two years, this big village of maybe 5,000 people recovered and fell victim to attacks every few months, sometimes every few weeks, from March 2013 all the way to another attack last month, January 2015.
An attack: from the initial onslaught of the organized Seleka militia on its way from the northeast to take Bossangoa and eventually Bangui, to the hectic screaming motorcycles of armed Fulani (Peulh) herders dashing in and out on a raid.
I did not speak to people from Kouki about the attacks, though I have a few Central African friends whose families lived, or did not live, through them. We don’t talk about the details; we talk about the pain, or we just pass news. So I do not report here what happened in Kouki. But I will share what a village in northwest CAR looks like when homes and lives are destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again. The takehome message is awe, perhaps at the breadth of destruction as I recently walked across Kouki for an hour without finding the end of the same broken sight, but also at the way people can adapt and survive and create lives in new circumstance, and rebuild, and then rebuild again.
In Kouki, in fleeing and returning, in burned and melted homes and their reconstruction, we see the worst and best of CAR at once, the extremes of vulnerability and unrelenting resilience.
At the heart of the town is the market, which rests remarkably vibrant. Kouki is at a crossroads, on the road that parallels the Chad border as it intersects the road to Bossangoa, and through that, Bangui. Generations ago, the ancestors here declared the village permanent when they planted mango trees in two wide rows, creating shaded space for the enormous marketplace structure that would one day appear for their children’s children.
New mud bricks laid out to sun dry are a declaration of the same commitment to stay.