On patrol with French troops in Bangui

Al Jazeera's reporter joins EU force in Bangui who keep Christians and Muslims apart in bid to maintain calm.

by

    "Don't be fooled," the soldier tells me. "Bangui feels calmer now but anything can go wrong in a second. Don't wonder off on your own, make sure my men can see you and try to keep up."

    Easy enough instructions I think. After all what can be hard about going on patrol with the European Union force in the Central African Republic?

    Three hours later I am hot, sweaty ‎and exhausted from walking. We visited neighbourhoods where some of the worst fighting between Christians and Muslims took place.

    You can still feel the tension but people seem to want to get back to normal life.

    A week ago a woman asked me if I was Christian or Muslim.

    I replied, "I am an African just like you."

    Things feel different now. I am just another journalist in their neighbourhood moving with soldiers.

    A man walks past us carrying a machete. The soldier next to me watches him closely. He doesn't have to say anything to me. I can tell he is not sure if the man coming towards us is a friend or foe.

    But the man waves and says, "Bonjour Madame".

    He is definitely a friend but no one knows how long this relative calm will last in Bangui.

    We carry on walking and we meet a young boy playing with a toy gun. It looks like he made it himself from clay or something.

    He is pointing it at us, pretending to shoot. It appears normal. Boys and girls all over the world play with toy guns.

    I take a picture and he smiles at me, eager to show me ‎his "weapon". I later learned that some of the soldiers asked him to destroy his gun and smash it into pieces.

    It sounded a little harsh but I understood the reason why.

    The war isn't over. Anything can set things off again.

    The little boy probably posed no threat, but who knows ‎how many people are carrying real guns and weapons.

    We are back ‎in the armoured vehicle and a soldier asks me if I am comfortable wearing my bullet-proof vest. It's a cumbersome but necessary thing to wear.

    "It could one day save your life," ‎I have been told so many times.

    "We have about another hour to go" the soldier says, smiling.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR



    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    Al Jazeera examines three weeks of war from which both Arabs and Israelis claimed to emerge victorious.