Thursday, July 29, 2010

Violence and Venting

          I can't afford to miss details, and it's three times harder to read French when it's about death.  I copy and paste the bulletin about the 16 people killed  on two buses coming to Lubero from Beni into Google to translate.  The translation is rough, but I get the picture:

          When the first bus arrives at the scene of the ambush, a military FaRDC (FRDC) out of the bush, pointed his weapon at the driver and forced him to stop.  The driver is aware of what is happening elsewhere.  He knows that if he stops, he will be killed and all passengers.  He decides to crush the military robber and his vehicle accelerates away from the crime scene.  He managed to save all the passengers of the ambush.  Soldiers waiting in the bush as their fellow bus stops so they engage in looting, are surprised to see that the bus is passed.  They have not yet met drivers who resist them.  While they take away the corpse of their comrade from the road, another vehicle brand FUSO arrives at the site.  It belongs to Mr. Mutemoin of Beni.  A military launched a rocket at the vehicle to stop 50 meters from the lifeless body of military robber.  A story of a killer shot.  Another soldier shot in the chest of the driver, who collapsed on the field.  Other soldiers firing pell mell over the passengers on board the vehicle.  Eleven passengers died on the spot, three other passengers die at Bulongo Health Centre (35 km east of Beni).  Another passenger died at the General Hospital of Beni, on the morning of Wednesday, July 28, 2010.  THis brings the number of civilian casualties to 15, including 9 women, 5 men and a baby.  The sixteenth casualty is the victim military robber smashed by the driver of the first vehicle fell into the ambush.
          The people who witnessed the event say it was the FRDC (also known as FaRDC).  The FRDC say officially that it was NALU soldiers dressed in FRDC uniforms.  There are pictures of the victims on the Beni-Lubero website, and I sit in the Secretariat in Mulo crying by myself.  Being here and seeing the photos makes them a lot more human, a lot more real.  They're not just images of death a million miles away that have weight only in a passing moment.  They're images of a 14 year old girl with braids in her hair who could have sold me peanuts yesterday and laughed at my Kinande.  They're images of an old woman who could have let me hold her bouncing baby grandson while she was buying fruit.  The girl of about 14 gets to me the most; the braids in her hair, the stripes on her t-shirt.
           The image of her little body on a concrete floor smeared with blood makes me panicky.  I want to call Obama and say DO SOMETHING!  You can do something!  It will only get worse before it gets better.  At one point the bulletin even references an idea this may become an attempt at exterminating the entire Nande people, which would mean everyone in this area.  It's the first time I've even heard that thought and it's most likely a bit dramatic, but here you never know.  And even if it's dramatic it shows the writer's fear and fear never leads to a happy ending.
           There was a Finnish girl from Finn Church Aide in Butembo working with Maman Marie and the team last week.  It was the day after a diamond merchant was murdered in Butembo.  People were burning tires in the streets and you could feel the general sense of excited fear.  We decided to leave the COPERMA office, in the heart of Butembo, to go to the secluded Hotel Kikyo where the Finnish Liisa was staying.  While getting ready to leave, Maman Marie calls everyone inside the gates and closes the door.
    -We have to stay inside for a while, she says.  They're using bullets.
             I don't hear any cracking but I follow her inside and sit in the little office listening to Liisa try to explain the importance of keeping records.  Before Maman Marie closes the gate and pulls us inside, I talk to Liisa outside for a bit in English.  I tell her about Dusan and his prediction about the month of August and the connection to the scheduled Rwandan elections.  The total number of people killed in this specific area, Butembo or on the way to, is now at 20 in two weeks.  It's not quite August.
    -I'm going to go on vacation the whole month of August, she says.  She's a little shorter than me, blond hair, wide hips and a slight over-bite.
    -Even in Goma it's getting pretty dangerous and I don't want to get stuck having to walk from Goma to Kampala, if the airlines stop flying, she says.
    -Yeah, that makes sense.  Dusan has notified the office that if there's need for an evacuation they're supposed to get me too.  But it's all so ridiculous.  You can feel this tension, and there's already so much horror here, yet nobody's going to do anything about it.
    -It's hard to pin down.  You can't really prove any of this stuff or who did it or why, so the international community can't do anything until something substantial happens.
    -That's what's so absurd.  And infuriating.  You can see it!  I can see it, everyone here can see it coming.  It's so stupid that they have to wait until another several thousand people are killed before they might start talking about doing something.  Not even doing something, just maybe talking about it.  All in the name of politics and who's right or wrong; saving face but killing people.
         I'm talking in generalizations, in a sense, and I know it.  But I'm also talking about what's real in this region, with these people and these soldiers.  I may not know much about what governments are trying to do, but I know there's nothing happening here.  I know kids are having babies because of soldiers, and dying too early because of them too.
          I read an article in Time Magazine about the UN in Congo written in 2008.  Garth Evans, the President of the International Crisis Group at the time said, "When you move to coercive peacekeeping, you're no longer neutral.  You cannot expect to be treated above and beyond the conflict.  You are part of it."
         I think, when you have a general group of people calling themselves soldiers (the distinctions don't matter at this point) who are raping teenagers and killing elderly women, why would you even want to be neutral?  The distinction between victim and extreme detriment to humanity seem pretty clear to me.  What he says is like watching someone rape your younger sister and saying, I'm going to stay neutral on this, I don't want to become part of the problem.
          I believe the saying goes, if you're not part of the solution you are part of the problem.  
          I think Dusan and the demobilizers accomplish things and they do them peacefully.  I wouldn't call it neutral, and definitely not peace-keeping, since there's no pre-existing peace to keep.  It's more like chaotic-violence-diminishment.  There's a raging fire and they're trying to dampen it where they can, without even using a fire extinguisher.  The rest of the UN, from what I've seen, seems like a lot of journalism without any articles.
          It's a complicated situation and the UN gets a lot of flak for not doing more.  At least they're trying.  What does the rest of the international community have to say for itself?  I love Obama as much as the next American, middle-class, white, liberal but I thought Clinton was decent too and he failed miserably with the genocide in Rwanda.  Miserably.  It seems like the international community must be able to see this train speeding down the tracks about to run into a massive group of people; they have the means to solw the train and yet, for some reason, politics say, wait until after they mow down those people.  Then we will have a valid reason to stop the train.  Although, by aiding the Rwandan government the U.S. government is fueling the war in Congo.  Same with Uganda.  It's all so complicated, it's exhausting to even think about.
          But it matters and that train has already mowed down 6 million people without an international government even batting an eye.  Thank you, Mrs. Clinton for that 17 million dollars.  That's a lovely sheet over the fact that you're not going to do anything.  Even if you do, it won't be until someone mails that sheet back to you soaked in blood.  What did Obama say in that speech?  The "fierce urgency of now?"
          After I can't take the photos or the bulletin anymore, I do almost nothing with my time.  I'm angry and sad, an unproductive combination for me.  I simply stomp around the Mulo compound regretting the fact that I'm not God.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Recently Displaced Persons

          The sewing machines in Magherya are a hit.  A couple days after making sure Christopher is safely settled at FEPSI I am able to join Maman Marie at the center in Magherya.  I ask if one of the men who work in the boys' school next to the monastery can drive me out for the first time, since I don't know the route or the security on the road.  The level of danger on the roads changes every ten meters and ten minutes because of les bandits, which pretty much always means soldiers, or police.
