Mbelu shakes his head in frustration but grins, "We're young and strong. We killed the lion. We'll stay a few years and save all we can. Think of the day we'll return as rich men. Our brothers and sisters will all have become doctors or studied the new mysteries of agriculture the merchant told us about. Melia will make our future, you'll see."
The moon has set. It's cold and an icy wind is drawing patterns in the sand. Mr Rahmani is calling us together, leads us deeper into the shadow of a dune. There are twenty of us; eighteen men and two women.
"Not much longer now," Mr Rahmani says. "We'll wait some more to make sure everything's quiet. Remember – we don't have much time. When I give the signal, you must be quick. The fence is the trickiest part. You'll have to climb it by yourself. We have friends in Melia who'll help you up the wall with a few ropes."
The two women weep silently, afraid that they won't manage.Their husbands are wrapping their arms around them, whispering comforting words into their ears.
We're all in a subdued mood. I look at the tense faces of our companions and wonder what thoughts are crossing their minds, what memories they're clinging to.
It was a hard journey and we're exhausted, our nerves frayed. At first, we were transported in a bus. Mbelu and I didn't carry much: some clothes, provisions and a picture of our parents. Then we had to change from the bus to an open lorry.
It was hot and dusty. At times, we were hardly able to breathe. Wrapping our shirts around our faces helped a little. Then we had to leave the lorry, which turned at once to pick up other refugees. Although we walked at night and slept during the day, the trip cost a lot of strength and our belongings grew heavy. Five of us had to give up, one elderly man died.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and give a start. It's Mbelu.
(To be continued)