March 24

Dear Diary,
Merzeneb and Negasi have been here a whole week, Diary! It has been so good having them here, the house feels full and happy with so many hands, so many voices. Only sometimes do I feel a little sad that Assefa cannot be here, too. Little brother, I pray that you are watching your family from heaven and know that I am thinking of you.

Maybe you can even watch while I write down more of my adventure.

It was still early when we neared the truck, maybe six-thirty; the men grew quiet and Father put a finger on my lips to mean “no humming now, Rahel.” There were noises ahead and the voices of two men. Father and Tekle, one of the other village men, crept among the trees—for the grassy plateau was far behind us—and peeked between some bushes to see what was going on.

Two men were standing by the open truck, holding boxes and arguing about what to do next. Father could see that some of the supplies were already gone. He motioned for Berhanu and Ogbay, our other neighbor, to creep up. Dawit held the ropes to the oxen and I held onto Kassa and the donkeys. Then Father and the others jumped onto the trail with a loud yell. I saw that Ogbay had a machete in his hand and was waving it at the men. Father and Tekle had long knives, which they had brought to open boxes and cut ropes, and they held these up high for the men to see.

“Get out!” they shouted to the men. “Leave our supplies alone! Thieves! Help! Help!” They yelled loud enough for a whole army, Diary, and waved as if there were more people right behind them. The two robbers jumped and dropped their boxes, then ran off into the forest. Father and our neighbors chased them for just a little ways, always shouting, then ran back to the truck. The boxes the robbers had dropped were broken open, and food packets spilled onto the ground. The truck’s tires were gone. The neatly stacked boxes in the back showed a gaping hole where supplies had been taken. Tekle thought we were missing six boxes of medical supplies.

“Rahel, Dawit, quickly now! Bring up the oxen and donkeys. We must load those animals as fast as we can.”

“Are they gone, Father?” I asked.

“For now. But there may be other thieves or they may decide to get weapons and come back.”

“How can they steal our supplies like this?”

Father didn’t stop loading the oxen as he spoke. “They get money for them on the black market. Or they sell them to other villagers. Hurry, Rahel. Load Kassa’s baskets.”

The sweat poured down my sides and forehead as I ran back and forth, Diary. My knees trembled at the thought of the men returning and finding us. Kassa seemed to know I was frightened, for she kneeled quietly and let me fill up her baskets and throw extra bags of supplies across her back. It was full morning now, but rainclouds were moving back across the land and we could hear distant thunder. The sky was getting darker.

Finally, Ogbay cried, “We are as loaded as we can be!” and Father said, “The truck is empty, let’s go!” I scrambled onto Kassa, and everyone turned.

“If only we had horses instead of these bullocks!” complained Berhanu. “They’re so slow!”

“Horses couldn’t carry all that,” grunted Father. “Get out your herding sticks, boys. We may have to hurry these animals along.” Both Tekle—who owned the third ox—and my brothers all had long, whippy sticks with them. If the oxen dawdled, they got a sharp snap of the stick’s tip across their rumps. But still, it felt as if we were going much too slowly to escape anyone chasing us.

“Rahel,” said my father, “if anything happens, if anyone comes after us, I want you to ride Kassa like the wind, do you hear? You race for home and don’t look back. Even if it means throwing away her baskets, you hold on tight and run! Promise me…”

I nodded, but fear choked my throat and I could not speak.

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