Read Broken Together Online

Authors: K. S. Ruff

Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Inspirational, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense

Broken Together (37 page)

I
extended my hand. “My name is Kristine. I work for Seeds for Peace.”

He
clasped my hand. “See? I speak dee trude. My name is Emmanuel, which means ‘God
is wid us.’ Do you know dee meaning behind your name?”

I
shook my head. “No, sadly, I don’t.”

His
smile widened. “Kristine means ‘follower of Christ.’”

My
shoulders relaxed. “I like that.” I tucked my hand in the crook of Kadyn’s arm.
“This is my friend, Kadyn.”

He
shook Kadyn’s hand. “I do not know dee meaning behind your name, but I will
find out. Where are your people from?”

Kadyn
chuckled. “Chicago, Illinois.”

Emmanuel
frowned. “Where are your ancestors from?”

“A
few places, but mostly Cameroon.” Kadyn looked thoroughly amused.

Emmanuel
nodded. “I will find dee meaning behind your name.”

“I
see you’ve made a new friend,” Jase mused from directly behind me.

I
grinned. “Emmanuel, this is my fiancé, Rafael, and my friend, Jase.”

He
shook their hands. “I am not familiar wid dis name, Jase, but dee Archangel Rafael
is considered dee supreme healer in dee angelic realm. Rafael is God’s healer.”

Rafael’s
eyes widened with surprise. “My mother explained the meaning behind my name
when I was a little boy. She often encouraged me to live up to my name.”

“You
are Portuguese?” Emmanuel surmised.

Rafael
nodded. I could see the wheels turning in his head. Emmanuel was so unexpected.

“A
Portuguese explorer, Pedro da Cintra, named dis country Serra Lyoa,” Emmanuel
revealed.

“Lion
range,” Rafael translated. “I know very little about Pedro de Cintra. You have
inspired me to learn more.”

“We
should all aspire to learn more.” Emmanuel smiled. “If dere is any ding I can
do to make your stay more enjoyable, please let me know.”

Rafael
shook his hand again. “Thank you, Emmanuel.”

I
linked arms with Rafael as we walked away. “What an intriguing man.”

“What
inspired you to speak with him?” Rafael held the door as we boarded the
elevator.

“This
hotel has such a unique name. I wanted to know the story behind it.” I pulled
the shopping list from my purse and handed it to Jase.

“Well?”
Rafael pressed the button for the fourth floor.

I
glanced at his reflection in the mirror. “They named the hotel after the Queen
of Senehun because she brought peace to this region.”

Rafael
smiled. “Well, that certainly seems fitting.”

“The
sunglasses I can do. I’m not buying hair scarves,” Jase growled.

“Suit
yourself.” I shrugged. “You’re the one who has to fight off all the men trying
to pet my hair.”

Kadyn
chuckled.

“Fine,”
Jase muttered, “but I don’t want to hear any complaints if you don’t like the
color or the patterns I pick out.”

“You
won’t hear any complaints from me.” I rested my head on Rafael’s shoulder. All
of the adrenaline I’d acquired through the chaotic airport, the bumpy boat
ride, and the harrowing drive dissipated all at once. I was stifling a yawn
when the elevator dinged.

“I’ve
got you,” Rafael whispered. He scooped me into his arms. Within minutes, he was
tucking me beneath the most luxurious sheets. “Sleep well, my love.”

“God
is with us,” I whispered sleepily.

“That
he is,” Rafael agreed. My archangel lie on top of the sheets while cradling me
in his wings.

*
* * * *

“So
what do you think?” I pushed against one of the desks, but it wouldn’t budge.

Cory
shook his head. “I don’t know. This isn’t at all what I expected.”

“Do
we have to use this room?” Shae frowned. “Maybe there’s another room where the
desks aren’t bolted down.”

A
broken tile slid beneath my foot.

Sammi
caught me. “Kri!”

“Sorry,”
I murmured.