          When the chosen driver emerges from the compound of the boys' school he is a gladiator.  His body goes out in every direction but up.  His name is Setraka and he's soft-spoken and kind.  I know he has three kids, 2 girls and 1 boy.  I asked my friend Justin to find someone with a family, so the few dollars I give for the trip might go towards a school fee.  Everyone asks me if I can help them with their secondary school fees, which are between 45-60 dollars a school year.  When Setraka gets on the motorcycle the whole thing sinks, and the idea of shock-absorbers goes out the window. The entire hour and a half trip up the mountains to the center I worry about the motorcycle snapping or simply stopping on the road and refusing to continue.  The motor strains like an angry bee but we do, eventually, make it.
          I don't stay long.  The girls are already working with the two teachers Maman Marie had previously arranged.  When I walk in all the girls start chattering and laughing loudly.  They're working eagerly with the four shiny black machines, rotating between laughing at me and laughing at each other.  The teachers walk through silently, darting in and out of the girls' work like chickens pecking at the ground.  I take some pictures and bask in the glow of the smiling girls.  They are all absolutely beautiful. If they were in my high school they'd run the school.  Homecoming queen over here, captain of the soccer team over there, debate team M.V.P. in the middle.   One in particular, who looks particularly young is constantly smiling and laughing.  Her name is Kavira and she thinks it's hilarious when I say my name is Kavira too.  The teacher's are a bit frustrated that I'm distracting their students, but the girls keep working while they laugh about the photos I take of them.  I wish I could print them and leave a photo with each girl, they get so happy when they see themselves frozen in the tiny little box.
          I head back with Maman Marie in the car.  I've been on the motorcycle already for three hours and my back is not feeling so hot.  I also don't think I can handle another hour and a half acutely tuned to the sounds of the motorcycle creaking under Setraka's massive muscle of a body.

          The crisis in Isale is still a dilemma handed to Maman Marie and I know she doesn't know what to do with it.  I leave it in her hands and for the most part follow her lead; I don't know what to do about it either.  Over the past couple of days the situation has deflated somewhat and it becomes safe enough for us to bring a few sacks of food to the sick with the car.  It's even safe enough for me to come along.
          The morning that we plan to go to Isale Bamafay, Urbain and I head to the market to buy the various foods.  Bamafay gets the manioc roots that look like white stones.  The three of us stand and watch as the boys wearing masks and plastic bags on their heads grind the roots into light white powder.  For the first two months I was here I thought the chunks of manioc root were actually rocks.  I asked someone why so many women were selling rocks in the market and they laughed at me for about ten minutes before explaining.
          Fufu is made after the roots are ground down to powder then mixed with warm water and stirred ferociously.  The once rock-like roots become powder, then mush, then rock again when they sit in my stomach and refuse to leave.  After the rock show Urbain and I head off for the beans, then the porridge powder and finally the blankets.  When everything has been purchased the back of the car is packed.  We head back to the office for Maman Marie.
    -When we get close, hide your cell phone, she says as she pulls herself into the front seat.
    -Are you sure it's safe for me to go?
          She's been telling me yes, but always after a lot of hesitation.  I know she'd never actually let me go if it wasn't safe but she's not very good at giving a straight answer.
    -I called the village Chief this morning, he's waiting for us, she says in true form.
          As I look out the window and we pull away from the COPERMA office I have the distinct feeling that this would be the moment I look back on later and think, if only I had changed direction in that moment.  I have some images of possible scenarios and plan what I'll try to do if confronted with each.  In the end I let the images go, I do trust Maman Marie.
          The Nalu have left, but the FRDC are still in Isale.  We're essentially trying to sneak past them in order to bring the food.  They're like vampires, they hide in their canvas tents during the day only coming out at night to suck the blood of this country.  As long as we leave before night falls there should be no problems.
          After about thirty minutes we arrive at a wooden barrier.  It's a toll road even though we are in the middle of the bush.  They ask for $2 and Maman Marie argues feverishly.
    -We're bringing food to sick people.  You're really going to charge us to bring food to sick people?
          The man who guards the barrier is wearing police colors--blue and yellow--but it's not actually a police uniform, just a blue jumpsuit over a yellow t-shirt.  He's even wearing a yellow plastic whistle around his neck but the velvet, leopard print cowboy hat on his head is a bit of a give-away.  Urbain gets out of the car and starts arguing with the man.
    -What did he say?  I ask, when Urbain gets back in.
    -He said there are lots of military on the route and we'll have to pay there anyway, so we might as start by paying him now.  But, he agreed on $1 instead of 2.
          Maman Marie hands the bill through the window and the velvet cowboy lifts the wooden pole that stretches across the road.  As we drive, I search the woods and the fields for green uniforms or the glint of a weapon.  All I see are women hauling wood or potatoes, women hacking at the ground in their fields, women nursing babies in the shade while taking a break.  There are men around too, but they stick to the roads and use bicycles that look like they're made out of string to cart enormous loads from one village to the next.
    -That is where the soldiers are.
          Maman Marie is pointing out the left side of the car.  Not too far away, perched on a hill are three enormous canvas tents flapping in the wind.  Their looming presence, off on a distant hill, makes it feel like I'm looking at a haunted house.  The entire car is silent as we pass the canvas dormitories.    
          We arrive without seeing a single green uniform.  When we're in the village of Isale, we stop in a random place in the road in the midst of a few small huts.  I recognize the village Chief as he leaves the low entrance of one of the mud houses.  He's ecstatic to see us and I'm afraid he'll dislocate my shoulder when he shakes my arm.
    -Where are the people we're bringing food to? I ask.
          I look around and see only empty huts and a few women and children who are floating around the car.  Without a word the Chief sets off across the road and Maman Marie follows after.  We walk to a pathway that leads into the brush.  The dirt path goes downhill away from the road.  After a few moments the trees explode into people.  Sittin in the brush and around the trees there are humans everywhere;  women holding babies, men with dirty clothes, teenagers looking eagerly in my direction.  It's too surreal.
    -They stay here in the brush so the military can't see them from the road, says the Chief.
          Maman Marie picks up the reigns and starts talking to one of the men who is clinging to a tree.  There are three very old women sitting in a ring around him at the base of the tree.  Maman Marie, Urbain and I stand in front of the group like teachers giving a presentation to a class.  Every single person is looking at us. As Maman Marie speaks I ask her periodically what's being said.
    -They are asking what they should do.  They can't go back to their homes or their fields because the soldiers are still there.  The soldiers took all of the animals, and without the fields they have no way of finding food.
          She points to three men in the group of eleven malades who have been separated from the larger group.
    -The FRDC held these three men captive for four days.  One of them was raped, she says.  They beat the other ones up.  The FRDC thought they were Nalu soldiers.
          I look around Maman Marie's round form at the three scraggly men sitting on the ground.  They look, in a way, like wounded children.  All of them are wearing dirty, over-sized suits that make their skinny frames look almost non-existent.  I can't see how anyone would mistake these men for soldiers.
