The conflict was the very earliest thing that Allia could remember. She was only 8 but the conflict was always there. It was always a matter of the 'other people', as her Mommie and Daddy called them, and the Christian group to which they themselves belonged.
Days, weeks, months were spent worrying about the 'other people', and her Mommie, not wanting to cause undue problem for her little girls, for Allia and her little sister Daila, never went into great details about the problems and the dangers.
Yet, Allia knew well enough, just by sensing the atmosphere at home and around, that the problems were real and dangerous.
It was the background, the atmosphere in which she grew up.
She was only 8 but at that age was already the care giver for her little sister Daila, who was four years younger than she.
Allia was, even at her young age, a gorgeous child. She had raven black hair and large and expressive dark eyes. She was the pride and joy of her Mommie and Daddy but they were incessantly caught up in the problems that were occurring with the 'other people'. They tried to provide love and comfort but they lived in a time, an age, and a place where there was little such comfort to be had or doled out.
As a result, Allia grew on her own pretty much and her entrance into what was really an adult world was forced by her need to take care of the little Daila. She was, innocent though she had been at the time, the mother figure for Dalia, since both her Daddy and her Mommie were that busy working on the problems and the defenses that were necessary to keep the 'other people' at bay.
There was neither time nor enough local peace for much schooling. But Allia was a bright child and quickly enough learned what lessons she could. Then, on her own, she continued to do some studying to learn English from a book that she'd gotten from the school, and try to teach the little Daila some of the same. It was certainly rudimentary but it served to keep them occupied by something that was worth while for them both.
The difficulty for them, the very tragedy for them was that while the love was there, there was precious little time for it. Their lives and where they lived were constantly in danger, and that message from Mommie and Daddy was part of the important messages that were shared with their daughters.
Allia understood well enough, but Dalia wasn't just sure what was meant by the local dangers to their lives.
Still there was a kind of everyday routine about the way that they lived their lives. Though they were always lives on the edge and in expectation of danger and worse for them.
Allia tried to ignore that as best she could, and be a good influence and a good model for the little Daila.
But the time came, as it usually, in fact almost always does, the time came and the 'other people' made a move that caught the local people off guard.
It was brutal and it was intense. Allia survived but only because she was hiding and grieving because she had had no time to gather to herself the little Daila.
She was indeed left in the rubble with no further thoughts or information about Mommie or Daddy. They seemed to simply be part of those who'd been swept away.
Allia lived those days in the rubble that was left. She was alone and she was afraid but determined. She'd been able to find, almost dig up enough food things to make sure that she wouldn't at least have a problem for the foreseeable future.
Her mind turned to and worried about the little Daila all the time, for they'd been separated in the kind of fray that happened with the attack that took place.
She supposed that it was a local enough problem that no one in the world would be paying any attention to it. But there she was wrong.
After a few days, with Allia living in the rubble of her house and using the food stores that she could find in the ruins to keep herself going, the world was finally present and took notice.
The soldiers in the blue helmets came. That's the way that Allia remembered them, and thought about them. They were the soldiers in the blue helmets.
They came to the place where Allia was hiding out and still worrying about the little Daila and they took her with them.
Allia was frightened, when she was found. She was afraid of what these latest soldiers would do, and never very far from her mind were her thoughts about the little Daila.
She gave herself the message constantly that she was in charge of the little Daila and had indeed failed that trust. She tried to push that thinking to the back of her mind, since her number one task at the time was simply survival.
But she found them to be kind and gentle. One of them a tall man in his blue helmet, reached for her, when she was found, and picked her up.
Allia was terrified; her large dark eyes were clamped shut at the time. Her fear had overcome her.
They took care of her, however, and made sure she had good food to eat, and was washed and simply cared for.
That day for her was a kind of revelation. She was taken to a camp and was given a good meal. She ate it all the while looking around and suspecting what might be going to happen.
Allia that day, for her part, was silent and simply assented quietly to whatever the treatment was going to be, even though she was learning that the soldiers with the blue helmets were not like the cruel and almost demonic 'other people' who'd waged war on her own people, and did it, as far as she could ever find out, because she and her own people were simply different, the Christian party.
Allia didn't really understand that kind of motive but she did learn that such was the motive for the attacks that carried off her family: Mom, Dad and the little Daila. And in her heart of hearts, she suspected that they were all simply gone, leaving only her the survivor.
She spent a day with the soldiers in the blue helmets. She came to think of them as the 'UN'soldiers, though she didn't really now what 'UNsoldiers' were, apart from simply these in the blue helmets. They were, however, kind and attentive to her.