Rafael
obliterated the distance between us. “This building isn’t even remotely safe.”

He
wasn’t wrong. The floor, the ceiling, walls, and stairs were crumbling around
us. The electricity had flickered off twice since we arrived. Fourah Bay
College, once touted as Sierra Leone’s ivory tower, was bordering on
uninhabitable. Dr. Jalloh, head of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department,
revealed the dorms, which he called hostels, were so badly vandalized after the
last student election that students could no longer live on campus. The
university banned student elections after that, so there was no student
government to advocate for improvements.

Shae
jumped when loud voices echoed down the hall. “I hope Dr. Jalloh is okay.” Three
students had rushed into the room, shortly after we arrived, begging him to
help break up a fight.

Jase
peered down the hall. “I think we should wait outside.” Kadyn and Jase had decided
to forego sleep so they could inspect the campus and evaluate the security
risks.

Rafael
noted our new location on the chalkboard so Dr. Jalloh would know where to find
us.

I
followed Jase down the cement stairs. “Why don’t we hold the training outside? The
campus grounds seem nice enough.”

“I
think that’s a great idea,” Shae echoed behind me. “We can purchase rugs for
everyone to sit on and donate them to the university when we’re done.”

Cory
didn’t weigh in until we stepped outside. “We’re two weeks away from their
rainy season. Any idea what the weather is supposed to be like?”

Kadyn
walked backwards while studying the building. “They’re not expecting any rain.
Mostly sunny, upper seventies, and low humidity.”

Brogan
and Aidan joined us. They’d been walking the perimeter while we were inside. They
remained close after speaking with Rafael.

Shae
eyed the busy street. “The other side might be quieter.”

We
walked to the side furthest from the street. There was a wide swath of grass,
but it was strewn with litter. We stopped short when we caught sight of the
hostels hiding behind the building. The broken and boarded up windows proved
deeply unsettling. This was unlike any vandalism I’d ever seen. Someone had set
out to destroy this university.

“What’s
that smell?” Shae covered her nose.

Jase
frowned. “Sewage, maybe?”

Sammi
smacked Cory’s arm. “Sorry, honey. I didn’t want that mosquito to get you.”

Rafael
and I exchanged glances. “Did you remember your anti-malarial medicine?” I
asked.

He
nodded. “You?”

“Yes,”
I assured him. “Kadyn?”

He
nodded while turning in a slow circle. “I think it’s safer inside.”

We
returned to the front of the building, where a disheveled Dr. Jalloh was searching
for us. “I dought maybe you had returned to dee hotel.”

“No.
We were thinking about holding the training outside. The weather is nice, and
we really like the view,” Cory answered politely.

Dr.
Jalloh considered the view. “Dere will be far more students on campus tomorrow.
Dis will make it difficult for your students to focus if you are outside.”

I
forgot today was Sunday. No wonder there were so few students milling about.

Shae
fidgeted nervously. “Is there another classroom we could use? We’d like to seat
our students in a circle. We’ve found this helps promote dialogue and improve
student participation.”

Dr.
Jalloh sighed. “When fights break out between dee Blacks and Whites…” He paused
when he heard our collective intake of breath. “In Sierra Leone, dese terms do
not represent skin color. Dey represent political ideologies. Dee Whites hold a
European worldview and align wid dee APC, which is mostly comprised of dee
Temne and Limba ethnic groups from dee north. Dee Blacks practice hard line
Africanism and align wid dee SLPP, which is mostly comprised of dee Mende from
dee south. Dare is a great deal of animosity between dese political groups.
Desks or chairs may be drone if dee wrong person enters dee classroom first.”

My
eyes widened. I was mapping conflict in mining communities when our students
could barely tolerate one another? I could see the wheels turning in Cory’s
head. There were going to be some last minute changes to our agenda. “Are
students from both groups attending our training?” I inquired hesitantly.

Rafael
squeezed my hand. “I’m going to make a phone call.” I watched him walk away,
curious as to who he might be calling.