    -The Nalue are from Uganda so they speak only Swahili and Luganda.  These men speak Kinande and don't know Luganda, so after four days they let them go.
          The importance of language distinctions are not new.  The FRDC speak Lingala--the language of the Kinshasa region--Nalu soldiers speak Ugandan languages and Mai-Mai speak a range from Kinande to Kicongo.  But the Mai-Mai are often young boys and from what I've heard, much more unpredictable than the rest, if that's possible.  When we speak with survivors of sexual violence, we only have to ask what language were they speaking, to know which soldiers committed the crime.
    -The soldiers stole everything, every goat, every chicken, every cow, every bean.  Maman Marie translates as the Man Hugging the Tree continues his explanation.  The number of sick has increased to 19 but there are now two who are already dead.
          An elderly woman sitting in the back suddenly speaks out with force.  She has a cold, I can hear it in her sinuses, and a lot of anger in her voice.  She looks straight at us and doesn't look away once as she speaks, as if we are the culprits for her pain.  Maman Marie keeps translating.
    -If it doesn't stop, everyone, especially the children risk dying.  The kids will soon show malnutrition and then they will start to die.
          There are so many eyes looking at us.  The tone of Maman Marie's translation is escalating and I know she is feeling just as angry and frustrated as I am.  I imagine once again, the many typical photos I've seen in Time Magazine or the Washington Post; images of people throwing bags of food to outstretched hands.  These hands are outstretched but there is only one truck and three bags of food.
    -How many children are there under the age of seven?  I ask.  And how many women are currently nursing?
          Seven is an arbitrary number but it's where I've decided to draw the line between deserving of food and not yet.  Maman Marie poses the question to the crowd.  Everyone starts talking at once.
    -The majority of us, says the Man Hugging the Tree over the other voices.
          Urbain creeps up behind me.
    -I'm going to go divide the food while you keep talking to the people here, he whispers.
          Nobody else speaks French, but it feels appropriate anyway that he's whispering.  He leaves and after a few more minutes of talking Maman Marie tells me she is going to go and help him.  I start to move slightly in the same direction and the 50 or so children move a couple of steps with me.  I stop.  They stop.  I take another step and they do too.  A couple kids dart up the hill excitedly, sensing my direction, wanting to get to the car for a better view.
    -I think it's best if I stay here, I say as Maman Marie passes by.
          She looks at me a bit confused then looks at the children.  Their eyes are wide-open and glued to me.
    -Good idea, she says laughing.  Her whole body shakes with her laughter.  She trundles up the hill and I"m left to entertain the class on my own.  At first I just stand there and it's completely effective.  Not a child moves.  I look at them and they look at me.  It's a stand-off.  I start tapping my pen against my little notebook and moving my hips to the rhythm.  Everyone laughs.  At the realization that they're missing a muzungu performance, the kids who tried to head me off at the car flow quickly back through the trees and join the rest of the group once again.
          I ask an arbitrary question in French.  Not one of them speaks a word of French but one brave little toaster answers anyway.
    -No!  Shouts a girl of about eight years old smiling at me.
    -No? I ask.
    -Oui!  Several other kids join her.
          Every single child in the crowd is now shouting in unison and I can't help but end the game laughing.  They laugh with me.  I see Maman Marie on the path.  She yells down to me that they've finished distributing the food and we're going to the hospital now to visit three other sick people who are getting treatment.  I walk through the brush to the dirt path and every single kid moves with me.  Maman Marie and I walk back up the hill together; she looks back every now and then and laughs.
    -The kids love you!  She says.
    -I know, I say, laughing with her.
          We get back in the car and drive about five minutes to the hospital.  I'm confused about what we're doing.  The sick people change constantly, in terms of identity and location.  I stop asking questions and just follow Maman Marie.  I think my questions make her more confused too.  Everything is hearsay, it leaves the bush, goes to the hospital, somehow makes it to Butembo then back to the bush; thus, the information changes with every person we speak to.  It's like playing Telephone with war.
          In the hospital, the rooms are made out of thin wooden partitions and the door to each room is a blue patterned bed-sheet.  We're let past one of these bed-sheets to a room with three cots.  Two cots are empty, but in the cot all the way on the left is a man.  He has pulled his shirt up to show us the bruise on his side.  The hospital administrator, or at least someone who talks like he has some authority, starts speaking.
    -The soldiers came to this man's home and asked him for a chicken.  He didn't own a chicken so they beat him up and they broke his lowest rib on the right side.
          The man is still holding up his shirt to show his wound, but there's no Tatu-like pride in his face.  He didn't ask for this fight.
    -Was it the 4th battalion? Asks Maman Marie.
          I'm a bit surprised by her question, it seems a bit out of place.
    -No, it was the 6th.
    -Are the Nalu still here?
    -No, they're down in the valley.  In Graben.  Just FRDC are still here.  There are three units.
          The administrator looks at me.
    -That's three thousand soldiers.
    -What about the other sick people?  Maman Marie asks.
    -There were lots of girls who were raped.
    -Did you give them medication to prevent a pregnancy?  I ask.  I know the hospitals do this and almost every girl I've spoken to has wanted to take the morning after pill.  I find out later that FEPSI has distributed stock piles of the morning after pill to the hospitals in the war areas.  One of these days I'm worried I may actually lose control of my happiness and kiss Joelle, my FEPSI psychologist friend.
    -All of the ones who were able to come to the hospital took the pill, he says.
    -We need to have an information session in the rural villages to tell people how important it is to come to the hospital within 72 hours.  That way if they want to stop the pregnancy they can.  The problem is that they don't know about it and they don't know it must be taken within 72 hours.
          The problem, I think, is that these assholes are raping girls in the first place.
          Maman Marie finishes speaking to the man with the broken rib and the administrator leads us back into the diminishing sunshine.  We can't stay much longer or the soldiers will begin to flow out of those canvas tents like wasps leaving the hive.
    -There are two girls here right now who were raped, they would like to speak with you.  You can speak in that room.
          We walk into an expansive room with several wooden benches and a young girl sitting alone.  Her eyes glance up at us but drop immediately back to the ground and her expression doesn't change.  I don't have to ask if she's one of the survivors.  I've seen this sad expression too many times now.
          I've changed my mind a bit about rape separating someone from their soul.  The common distance in this girls face shows something else.  I think it take a person further, not from their soul, but from the knowledge of their self-worth.  It's already so hard to know how worthy you are, of love, life and joy; of all of the good things that could come to a person.  Everyone deserves those happy things, but it's a knowledge that's hard to hold on to.  Having something like rape throw you farther from that knowledge is one of the cruelest things I can imagine.  Not knowing how beautiful and needed you are as an individual is one of the most horrible things to feel.  Everyone has felt it.  In these faces it seems like they don't see it at all anymore.  It's across an ocean rather than a puddle or a lake.  It's a terrifying thought.
          I wish you could say to someone, you are worth everything beautiful in this world, and have them truly know it.  Every time I see a survivor with their eyes on the ground I want to say, you're incredible!  And beautiful throughout.  You deserve love and comfort and laughter and hope, just like the rest of us.  I can say it; I'll know it, but that doesn't mean that they will too.
