Living In A War Zone

I grew up in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. The early part of my childhood was idyllic. With my family I was part of a farming community in Shamva, an outlying district about two hours from the capital. Our house and garden were surrounded by wild virgin bush and I spent many happy hours exploring this untamed land and its animals. I grew to passionately love the earth and my beautiful country.

Though I knew nothing about politics at the time, my people, the Europeans who ran Rhodesia, decided that they would not give up the country to its African inhabitants. As a result many African men crossed to neighbouring countries to arm and train themselves to fight for their country. Their main strategy was to kill the European farmers on their isolated farms and drive the Europeans out of the country. I became embroiled in this war for the rest of my childhood.

My home changed suddenly from a natural oasis in the deep bush to a very heavily defended fortress. On the edge of our garden my father erected a strong barbed wire fence with spotlights, and he graded bare a wide area outside the fence so there was no cover for anyone attacking us. Sand bags were placed around all our bedroom windows, and metal screens covered the glass so grenades could not be chucked in.

We were connected directly to the army by radio because if we were attacked our telephone lines would be cut and the road to the house would be planted with land mines so we couldn’t get out. From the age of eight I was armed and trained to shoot to protect my family. I lived in this war until I left the country at fifteen, when my father decided he did not want me or my brother to go into the army, and we emigrated to the UK.

Although we were never attacked and I wasn’t involved in direct action I spent my time as a child armed and on high alert, in danger virtually all the time. Many people in my area were killed, including some very close friends. I was often deeply afraid and grew convinced I was going to be killed. Then, when I was 15, we suddenly left Africa and came to live in Wales. I buried my past, and got on with my life and tried to look ahead rather than behind.

As a young man I marched forward into life with great gusto, determined to make a success of myself. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully leave my past behind, and I was troubled for many years with terrible nightmares. The format was always the same: I would dream that someone was after me, that they wanted to kill me, and I would do everything I could to get away from them until I realised I couldn’t escape, then I would turn on them, attack them, and kill them in an extremely violent manner. I would wake feeling very traumatised.

I couldn’t sleep deeply and would sleep on high alert, instantly awake at the slightest sound, ready to leap into action. I also suffered from guilt at leaving friends behind in the war. I wasn’t able to contain my fear all the time and instinctively dived for the floor if there was a loud bang or sudden disturbance, which caused me deep embarrassment.

As well as this, in my late twenties my anger and rage felt like it was going out of control. Even when I felt safe with people I would punch walls and doors and smash up the houses I was living in. I was finding it harder and harder to bottle up the anger I’d invoked as a child to protect my family, and I felt like a killer. Though I’d never killed anyone, except in my nightmares, I felt soaked in violence and death and had no idea what to do with these feelings within me.

But, when someone mentioned the ManKind Project and the NWTA (new warrior training adventure), I instinctively knew this could help me. I wasn’t really sure why men’s work would help, since I was afraid of men and distrusted them, but I could sense it was important for me to go on this weekend. This was really my own Rites of Passage.

The early part of the weekend was very difficult for me; I felt very thoroughly triggered into my fear, rage and darkness. However, I was able to reopen my past for the first time in my life. I was very lucky to have a wonderful African-American man working me, and I was able to own the angry, killing, murderous, raging, dangerous parts of myself. I was able to look him in the eye and confess that I felt like a murderer. These parts of me were accepted, even loved, by this man and the other men present, and I felt a huge burden lift off me. I felt acknowledged and seen as who I am for the first time ever. This meant a huge amount to me.

For many years after my MKP adventure I’ve continued my work in the Bath iGroup , and slowly, with the help of some wonderful brothers, I’ve continued to bring my past out of hiding and integrate it into me and my life.

I am now working on yet another level and am gradually realising just how much of my life I’ve lived “in emergency”, on high alert, ever-ready to protect those I love. Now I’m feeling very tired of this and I’m looking at how I can relax from my past. So I continue my work, trying to get the best fit possible. The journey continues…

Hugh N 

(iGroups are an ongoing men’s groups which support MKP initiated men after they have been through the Rites Of Passage weekend… they are set up by men who have been through the MKP weekend initiation and are found in every country where MKP offers the NWTA or New Warrior Training Adventure – Editor)

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