After feeding her and making sure that she had a rest in their camp, which was very comfortable and had simply grand vehicles where she rested, she was taken by a kind of woman soldier and given a bath.
Allia loved baths. They were a sign to her, through her life, of how good things could be, when it was peaceful enough for her to have her baths.
This bath was one of the best ever. She had to admit that to herself. The kind woman talked to her and sang little songs to her, as she had the bath.
Allia liked that but she still was not talking. She was existing inside of her mind and talking there only to herself.
To tell the truth, Allia was still having her problems with the loss of her parents and the little Daila. Over and over, in her mind, she repeated the phrase: "They're gone from me now. So many are gone but these were mine, these were my Mommie and Daddy and my little Daila, and they're gone."
The somber message was part of her every waking moment in those first days with the soldiers in the blue helmets.
TIME IN THE CAMP
Allia stayed with the soldiers in the blue helmets, the 'UNsoldiers' for a few days. There were a few women 'UNsoldiers' who took care of her and a number of other children who'd come from the area that had been overrun and decimated in the attack of the 'other people'.
The brief life that she had with those 'UNsoldiers' was one that helped to settle her down. It was peaceful and she was taken such good care of.
She remained silent still, repeating the seemingly endless mantra of her failure to take care of the little Daila and the loss of her Mommie and Daddy.
That was essentially one of the very first lessons that she learned from the pretty 'UNsoldier' lady named Patti. Patti was the one who took care of Allia and made sure, in those days, that her needs were met.
Patti was also the one who had a talk with Allia one day to tell her that they, the 'UNsoldiers', were sure that Allia's Mommie and Daddy were among those killed in the recent raids.
Allia then gave way to the overwhelming news and simply began to cry. The voice within still spoke of the little Daila, and Allia was secretly, personally sure that the little Daila, for whom she'd been responsible, as also gone.
She ran over the scenario in her mind any number of times, and realized the moment, fateful moment, when the little Daila was off by herself and Allia had another errand to take care of, just as the attack happened. The following time was one of huge explosions and gun fire and shouting and people screaming.
Allia, as she remembered it, had no time to do anything but hide, hoping that her Mommie and Daddy and the little Daila were all hiding too.
The news that her Mommie and Daddy didn't hide and were swept away in the attack was black, black news for Allia.
And then, just then, as she gave into the crying and the sense of loss, thinking of her Mommie and Daddy, just then the 'UNsoldier' lady, Patti, scooped her up, put her on her lap and simply held Allia, while she cried.
The 'UNsoldier' lady Patti tried to spend as much time with silent Allia during those first days. Allia certainly appreciated the attention but her world was still almost completely crushed by the losses that had occurred.
She did, at times, cling to the 'UNsoldier' lady Patti but the words were still inside and weren't coming forth very easily or very quickly.
And then the time came, when a movement was underway. She'd had time that day with the 'UNsoldier' lady Patti, who explained to her that they were moving to a new place, and that Allia would be cared for in a special camp that was being put together for the children.
Patti tried to make it sound good and inviting. Allia recognized that but Allia also realized that this was just another loss for her. It might be a minor one, compared with her Mommie, Daddy and the little Daila but it was a loss nevertheless.
She kept that thinking within and only talked to herself in her own silence and quiet, alone time. She was still mainly 'that pretty little silent girl'.
The day appeared and all the children were going to be put on a bus to be taken to their new camp home.
As that was happening, Allia saw the 'UNsoldier' lady Patti standing and watching.
With a sudden inspiration, Allia ran to her, and was holding onto Patti as though her life depended on it. She cried then and Patti too was crying.
Allia looked up and said: "Thank you, UNsoldier lady Patti."
Patti was fairly overcome by hearing from this silent little girl for the very first time.
"You're welcome, honey," Patti said, "I love you."
"Yes, yes, love," Allia said and was taken to the bus with the other children.
And this meant, for Allia, yet another upheaval and another new kind of existence to get used to. There were many of them, children that had been uprooted because of the grinding war that had overrun their land and laid waste one family after another.
Many of the children were, like Alia, fairly silent, trying to make sense of one strange new happing after another. They were banded together and taken to a camp that was laid out for them and available now.
In this instance though, Allia was more quiet than most of the others. No one, probably, could match her experience with the attacks, the loss of her family and her home. It had turned her into a very silent and thoughtful little girl.
They were taken to the long barracks room and each of them given a bed and stand that would be their own for a while.
The girls lived in this long room with beds on either side and each bed had its own kind of stand for personal effects. Of course, all of the little girls involved, like Allia, had no personal effects to put in the lovely little stands provided for them.