          I sit down on one of the benches across from this young girl and let Maman Marie take charge.  The squat administrator man sits next to me and translates as Maman Marie and the girl speak in Kinande.
    -Her name is Marcela.  She says she doesn't know what the soldiers are doing here.  One of the soldiers found her in the field.  She was getting bananas to sell.  It was one sole military, he spoke Swahili.  She cried out but he forced her mouth closed so she couldn't warn the others, and he raped her.
          Swahili doesn't say much about who it was, since it's the only common language between most of the groups.  That and cruelty.  I'm not sure why it matters who it was, but we keep asking language anyway.  Marcela's eyes dart back and forth as if not knowing which spot on the floor to rest on.
    -She's afraid when she sees the soldiers.
    -You must try to forget this, says Maman Marie.
          Marcela responds, looking down at her feet now.
    -She says she'll never be able to forget it.
    -Please tell her it's necessary that she knows that this wasn't her fault, I cut into the conversation.  These were the actions of another person, she didn't do anything wrong.
          Maman Marie translates.  I wish I could speak Kinande.  I want to say so much more.  I ask if she minds if I take a picture of her.  If anything, it might cheer her up a little bit.  She looks up with interest and nods her head yes.  I take a couple pictures of her.  Her face doesn't change its sad expression and she still doesn't seem to know what to do with her eyes.  I smile as big as I can and point to my teeth.
    -Smile with your teeth!
          She laughs and smiles and she's beautiful.  I show her the pictures I just took and she laughs and smiles some more.  It ends quickly but it feels so good to hear it for the brief time it's there.  I sit back down still smiling to myself and feeling a lot lighter in the moment.

    -She's seventeen, says Urbain from my left, pulling my smile back down.
          I shake my head and start writing in my notebook again.  Maman Marie, Marcela and the Administrator resume their trio of talk.
    -She was raped last Thursday.  So it's been four days.  Today is the fourth day.
    -Did she take the medication to prevent a pregnancy?  I ask.
    -Yes, she did, he says.
          I feel so relieved.  In a lot of areas that are extremely Christian, the women aren't allowed to take the morning after pill; even when it's a fourteen year old girl who was raped.  I had an argument with Frere Ange about this.
          He tells me it's taking a life, it's murder.  I say it's just two cells and a fourteen year old girl's sanity, health and future are more important than those stupid cells.  He fights avidly.  I scratch him and say, "there I'm a murderer.  I just killed your cells."
          I explain to him that I think the two biggest things holding the Congo back--outside of the war--are the road conditions and Christianity.  Christianity, especially in a country like Congo, doesn't know how to move.  It sits there like a fat, wealthy man and everyone who's attached has to sit there too.  The conversation ends in an amicable agreement to disagree but at one point we are yelling our positions at each other in the middle of the courtyard while several younger Brothers pretend to peel potatoes.
          Another woman walks into the hospital room.  She has the same distant look of not knowing anymore if she's worth a dime.  You are, I think to myself.  She sits down timidly on the bench next to me.  Maman Marie shifts her focus and starts softly speaking with this woman.  This woman looks a bit older than Marcela, and I find out she is 28 years old.  Her name is Devote, she is six months pregnant and was also raped four days ago.
    -She was on her way to get water when she was caught on the side of the road.  She fought back and cried out but it didn't help.  They spoke Lingala and Swahili--FRDC.  She can't take medication for anything, even possible HIV because of the pregnancy.
          The Administrator lists off the facts as she says them.  The word they cuts through the air like a high-pitched bell.  They raped a woman in her sixth month of pregnancy.  I'm looking down at her hands fidgeting in her lap.  I notice them start to quiver and when I look up I see the tears trying to force their way out of her eyes, but she's not letting them.
          I'm aching to tell her she's the same wonderful person she was before; this doesn't change your worth in this world!  I don't know how to.  I don't.
    -They have the same parents, I hear the Administrator say on my right.  Devote is Marcela's older sister.  Marcela is the youngest in the family.
          I can't think well.  I'm drowned by the desire to provide these girls with every comfort the world has to offer, the best psychologists, the tightest security.  The things I have.
    -Their question is where should they go?  Even during the day the military are there.
          Maman Marie explains that she will find a place for them to stay.  There are still four women in the bush who have not had medical treatment after their rape.  She says that we will send a car to bring them to Butembo on Saturday where they can get medical treatment and have a basic session with Joelle.  It feels horrible leaving them in that empty room, with the canvas tents on the hill.  It's dangerously close to dark and we absolutely have to leave.  Urbain brings in the last bags of food and the last blankets.  We've diminished the food in order to help more people, so I give them each $4, just because I have to do something; and I know that giving them $10 each would put them both in even more danger.  The girls light up and the day feels worthwhile.
          On the way home a new barrier has sprouted out of the ground.  On the right side of the road are about eight soldiers sitting and laughing with each other on a few wooden benches.  There's not a villager in sight.  One of the military, in a dark green uniform with red cloth on the shoulders, walks down to the car.  Just before he reaches my window, without thinking I shove my backpack under my jacket.  Maman Marie shakes his hand through the window and greets him as if she's greeting a long lost friend.  I know she's vibrating with hatred.  He looks in the car.  He sees my skin and walks to my window.  I greet him with as much enthusiasm as Maman Marie.
          The first time a soldier spoke directly to me I was in Butembo.  He told me he had a turtle and thought a white person like me might want to buy it.  I didn't even look at him; I couldn't.  I was seething and it took everything I had just to tell him "no thank you, I don't need a turtle."
           After he left and I drove off I thought about how much I despised him.  I also thought about how stupid I was.  If I made him angry or made him feel insecure, he could seriously hurt me or kill me without a thought.  More likely, if he couldn't hurt me, he'd take out his childishly bruised ego on someone else.  Simply by not smiling at him I could ruin a woman's life.  One night while coming back from the UN office in Lubero, I angrily explained this to Dusan.
   -It is like train going fast, he said.  If you stand in front of train, it will squish you, no problem.  You must find other way to slow train so you can stop those people on the train from being killed.  If you stand in front, you will simply become part of collateral damage.
          That man is crazy, but I love him for it.
          In Isale I don't care about smiling at this terd of a human.  The militaire keeps moving after shaking my hand.  He walks around the whole car looking in the windows.  When he asks the driver for two dollars, not even Maman Marie argues.  She hands it over with a smile that I know is killing her.  I'm nervous, but I also don't have an image of these soldiers, aside from rape in a field, so I'm curious about what he looks like, how he moves.  He's human like anyone else; that's the most unsettling thing about it.  The man lifts the barrier and as we pass through the other soldiers look in our direction.  I hide my skin as quickly as I can.  We're through and they're still sitting on the bench.
    -What was he looking for?  I ask.
    -They're thieves.  He was seeing if we had anything worth stealing.
    -Good thing we already gave everything away!
