We have been descending the Ndugba river bed for more than 5 hours. The heat is unbearable and my body starts to cry out for mercy. My feet hurt, my legs, although hardened, support me only with difficulty. Breathless, my shoulder carrying my weapon throws me atrociously. However, I keep on going. Oscillating between hope and discouragement.
A hundred times, I thought I saw a body moving. A hundred times, I thought I heard the sound of a pickaxe hitting a rock. Each time my heart raced, releasing a flood of adrenaline sufficient to chase away fatigue and force my mind into a state of extreme vigilance.
But today, once again, we saw no one. Only the stigmata of the past night and early morning. Yawning holes dug in the sand, drying up the river a little more year after year. As often, the gold diggers escaped us. We return to camp with our heads down and our hearts heavy. The sun is almost down and no one is slow to return to their quarters.
As I fall asleep that night, my muscles aching and my morale low, I feel like stopping everything. I tell myself that we are too few, too isolated. That the means at our disposal are insignificant compared to the threats we face. That the support is only a façade. That we have been alone for too long.
Tonight, I just want to go home, to resume a “normal” life with my family, in comfort and security. Then, my eyes close and I dream that I am far away from this Africa that I have nevertheless under my skin.
Reality catches up with me a few hours later in the form of my alarm clock ringing. The day dawns, it is time to leave again. I organize the patrol according to the tracks I saw the day before. I watch my team get into the pickup truck and try to ignore their tired eyes. I start the engine of the car and we speed off down the dirt road we’ve spent week reshaping.
All the sudden, a movement draws my attention on the right. I immediately stop the vehicle. The earth shakes, raising a huge cloud of dust. Time stops, nobody says a word. Everyone lives the moment for himself.
Elephants always have that effect on people.
So I remember. It is for them that I fight. For these majestic animals, and for all the others that give me so much emotion.
Pour eux, nous ne pouvons pas abandonner, ni maintenant, ni jamais.
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