For the rest of the day, negotiations continued between the kidnappers on one side and the respective families of the hostages on the other.
In the meantime, we had some avenues to steal some more conversations amongst ourselves, one of which was concerning food.
Is there no food in the kidnappers den?
I asked one of the guys whom we were told were kidnapped before us, “Have these people (referring to the kidnappers) given you anything to eat since they held you?”
“No,” he replied to me. “We have not eaten since they kidnapped us.”
From what I gathered from the kidnappers, this guy with the other two men was kidnapped on Saturday. That was two days before we were kidnapped on Monday afternoon.
“And they haven’t eaten?” I wondered.
In my mind, I went, “Holy Spirit, they said no food in this place. Therefore, you have to fill me up from within so that I will not feel hungry until I’m out of this forest.”
As ridiculous as that sounded, it was a heartfelt prayer I made on that day. I had reasoned that if there was no external food coming in, God had to fill up me internally.
You can call that my sustenance from within strategy, and you will be right because that was exactly what I had in mind.
By the time I made that request, I had spent over 24 hours in that forest as a hostage without food and water, same with the other hostages. And too, there was no roof over our heads.
These AK-37 wielding marauders did not mind that we had not eaten. They were obviously used to the hard life in the jungle and now they have dragged us into it.
The forest had become our unplanned abode. There we were languishing without food and water.
Our help seemed far away. But God would save us from the hands of our kidnappers.
“He would never leave me nor forsake me.” That was a promise I counted on wholeheartedly.
Did the kidnappers have anything to eat?
Even though we were forbidden from looking in their direction, I had observed by stealth that our captors had taken care of their own meals the previous night. I’m not sure of what they ate but it looked like a root tuber (cassava or yam most likely) roasted in a small campfire they made for themselves.
To be fair, they had offered us water at some point that Tuesday. Some fellow hostages drank without qualms. But I had refused to drink from that yellow 4-litre plastic container they availed to us.
I was convinced the water in it would not be suitable for drinking because I had seen the untidy source where the kidnappers fetched it from.
We were passing through vast farmlands when the kidnappers stopped to fetch the water from an open metal drum deposited right along a narrow bush path bordering a cassava plantation out there in nature.
Whoever stored that water there could not have meant it for drinking. I would understand if it were for watering the plants on the farm, not for human consumption.
Dinner from the blues
I sat on the forest floor waiting for the next instruction from the kidnappers. At some point, I lay facedown on the grasses as they commanded us to.
I could either sit or lie down. And I continued to alternate the positions like that since I was not allowed to stand on my feet.
By the evening of that Tuesday, something totally unexpected happened. One of the kidnappers called out from behind us and asked all of us hostages, “Will you eat rice?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had prayed to be internally fed, but God was adding external feeding to it.
I didn’t know what the kidnappers expected to hear from us but all of us responded in unison, “Yes”. That was how a big pot of cooked jolof rice and beans was placed before us to eat.
One of the kidnappers warned that there was nothing special about the meal because “it contained only oil, salt, and seasoning.” But we didn’t mind. So we all drew closer to the port of concoction rice with beans and ate it as fast as we could.
While five of us ate directly from the big black pot, the other man who happened to be the oldest amongst us ate from his portion dished into the inner curvature of the cover of the pot.
One of the kidnappers had explained that they had to dish papa’s food separately so that we the younger men would not finish the whole food at the expense of ‘papa’. There were no cutleries, so we ate with our bare fingers.
“This is no time to be choosy with food,” quipped a fellow hostage. “Let us eat what we are offered so we can have the physical strength to follow these people. We have to survive till we are delivered from this predicament.”
Suddenly, we found ourselves appreciating the kidnappers for providing the food. But that is not to say that we were experiencing Stockholm syndrome – an emotional response that happens to some abuse and hostage victims when they have positive feelings toward an abuser or captor.
We were pleasantly surprised by the provision. The food wasn’t delicious but it was tasty enough to pass through our mouths and fill our stomachs to some level.
No more hunger throughout the night
On my first night in the kidnappers’ den, I had to sleep on an empty stomach because no food was made available to us. But on the second night, I’m grateful to have been given some food to eat.
After the meal, I felt a strong need to drink some water. But the only one available was the unclean one in the container I had earlier rejected.
At that point, I had to drink it without having any more concern about the impurities the water might have contained. Thankfully I didn’t have any stomach upset afterward.
Another night in the forest
Not too long after the surprise dinner, the kidnappers informed us it was time to move again. As usual, we didn’t know where they were taking us, and we had no right to ask.