          The whole car laughs and says thank you to no one in particular.  During the drive I think about the many different faces I saw sitting in a group of humanity in the bush.  We were able to help 17 people rather than the original 11, but not sustainably.  I'm happy that Marcela and the others will be coming to Butembo on Saturday.  But now the question remaining is, what do we do with the other faces?  How do we do it?  And how long will it last?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Just one from Isale

    When Urbain pulls up to the uneven road outside of FEPSI there is a short, silent boy behind him.  The boy has the same distance behind his eyes that I've seen in all the women who have been victims of this ridiculous 'weapon of war.'  I hate soldiers.  The Chief of the village is on the back of the motorcycle with his arms wrapped around the boy, holding him on.  The Chief gets off first, and then the boy leans forward slowly and starts to remove himself carefully from the motorcycle.  It's obvious he's in pain and it takes him several moments to carefully get his leg over the seat of the bike.  I walk up and nod silently to Urbain, before leading them through the welcoming gates of FEPSI.
          The boy looks even younger than 20.  He has tiny snails of hair sprouting out in clumps from his chin and above his lips.  He doesn't smile as he walks into the courtyard and keeps his eyes on the ground in front of him.  His pants are filthy with dirt that's accumulated over several days and is meshed into the jean threading, turning the blue pants a light shade of brown.  I lead the trio in through the red gates I'm coming to love and immediately into the reception office.  Someone swings a chair around for the boy and he sits down slowly.
          Urbain talks to the nurses and the receptionist.  I wait outside of the room and pretentiously shoo people away when they come to pay their bills or look for a friend.  After what he's already been through, I can't imagine anything worse than having unfamiliar people standing in that room listening to his timid story.  The boy's name is Christopher and pieces of what he has experienced come forward during the shuffle of reception.  It's sad, but no longer unfamiliar.
    -They captured him when he was working in the field.  The soldiers robbed him of everything he had and then raped him.
          People tell me things I have no right to hear.  I have no judgment in my body, but there's no way for me to tell him that.  When people start to tell me the personal details I ask them to stop.  I know enough to know there's a lot to be done.  I'm motivated.  The rest is his.  If one day, he wants to tell me himself, I'm all ears. 
          Urbain and I wait downstairs while Christopher is ushered upstairs to speak with Joelle.  I've already greeted Joelle with the typical absurd amount of enthusiasm.  He is somehow, one of the happiest people I know.
          People walk by in a blur, Urbain paces out of the compound and then back in.  I do the same.  We're waiting for nothing, really.  Christopher will spend the night here and there's not much more we can do, other than pace around and want to be helpful.  I remember, happy for something to do, that Christopher has to eat.
    -Does he have a guardian?  I ask Urbain.
          Guardian means someone who will sleep in the vicinity of a sick person and alert the doctors if something goes wrong.  They also find food and cook for the person, who is normally a family member or friend.
    -No, says Urbain.  But Maman Marie's oldest daughter, Consolee is going to help.
    -We should probably bring her here soon since it's getting dark.
          Urbain agrees and leaves on the motorcycle to get her.  When she arrives she is a stunning, younger, thinner version of Maman Marie.  She shows up and asks about the boy, asks what she should prepare for him and asks how she'll be able to buy the food.  I give her the money.  She's sixteen.  I extend my hand to give some paper, but this sixteen year old beauty queen is more than ready to stick around with a boy she doesn't know and make meals for him for an unknown amount of days.  Again, I'm in awe.  When I was sixteen I was sneaking out of the house after midnight and getting annoyed with my parents for making me sit at the dinner table until I was "excused."
          Consolee leaves with Urbain who wants to give her more instructions and a message from her Mom.  I sit in the busy compound by myself.  After a few minutes I see Christopher leave another room.  The nurse leading him is carrying clean bed sheets.  Christopher has already spoken to Joelle, hopefully heard some encouraging words to redirect the negativity I'm sure is swirling around in his head.  As Christopher walks by me he looks at me briefly, nods his head and smiles.
          The tiny movements make me feel lighter than I have in days.  I sigh as if a cow sitting on my chest just got off.  It's just one boy, I did almost nothing, the people who work for COPERMA did everything.  Yet, I was able to watch this young man come from a place of certain terror to a place of clean sheets, a soft bed and a group of people who don't know him but care anyway.
          Urbain comes back into the compound.
    -I just saw Christopher, he's getting settled in.
          I can't help but smile.  Urbain smirks at me.
    -Consolee went to buy the ingredients to make him dinner.  He'll be able to eat in about an hour and then she'll stay the night here in case he needs anything.
          There is so much evil in this country and yet so much unbridled kindness.  Presidents don't hold a candle to these people.
    -Well, it's getting dark and we both know I need to leave.  I smirk back at Urbain.  I'm not sure why he or I are smirking rather than just smiling but it feels fun anyway.
          He walks me outside to my bike.  Suddenly Joelle is by my side.  He's seen me heading towards the exit.  I forgot to say good bye.
    -You're leaving now?
    -Yes, unless there's something you need me to do.  I think he's getting settled well.  Do you think he'll be okay?
    -It's not the first time, Joelle says in his soft way.  It's not the first time.
          We both look at the ground and not each other for a moment.
    -Do you think he'll be okay?

    -Yeah, he says.  He'll be okay.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Confrontation in Isale

          There's a military confrontation in Isale, about 25 km from Butembo, which is one hour by car.  If there were paved roads it would mean only about 20 minutes.  Somehow, everyone knows about it the day that it begins.  The FRDC--Congolese 'governmental' forces--are fighting the Nalu--Ugandan rebel forces.  Nobody knows why they're fighting, or whose side the Nalu are on, but with so many different military groups switching allies with enemies, it's difficult to know what the sides are anymore.   One would assume that the FRDC, being 'governmental' forces would be on the side of the Congolese people, yet Maman Marie and I receive word that in Isale the FRDC have pillaged several villages around Isale, raping at least 3 women and at least one man.  The only consistent enemy in this war are the regular people, children especially.  They're easier to catch.
          I'm in the office after buying four sewing machines and a months' worth of start-up materials for the girl-mother camp in Magherya.  It wasn't possible to buy the machines the last time I came as a result of the two students who were murdered by the police.  The original plan was for me to travel with Maman Marie to Magherya to install the sewing machines, immediately after buying them.  Now, Maman Marie has a greasy letter and a hand-written list in front of her with 4 pages of recently displaced persons and the number of children in each family.  Both arrived while we were out buying the machines.

          We want to inform you of the problem we have here.  The military are making us suffer greatly.  They are stealing our cows, goats, chickens, everything they can find.  What should we do?  The children are getting sick because of the famine and people are already dying.  We sleep in the forest to hide from the soldiers.  Maman COPERMA, help us please.  We have hope in you because you can counsel us in what we should do.  We had 3 sick girls, but one is dead.  What should we do for the two girls who are still alive?  Since the fighting began we have received many refugees and now we have received many more.  They come from the villages Mwalika, Kivuma and Kitendo.  Now, Maman, what should we do for the sick?  Can you come here to see that their health is not good?  You will see it yourself, and maybe you can help us know what to do.

          The tone reminds me of the book by Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.  It's subject matter that should have so much emotion and yet is written with the formal respect of a business letter.
