“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.