We just had to follow orders as they dished them out. “Get up, get up, follow that man,” one of them had ordered us.
We had enough energy from the food they gave us to embark on the trekking journey. And after about an hour and a half perambulating in the thick forest, they ordered us to stop at a safe location.
We used our bare hands to spread and disperse the intruding foliages so we could make our beds on the grasses again. While we lay down to rest for the night, the kidnappers kept guard over us.
Some of them were smoking like their lives depended on it. We couldn’t see their faces as their bandit masks remained on them. But the stench from whatever they were smoking pervaded the atmosphere of the silent night.
“You can sleep there for the night,” one of the kidnappers said, pointing to our corner of the forest. “Remember the rule we gave you last night. Don’t stand up without permission, except you want to get yourself dead.”
We couldn’t even stand to wee or poo without permission. So the rules were very clear to all of us.
“Excuse me, sergeant,” I said, raising my hand gradually.
“Yes?” answered one of the kidnappers with his gun fully aimed at me.
“I want to wee.”
“You can go,” he said to me.
I stood up and headed further from the camp towards my right-hand side. But he wouldn’t take that.
“Hey, come back here. Go that side” he commanded me, pointing to the side opposite where I was headed.
I did as I was instructed and came back to join the rest hostages on the forest floor as we all prepared to spend our second night in the forest.
The moon was still shining bright. Because of that, we could see ourselves laying horizontally on the forest floor on one hand and the kidnappers taking watch over us in turns.
I could not sleep soundly throughout the night. I was waking up almost every hour.
Apart from the incessant mosquito bites, I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping on the forest floor and without a pillow upon which to rest my tired head.
As I gazed into the starry night, I prayed that God would touch these kidnappers so that they would release us free of charge, without paying the ransom they demanded.
Calling our families again
It was only a matter of a few hours, the scary night broke into a new day. First thing on that Wednesday, the kidnappers brought our phones so we could call our families again.
As they temporarily received their phones back, two of us hostages, noticed that their phone batteries had been recharged for them. With the battery juices exceeding the levels they were on the previous day, we suspected that the kidnappers had power banks with which they powered up the phone batteries.
On the other hand, it was also possible that the phones were taken out of the forest to be recharged at an electricity source in the nearest village. I suspected so because there was a time the number of the kidnappers who were guarding us with guns reduced to four instead of the usual seven.
One of the kidnappers later confirmed that they had recharged the batteries on all the phones except mine because the battery power indicator had revealed that the phone didn’t need to be recharged yet.
“You,” one of the kidnappers bellowed at me, “Your people had better cooperate before your phone battery runs down. We don’t have the kind of charging cord for your phone.”
As he handed me the phone, I could see that the battery level was still high. And since the phone was always switched off after every conversation, the battery was not draining as fast as it would have if the phone was put to regular usage.
After the conversations with our families, the kidnappers realised that our respective families were cooperating with them in trying to raise the ransom money they demanded.
The amount hadn’t been completed but there seemed to be uneasy calm in the camp as the kidnappers had stopped torturing us by then. They were just eager to get updates from our respective families.
However, the next discomfort came from the elements. Under the forest trees, we were fine with the heat from the sun, but I couldn’t say the same thing about the rains.
The heavens were burst open and the rains began to pour on us mercilessly.
It rained elephants in the forest
It rained cats and dogs twice on that Wednesday. The first one was in the morning while the second was in the afternoon.
While the kidnappers had umbrellas and other protective covers, we hostages were left in the open rains. We were completely drenched to the extent that I caught cold, and my body began to shiver as if it was no longer a part of me.
As the rains continued to pour over me, I began to say, “Thank you Lord because you are here with me; I’m not alone. You promised to be with me even when I pass through waters or through fire. So in the midst of these torrential rains, you are still with me.”
Of course, I didn’t quote that scripture word for word, but it helped that I paraphrased it to suit the need of the hour.
Much time passed but the rains didn’t abate. Later, one of the kidnappers brought out large black nylon covering and handed it to the oldest hostage amidst us.
“Papa, take this one,” he said. “Shield yourself from the rain.”
The Papa collected the protective covering from them and spread it over himself, extending the coverage so that some of us could come under it. But that didn’t help much because the impact of the rain was more than the little cover could carry.
As the rains subsided, we became relieved of the massive cold we were experiencing. The rays of the Sun began to sift through the canopies of the trees towering above unto the forest floors. And we felt warm in our bodies and the wet clothes clinging tightly to our frames began to dry out.*
*Continued in Kidnapped for Ransom..- Part 6