          I take the 1980s style calculator and start tallying up the number of children to get an idea of how many people are now displaced because of this particular confrontation.  Most families have at least 10 children.  Everyone here with no international exposure has the idea that children are an investment in wealth.  People stop listening to me when I ask how they're going to pay for 12 children to eat let alone finish secondary school, when they make 25-35 dollars a month, if that.  The massive families are like someone blowing on coals of poverty, but everyone tells me that somewhere down the line those 12 children will somehow make them rich.
    -1,149 people, I say.  Mostly children.
          That's 1,149 people who have had to flee their homes and are now living in the forest and relying on a neighbor's kindness for any morsel of food, down to the speck of porridge powder.  Every single family in the villages struggles to feed their children.  Suddenly having 3 more families with 8-10 children each, all needing food equals death for at least a few children, more depending on how long the conflict lasts.  Everyone in the COPERMA office knows it.
    -The Chief of the Village also sent a list of les malades.
          Maman Marie hands me another sheet of paper with eleven names scrawled across it.
    -The four on the bottom are rape victims, Maman Marie points to four names sectioned off at the bottom of the page.  There were 3 girls raped who are in hiding, but one of the girls is already dead.  One is a man, and he has been hiding in the bush for two days now because the soldiers look for him.  He is much sicker than the others.  He was raped on two levels, she adds.
          She points to her mouth and then in the direction of the chair she's sitting on.  I put my head in my hands.  I'm not sure what you're supposed to do in a situation like this.  Where is the Non-Profit Organization that's supposed to magically appear with large trucks and sacks filled with food?  I thought they sprouted out of the seed of famine like a flower and magically rained pollen on the people.  No flowers here.  There is no way I can provide even one meal for 1,149 people.
    -If we buy 50 kg of rice powder, 100 kg of porridge powder and 100 kg of manioc, we can feed the 11 sick people, she says, still working on the calculator.
    -For how long?  And how much would that cost?  I ask.
    -Would it be better if we buy beans?  They're less expensive than rice, interjects Urbain.  Urbain is one of the young men who works for Maman Marie, part of her 'team.'  Urbain has an attitude and I love that he uses it with me.  He doesn't tip-toe around me and shoves it in my face when I'm wrong or thirty minutes late; it's refreshing.  He's a normal sized man, relatively handsome with a face that always has an underlining of mischief to it.
    -Beans also have a lot more nutrition than rice, I say.
          It sounds silly when I say it, but when you're talking about 4 year olds and sick people lasting as long as they can on a tiny amount of food, it wouldn't make sense to bring the equivalent of rice, potatoes and bread.  We work with the kilograms and prices, trying to figure out the most nutritious and efficient combination of food we can bring.  We decide on 100 kg of fufu powder, 100 kg of beans and 100 kg of porridge powder for the mornings, which will cost approximately $250.  It feels like a waste.  What's one week of food for 11 people out of 1,149?  What's one week at all?  I think of my friend MJ, who called it "spitting into the wind."  Maman Marie hasn't come out and said it but I can tell by her flickering glances and the lack of money in her purse that all of this funding will be coming from me.  I feel completely frustrated.  I could throw my entire life-savings at this respectively small group of people and not make a dent.  My Godmother just sent me an e-mail indicating $300 waiting kindly for me in Western Union; I'm going to use it up in less than a day.
           I'm suddenly infuriated with UNICEF and Save the Children Foundation.  I've only seen those 'organizations' drive around knocking people off the road in their white vans with meaningless logos on the side.  Maybe they mean something somewhere else, but here those logos are just doodles on a car.  Handicap International, a French based organization, has two offices in Lubero.  Both offices simply house people who 'work' there.  When I went to speak with a French woman who was visiting to survey the situation for handicap people she confirmed, 'there's absolutely nothing here.'  I could have told her that and saved her the flight.  I refrained from asking what the purpose was of even having the two offices and several wandering vans.  Not to mention, Kahambu lay on her cot for three weeks after the rape, directly next door to one of the Handicap offices.  I also refrain from mentioning this to the transient, wild-haired administrator.
    -What about the survivors of sexual violence in the bush?  I ask, pulling myself back into the office.  I think it's a priority to get them out so they can be safe and get medical treatment before we do anything else.   
     -The man is the sickest, and the most targeted says Marie.
    -We can only transport one person at a time on a motorcycle, is it safe to go in and get them with the car?
    -Not with a car, and definitely not with you, says Urbain.  He throws me one of his twinkling smirks.
    -If the military see a car they'll think we have money and will definitely rob us, maybe kill us.  If they see you, we're done for.
    -Okay, I say.  I don't need convincing.  Why don't you take my motorcycle right now and go get him?  I look to Maman Marie for confirmation and she nods in agreement.
    -I think that's best, says Urbain.  It will be necessary for the village Chief to come back with us, to hold the man on the bike.
          He stands up and starts patting his pockets making sure he has all of his necessary things.  I hand him my helmet, my key, my raincoat and $7 for gas.
    -I'll wait for you here, I say.  I'll go to FEPSI now to make sure they have a place and are ready to receive him.  I know one of the psychologists and he's extremely helpful, so I'm pretty sure we can get the man in.  Do you know how old he is?
    -He's twenty.
          That's not a man, that's a boy.
    -It's terrible, Maman Marie mutters and laughs softly.  I laugh with her.  Our laughter is not because the situation is funny, but simply because of the insane absurdity of it.  It's recognition of mutual understanding, confusion and disgust, with a pinch of sadness and fear mixed in.
    I laugh loudly when women ask me to give them the dress I'm wearing, not because it's funny, because it's so frustratingly ridiculous.  I understand how poor you are, I always want to say, but don't you think it would be just a little bit weird for me to walk around in just my blindingly white skin?
    -Terrible, Maman Marie repeats.  Her voice is shaking as it always does, but recently it's started to make me uncomfortable.  I'm constantly worried she's going to fall off her chair or collapse on the floor in a sobbing heap.
    -Yeah, I agree again.  Okay.  I'll go tell FEPSI.  Send me a text message when you're on your way back to Butembo so I can meet you there, I say to Urbain.
          He has the large helmet in place and nods with it shaking loosely on his head before turning and leaving the room.
    -I'll bring the machines to Magherya now, and you can come out later in the week with a report on how the boy is doing, says Maman Marie.  I told them we'd be bringing the machines today and I want the girls to be able to start learning tomorrow.
    -I'll send you a text message when he gets here and let you know his condition.
          I get up, we shake hands and I head out the door to FEPSI.  I'm starting to feel a bit like the team and it feels great.  Outside, the dust is overwhelming, especially now that we're in the dry-season.  It still rains, this is the tropical equator after all, but when we don't have moisture for a couple days the dirt on the road is suffocating.  Every night my eyes burn from the malicious little grains.  FEPSI is only a few blocks away.  In Butembo, people still call out muzungu but they typically don't approach me and ask me for my shoes or my dress like they do in Lubero.  I greet as many people as I can and keep walking.