“Yes,”
Dr. Jalloh answered. “Bod groups require dis training so dey can learn how to resolve
deir differences drew more peaceful means.”

“Is
there an even split among our students?” Sammi asked. We were expecting
twenty-four students.

“Yes.
I was trying to avoid a power imbalance when I selected dee students for dis
training,” Dr. Jalloh confirmed.

“That
will help,” Cory agreed.

I
eyed Dr. Jalloh uncertainly. I couldn’t imagine university students throwing
chairs at one another. Nor could I erase those vandalized hostels from my mind.
“These groups have been fighting for power and control on your campus. Everywhere
they look they are reminded of the violence they have suffered at the hands of
the other group. We cannot expect an open dialogue from students who are afraid
to enter a classroom. We need to conduct this training on neutral ground.”

Rafael
rejoined the group. “I just spoke with Emmanuel. There is a conference room available
at the hotel. We can use the hotel shuttle to transport students from the university
if that would help.”

“That’s
perfect!” Shae exclaimed.

“We’re
staying at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel. Are your students familiar with
Mammy Yoko’s efforts to bring peace to the Lpaa Mende region?” I inquired
curiously.

“Yes,”
Dr. Jalloh answered. “My students will view dis as a great honor. Dey will conduct
demselves respectfully while inside dee Blu Mammy Yoko hotel.”

Cory
smiled, visibly relieved. “We will send the hotel shuttle tomorrow morning at
eight o’clock. We’ll provide lunch and return them by five o’clock.”

“I
regret our university is in such poor condition,” Dr. Jalloh fretted. He shook
the wrinkles out of his jacket before tugging it back on.

“Maybe
we can inspire the students to make some improvements,” Sammi offered brightly.

“You
are welcome to join us at the hotel anytime your schedule allows,” Shae added.

He
smiled. “I will stop by tomorrow.”

Momka
and his cousin, Amad, were standing outside their vehicles when we returned to
the parking lot.

Rafael
helped me into Momka’s SUV. “I’m pleased you moved the training to the hotel.” He
joined me in the third row.

“Me
too,” Jase agreed. He joined Kadyn in the back seat.

Everyone
else was riding with Amad, so Momka eased out of the parking lot.

I
threaded my fingers with Rafael’s. “I’m afraid we’ll be working through dinner.
We weren’t aware of the animosity between these students or the violent
conflict threatening this university. We need to help these students work
through their differences so they can build peace in their community.”

“How
are you going to do that?” Kadyn asked.

My
brow furrowed. “I’m not entirely sure. We have to build some understanding of
the theories and the strategies we’ll be applying first. We need to model a
conflict and a mediation. Something… huge. A conflict even more appalling than
the one they’re currently immersed in. Something that will really grab their
attention. They need an ‘a-ha’ moment that will force them to connect the dots
before we mediate their conflict.”

Jase
peered into the back seat. “Why do you have to resolve their conflict?”

“These
students will serve as role models, trainers, and mediators for their peers.
They’ll lose credibility if they can’t resolve their own conflict.” My eyes
snagged on the decrepit buildings outside my window. Freetown was a crowded and
chaotic city full of contradictions. Despite a highly developed city center,
there was a staggering amount of poverty. The street children and the shantytowns
broke my heart. The homes in this section of town were lean-tos comprised of
thin corrugated metal or plywood walls with no windows or doors.

There
were three major slums in Freetown. We were driving by one of them but remained
on the outskirts. Momka warned they would throw rocks at our SUV and try to rob
us if we ventured any closer. As frightening as that was, I felt it important
to bear witness to this poverty so I could better understand the challenges
people in Sierra Leone faced.

I
handed Momka my passport when the police stopped our vehicle at the immigration
checkpoint. There were over a million people living in Freetown. Most were
refugees displaced during their civil war. They’d spent their entire lives immersed
in violence and poverty. No wonder their average life expectancy was only 45
years old.

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