One of their first surprises was the distribution of health aides, soap, shampoo, wash cloths, towels, etc, to put in their stands. That was fairly exciting.
The little girls were silent, especially at first with one another. They were, after all, strangers to each other and simply, up to this point, had been living through the upheavals in their lives.
Shortly after their settling in, they were told that there would be a school in the camp.
It was certainly true that many of them, if not most of them had had precious little schooling. At least Allia had tried to apply herself to learning English and French. She struggled with those but was pleased that she'd been able to at least use some of her English with the lady 'UNsoldier', that Patti, at least at that very end, when Patti was going a different way.
Now English was one of the subjects that was going to be offered in their school. Allia was pleased about that. She had a sense, that she never told anyone else about, but a sense that English was like a light for her.
She began, as did many of the others, to slowly leave the past behind, in a forgetting part of the mind. The camp and its daily routine was becoming her whole world. She was acclimatizing herself to it and slowly, very slowly was getting to know the girls in her hut.
There was an inherent difficulty with that. They had, each one of them, learned a lesson, a very powerful one, about the impermanence of relationships in life. They had, each one of them, gone through the terrors and profound sadness of losing a family.
Allia thought about that frequently: about her Mommie and Daddy and, her forever sorrowful pain, about the little Daila, whose protector she was supposed to have been.
She endlessly looked around the camps but never saw anything of the little Daila.
Her life in the camp ground on for a good long time. She still was not overly friendly with the girls in her hut. There was still hanging over their heads the thought about what would happen to 'loved ones', to people with whom you allowed yourself to become close. That was a lesson that they'd all learned and it was one that seemed to be ingrained in Allia. She was one of 'the silent ones'. That's what some of them were called.
One thing, however, that Allia was not aware of was the efforts by the relief agency to find permanent homes for the children in their care.
The effort was begun a few months after the initial establishing of the camp for the children. They'd made dossiers on each of the children and set up a web site to invite information seekers and prospective parents for the children.
It was on a Thursday that Allia was asked to go and see the Matron, the one in charge of the little girls.
Allia was terribly frightened. Such a summons, she worried to herself, could not mean anything good for her. She racked her brains to see if she'd done anything wrong, anything that would cause her to be expelled from the camp, which was her current security. She was close to tears, when she went to the office of the matron.
The immediate thing on Allia's mind that morning, she'd already thought about this, was a sincere apology and a promise to do things better, to be better.
She'd only gotten a few words of that apology out of her mouth, when the Matron interrupted her, and came from behind her desk to give Allia a hug.
"Oh, honey," the older woman said, "You're not in any trouble here. I'm sorry that you got that impression."
The Matron held her while Allia sobbed.
She waited, while Allia calmed down a bit and then went to fetch a cup of hot chocolate, a real treat, for Allia. She herself had a cup of tea.
"Feeling better?" the Matron asked.
"Yes, Ma'am," Allia said, "Thank you, and thank you for the chocolate."
The Matron smiled.
"Allia, I have someone that I want you to meet," she said.
Allia was all attention immediately. The part of her mind and senses that were constantly wary was in the forefront immediately. She put her cup of unfinished chocolate down and kind of sank within herself. This was unknown and unexpected and she didn't know what to think about it.
"Will you? Will you meet these people, honey?" the Matron asked.
At that point, Allia could only shake her head 'yes' in agreement.
The Matron said a very kind 'thank you' and pushed the chocolate toward Allia again. The tone of the Matron's voice and the gesture with the chocolate calmed Allia a bit again and she finished her chocolate.
The Matron got a phone call then and smiling, told Allia that the people she was to meet had arrived.
"Come with me, honey," the Matron said, and took Allia's hand.
Allia simply stared at the Matron and allowed her hand to be taken. She was right then in the middle of her defenses.
"It'll be fine," the Matron said, bending to kiss Allia on the head.
Allia was simply not sure about the statement that it would be fine. She simply assented and let her silent self rule her senses.
The Matron took her out of the inner office into a kind of waiting living room that was off to the left. They went through the door, she and Allia and Allia's eyes almost popped out of her head.
Standing there and smiling at her was the lady 'UNsoldier' Patti and a strange man, who was holding that Patti's hand.
Allia stared at the former lady 'UNsoldier' Patti and she began to cry. It was at first being unsure and then the sense swept over her that this wonderful woman, and the man, had come for her.
"Allia," the Matron said, "These people want to be your Mommie and your Daddy."
Now Allia was crying almost uncontrollably. Patti simply came across the room to her and put her arms around Allia and let her cry.
"I love you," Allia said into Patti's stomach.
"Yes, lovely Allia, I love you too; may I please be your Mommie?" Patti asked.