          Joelle, my psychologist friend at FEPSI who I met through Pere Charles when he was here, is in the office when I arrive at the open red gates.  The courtyard is filled with people and I worry that it's because of the affrontement.  They're not going to have any space.  I'm led into Joelle's office on the second floor, past a long line of people waiting to get in.
    -Lots of people here!  I say after shaking hands with him and the three nurses crowded into the room.
    -We're doing free HIV-testing.
          It's the first time I've heard or seen any positive initiative of the sort since I arrived.
    -I was worried they were here because of the military confrontation in Isale.
          The crinkles around his eyes disappear.
    -No, we haven't been able to access anyone in Isale or around.
    -Someone from COPERMA just went on motorcycle to retrieve a boy who was raped several days ago and has been hiding in the bush.  I know you don't have much space, but would it be possible for you to treat him?  Temporarily?
          The suspense doesn't even have a second to build.
    -Of course, he says.  Anytime you have someone who has been a victim of sexual violence, we will treat them here.  If it has to do with rape, they can always come here.  And it's better than the hospitals, because we'll treat them for free.
          Not for the first time I want to dive across the desk and kiss him.  He's married with a kid so I stay in my seat.
    -Thank you so much, I say forcefully.  He should be arriving in the next two hours.  I'll come back when he's close.
          I start to get up to leave.
    -I received your message, Joelle says quietly.  About the woman from Lubero.
          I sit back down slowly.
    -Yeah, sorry I sent you the news in a message, but I was in Mulo so I couldn't come in person.
          I could have called you to tell you more appropriately that Kahambu had died, but I didn't have the courage to explain through crackly service and crackly French.  I chickened out and sent you a pathetic little text message instead.
    -That's too bad, he says.
    -Yeah.  But it's better for her.  She was suffering a lot.  It's not right that it had to be that way, but it was, and now she's better off.  C'est ca.
          I've mirrored Immaculee's words so many times here, I'm beginning to despise them.  
    -Yes, I agree, he says with his eyes on the floor.
          After a moment I reach out to shake his hand.  His face lights back up with more enthusiasm than my college friends at a jam-band concert, which is saying something.
    -Well, we'll be here waiting!
          I leave the office and head to the market in the gritty sunshine.  I need to buy a radio so I can hear Radio Okapi which sends news to North Kivu saying where the affrontements are, who's participating and who is caught in the cross-fire.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010


          They're digging the hole for Pere Erasme's body right now.  The hole is about 100 meters away from the house, and if he had been in Belgium or Nairobi--anywhere but here--there'd be no need for a hole in the first place.  The funeral starts in 25 minutes.
          Erasme was in and out of the hospital for a few months with a liver problem.  The Doctor said that someone poisoned him.  I'm not sure why anyone would want to poison someone, let alone a Priest who runs a center for orphaned children in Kinshasa.  Yesterday, Pere Benjamin came from Mulo to visit his friend.
    -How is he progressing?  I ask when he returns.
    -He's not, he says with a look that makes me want to jump out of my skin to hug him.
    -He's pretty sick.  I think he's going to die.
          That doesn't seem possible to me, so easily like that.  I think he must be exaggerating.
    -I don't understand, why don't they send him to Belgium?  Or anywhere but here?
          When Kahambu was in the Intensive Care Unit in the hospital in Kitatumba the only difference between Intensive care and the other rooms with metal cots was the sign above the door that said Soins Intensif.  It's hard to imagine that Erasme has anything more than an IV and some antibiotics.
    -He's too sick to travel at this point.
    -He'll get better, I say.  Don't worry.
          Pere Benjamin leaves with a crestfallen look on his face and a truck full of young Crosiers.  Within the hour one of the cooks knocks on my door to tell me definitively that Pere Erasme is dead.  No questions asked, no leeway to argue.  The following few hours are an influx of Crosiers and friends, all with heavy faces and a lot to do.  The funeral must be held tomorrow so the body does not begin to decay.  A coffin must be found, enough food for about 200 people must be prepared and somebody has to track down the Archbishop and let him know that a vessel of the Church has joined his God.
          I stay at the house, as out of the way as possible.  I don't know the traditions well, I didn't know the Priest at all and I'm not even sure if it's okay to hug Frere Maurice when he stands in front of me on the brink of tears and tells me not to be afraid.  What do you say after I'm sorry?  I don't say anything.  I bow my head to the empty space and walk away.
          In the morning, the Church is filled.  All of the Priests from the surrounding areas have come and someone was able to bring in the Archbishop.  There are at least 40 of them.  The solidarity of their mourning moves me first.  They are a beautiful sight, filing into the Church, lining the walls with white robes and purple sashes with the voices of the choir filling the spaces in between.  The purple sash Erasme would be wearing hangs on a wreath above the coffin.
          This is the third funeral I've been to in my life, and my second in Congo.  That's not including my personal good bye to Kahambu; her family was too poor to arrange a funeral in a Church, and I felt it best to stay away from the procession they had in the village.  That's not including the two students in Butembo, the several people killed in cross-fire just outside of Butembo a few days ago, the girls on the edges of that cross-fire who were killed for a soldier's brief sexual release.  There is too much death in this country.  It's not supposed to be this normal.  It's not supposed to be standing this close all the time.
          The funeral itself takes 3 hours.  I wonder about the necessity of so much fuss as the Archbishop goes through the extensive motions of release around the body for the soul.  What's the point, when nothing can be done to change things once someone has already died?  The smiling face of Erasme in the photo behind the coffin answers my question: because I matter.  Because a human life is devastatingly important.
          His face in the photo is round and smiling only slightly, as if he was told to keep a straight face and was fighting off laughter.  When the Archbishop finishes his sermon and the many rituals of acknowledgment, respect and release, a young girl goes up to the podium.  Her voice trembles as she speaks in Swahili but she doesn't cry.  A woman three rows in front of me starts sobbing quietly.  I understand the words, "my brother and my friend."  And finally, "you are sleeping."
          The young Crosiers crowd around the coffin and carry it out of the Church.  Everyone leaves through the various doors to watch the coffin drive by in a Crosier truck, and the follow the truck towards the hole that should have never been dug in the first place.  There is silence, whimpering and full on grieving in the crowd.  It's impossible not to cry when so many people are hurting.  As we walk down the road, a thick stream of humanity, the people going about their business on the sides stop and watch our singing stream flow by.  Even the reckless camion trucks that are normally like large angry women forcing their way through a crowd wait silently on the side of the road.
          We arrive at the hole in the ground, where his family weeps as the choir sings and the young Crosiers lower his coffin into the ground.  I stay on the fringes of the crowd.  Beyond his humanity he isn't my loved one to weep for.  I haven't earned that right by giving him pieces of myself, knowing he'll take them with him when he goes.
          The Crosiers are all wearing scarlet bandannas tied around their necks; scarlet is the color of death in Congo.  When they begin covering the coffin, death rings out its finality in the sound of dirt landing heavily on wood.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tatu vs. The Thorazine

          I have to go back to CEPIMA--the mental health center where Kahambu was transferred after FEPSI--to pay la facture, even though her condition only got worse there and god only knows what other things might have happened to her.
