An Unexpected Reunion
by Dr. J. Andrew Cole
I have returned frequently to Africa, usually accompanied by friends, but always seeking for lost people. A terrible loneliness sweeps over me as I consider this quest. I have searched the crowds of refugees for the faces of boys, now men, with whom I played as a child, and I have gradually reconciled myself to the painful realization that the boys I loved and hated, the kids I laughed with and laughed at, competed with and competed against, the faces and names I remember, and the many I've forgotten, have had no opportunity to become men. There are times, however, when an unexpected kindness seems to descend.
In December 2001, while at Nangweshi, a haggard but once beautiful woman approached me, beaming and clapping her palms in the traditional sign of welcome. She asked if I recognized her. If course I didn't. The level of her disappointment started me. She was gaunt and thin, yet se emanated contagious warmth of feeling from which I could not disengage.
She had a personal knowledge of me, and affection for my family, that I had not expected. Shaking her head and covering her face with her hand, she explained that she had arrived at the camp naked; the dress she was wearing had been given to her by a friend who had come to Nangweshi a year earlier. For month, she and her family had wandered like nomads, moving by night, and hiding from the enemy by day.
It may have been her voice that finally awakened my memory; I gradually began to see in her hollow cheeks the face of a younger woman, once vigorous and beautiful. Emidia Chambula--a framed photograph of her has hung in our family home for more than thirty-five years. Now, here she was before me, stirring a depth of feeling long forgotten, but like a misplaced key, now recovered. She was now no longer a haggard refugee, but a partner connected to a common heritage, an element of community suddenly expanded, bringing with it a renewal.