Letter to My Brother

How have you been? I hope well, but I don’t think I can say the same for myself. It seems we are moving somewhere very far away. I heard Mama and Uncle talking about winter clothes and food. Couldn’t we move some other time? Who in their right mind would move during the cold months? I tried asking Mama but all I got was a scolding, I later asked Uncle but he didn’t say anything either, only looked at me with sad eyes and said to pack anything important in case of emergencies. What was he talking about?

The answer to my question came a few days later. I was going to one of our elder’s house when I saw strange men surrounding her house. I immediately ran back to our house. “Mama, there are these strange men surrounding Ulisi’s house and they have weapons” I exclaimed as I entered. “Oh no, it’s the soldiers,” Papa said as he rushed out to see. Mama started to freak out and immediately order us to pack anything important like clothes and food. My brother, Wohali, started to cry as we heard a pounding on our door. Why were they here? Mama started ushering us out as soon as the soldiers started to get annoyed and yelled at us to hurry. Wohali was still crying but he had calmed down a little and held onto Mama tightly. Once we got outside, I saw everyone from our clan (Anitsiskwa; Bird Clan) either looking very worried or crying.

The strange men made us walk all the way to a clearing with makeshift camps everywhere and I could see people from other clans already inside. By the time we got there, my feet were stinging and had blisters. While staying there, I met my friend, Yona, who I learned came from the Bear Clan. Together, we went around and explored the area, although there wasn’t much to look at. All we ever saw were the crying of family members mourning over their lost ones. We could not bear the sounds of their pain and with fear of catching their diseases, we decided not to go out anymore. Each day, there would always be someone dead from the diseases that were spread in the camps like pneumonia, tuberculosis, smallpox, and cholera. Winter was approaching soon and we had yet to even be at our new home. The soldiers put us in groups, dividing clans and for some unfortunate people, dividing families. Are you still reading Sarah? Keep up because I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet.

How cruel must your people be? We started the trip from November of 1838, and walked for what felt like forever. We were supposed to go by boat but there was a drought so we couldn’t go using the river. Now, people were dying even faster due to the cold, there are at least a dozen or more people dying every day. Sick with pneumonia, coughs, and colds. I could no longer feel parts of my body and often felt very dizzy. I remember, the first time I complained to Mama about being cold, she pulled me close to her and said, “If we are together, we can warm each other up.” Some weeks later, during December of 1838, Papa had become very ill.

From the beginning of the trip, he had been carrying Wohali and giving up things we had managed to pack to people who needed it. A few days after, my Papa died from pneumonia. People from both my father’s and mother’s clans cried with us. We couldn’t even bury him properly. Next, my brother started to crumble. He had caught a horrible cold and coughed every minute. All around us, people were dying left and right and being buried as we trudged along. I looked at the soldiers, certainly, they must have families too. How could they do this to us when we’ve done no harm to them?

By now, I can say it’s been a month or so since Papa’s death. We are still walking and made it through most of the winter. Mama says we’re almost there but I don’t want to go “there” anymore. I just want things to be how they were like before. Wohali is weaker than ever and getting worse by the day. I can see Mama starting to get his coughing too. It’s still really cold but not as the freezing cold weather of December. My brother, my sweet innocent brother has passed away. Late January of 1839, we buried him along the roadside and stood there for some time. My mother was starting to break and most everyone in our group had lost a loved one. We were the survivors but could what had we done to go through this life or death test? Then February came. My mother’s coughs were getting worse by the day and I often had to help her walk.

I think the creator has something against me. Almost everyone in my family had died and the most important person, the person who gave birth to me, my mother, was starting to fade too. We had stopped for the night and slept on some snow-covered rocks nearby. Before going to bed that night, it seemed like my mother knew she was going to die and that she was accepting her fate. I cried and begged her not to leave me all by myself. All she responded with was whispers of her final words. “My dear Woya, you must be strong. If you are strong you can make it without me. The creator has asked for me and I cannot disobey my Lord.” A woman nearby started singing one of our traditional songs. At that moment, I felt like the most pathetic person in the whole universe.

Here my mother was on the verge of dying and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was at that moment that I felt something strong surge inside of me. Now I can say I’ve known what the feeling of hate feels like. I hate them, those people who took away my home, my happiness, and most importantly my family. People in our group cried and we buried her near an oak tree. The soldiers still did not let us stay there for long. I was taken under the protection of Ama, the woman who sang when my mother was on her deathbed.

When we had finally arrived about a month later, many people cried with happiness and joy that they had made it but also with sorrow and pain for the ones who didn’t. “We are finally here!” They cheered. I could recognize people from our clan and some elders too. They found out what had happened to my family and comforted me. When asked who I was going to stay with, I immediately said, “Ama”. Ama did not have any children of her own and her husband had died along the way. She considered me as her child, the same way I considered her as my second mother. Currently, many people are mourning for their loved ones while others are resting. The chiefs are deciding on what to do.

I hold nothing against you, Sarah. You are one of my dearest friends and I can’t find it in me to blame you for what happened. Although for your people I can’t say the same. We may not all be the same color or come from the same place but we all certainly are humans who have feelings and can feel pain. I don’t think I want to write anymore. Ama keeps telling me to get lots of rest and I am feeling quite tired. I don’t know if you’ll ever get this letter, but if by some fate you do, I’ve got a favor to ask you.

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