          This time, when I'm there I am able to look around and notice the other people wandering through the omnipresent dirt.  Before, I was always moving quickly, with Kahambu in my head and the worry I had for her blinding my peripheral vision.  Now I can look into the faces of the other patients and see a different kind of hot pepper.
          When I step in through the brown metal gate once again, a young psychologist shows me into a different closet sized room where a nurse in a white coat is counting pill bottles and writing numbers on a tablet of paper.  Next to her on a small wooden bench sits an overweight girl with a purple dress on and eyes that cross in the middle.  Her eyes cross each other but there is no focus in either.  I immediately recognize the stupor as a brain fried on psychotropics; the zombie gaze is horrifying.
    -What medication is she taking and how much?  I've asked this question before and have yet to receive a definitive response.
    -Beaucoup des medicaments.
    -But how much and what kind?
    -I don't know.  Several types and a lot of each type.
    -It's way too much, why are you giving her that much medication?
          I'm not a psychiatrist or a Doctor, but it's clear her brain is exploding in some type neurotransmitter overload.  The nurse shrugs her shoulders.
    -She has a psychological illness, she says and continues with her work.
          I watch the girl's blank stare for a few minutes, not knowing what to do with the lack of humanity in her face.  Another short and stubby girl meanders in with the same greasy face and blank expression.  She tries to say something but the weight of the medication makes it difficult for her to even open her mouth, let alone form a complete sentence.  She has excess saliva poised on the edges of her mouth and it only accumulates as she moves her lips.  When she finally succeeds, the words she says don't make any sense.  The first woman is still sitting silently, staring off in two different directions.
          They remind me of the pictures and films I watched in various psychology classes of the mental institutions and practices in the States before patients were treated as humans.  The wandering zombies from those outdated Psych films look just like these patients.  I've fallen into 1938 and horrifying doesn't quite capture it.  It's unsettling in a way that's difficult to pin down.
          Psychology seems to be a new fad in Eastern D.R. Congo, yet not one person has given me an actual diagnosis when I've inquired about what illness a patient is suffering from.  The responses are confined to maladie psycologique, traumatizée and simply fou--crazy.  It makes me want to start shovelling all of the white pill bottles into my bag and burn them; anything to put a little human back into these faces.  Outside a young boy who greeted me enthusiastically when I came in is singing loudly in a hoarse, monotone voice that I'm sure he has been using in this manner all day.  The girl who seems to have forgotten how to swallow wanders out slowly without changing her expression.  The nurse tells me that the cross-eyed girl still remaining is named Marie.
    -Hello, good day to you, my name is Tatu, and you are?
          Another young woman, about my age comes in.  She has the unfocused look of the other patients but her English is hsarp and she says the words with attitude.
    -Amy, like Emai.
    -Like Emai?  My sister's name is Emai, she switches into French.  My sister lives in Beni.
          Tatu stops quickly and glares at me as if deciding whether or not she wants to give me the privilege of speaking with her.  She has a thin frame and a beautiful, wide face and 5 inch long hair shooting off of her head in random directions making her look like a fourth of July fireworks display.  I'm quite certain she is Rwandan; Rwandans--according to some--are the most beautiful women in Africa.  Tatu is very beautiful and looks a lot like Sonya, my prostitue friend in Beni who I remember vividly for grabbing my boob.
          Tatu comes to a decision.
    -I'm sick, she says shoving Marie down the bench with her hips.  Marie moves as if someone else is sliding her down the bench with a remote control.
    -I have a psychological problem.  Here, read my report.
          She hands me two pages written in completely illegible French.
    -I'm sick all the time.  These people are supposed to help me, she nods slowly in the direction of the nurse, but I don't see anything happening.
          The nurse next to me chuckles and continues working.
    -Ca me fait mal, Tatu continues.  It hurts to be sick all the time.  It hurts my heart.
          The nurse nods in agreement but doesn't take her eyes from her writing.
    -Look at my wounds.  Tatu lifts her shirt sleeve proudly to reveal a large wound that's only partially healed.  The scab is so thick it's pitch black.  She shows me more healing wounds on her feet and arms.
    -What are they from?  I ask, expecting the usual of soldiers or a motorcycle.
    -She gets in fights with people in the city, the nurse cuts in.  She's always fighting people.
          Tatu is still brandishing her wound proudly.  I laugh.  If things were a little bit different I think she and I would be great friends.  I like her spirit.  It's battling the medication and winning beautifully.
          She gets up suddenly and takes a fighting stance just outside of the little closet room.
    -Come on, fight me.
          I lean backwards, afraid she'll throw a punch without my consent for a fight.
    -No, thank you.  You'll win.  I'm afraid to fight you because you'll win.
          I inflate her ego to appease her, and speak completely honestly at the same time.  She would kick my ass.  She's content with my admission of her supiriority, shrugs her shoulders and re-enters the closet.
    -I have two....She says in English but trails off searching for the next word.  She grabs her sagging left breast suddenly and shakes it at me.
    -Children, I fill in, laughing along with the nurse.  Tatu's English is surprisingly better than almost any I've heard from a local Congolese person, though I highly doubt she finished secondary school.
          Another young woman comes to the door, carrying a basin filled with empty plastic pitchers.  She doesn't have the glossy haze in her face so I know she's an employee not a patient.
    -Greet her, Tatu exclaims with sharp lucidity and an eager smile.
    -Wahay, I say more as a reflex than anything else.
          Suddenly, Tatu leans over and picks up a yellow plastic thermos from the bin the woman was carrying.  She leans forward mechanically and hands it to me with all presence of self now gone from her face.  Her eyes look through me.  Her spirit can't always win against medicine like Thorazine, which is one of the most zombie-efficient psychotropics.  The battle inside of her is turning her soul in to a light-switch.  I take the empty thermos and place it on the table next to me, thanking her profusely, trying to pull her personality out once more.
          Her eyes drop down to an envelope she's been holding and she begins pulling torn advertisments out with the motions of a disenchanted robot.
    -Olive, she says.
          She hands me an advertisement with Olive written in cursive next to a near-naked woman.  It's a piece of a cardboard box of soap.  One of the other nurses ocmes in with my change from la facture.  I thank her and get ready to leave, but Tatu resurfaces.
    -You know, my husband lives close to here.  Right around there.
          She motions vaguely with her hand.  Her eyes are slightly sharper again; Tatu: 2, Thorazine: 1.
    -His name is Krishnu.  Do you know him?  Do you know Krishnu?
    -No, I don't know Krishnu, sorry.  He lives near here?  Do you see him sometimes?
    -See who?
          She's losing.
    -Krishnu.  Your husband.  Yes?  He lives near her?
          Her face goes dark.  She doesn't respond but glares at me.  I must have mispronounced something.
    -Krishnu is your husband, yes?  He lives near here?
          I try to slowly retrace our route and re-establish her connection with sense.  She got lost in the tunnel and I need to show her the way back.  Her face gets even darker and she crosses her arms across her chest.
    -My husband's name is Roger, she says.
          This is going nowhere.  I don't know how to stop her anger when it doesn't link with the thoughts behind it.
    -You just said your husband's name was Krishnu, and now his name is Roger?  What are you talking about?
          Marie's body doesn't move when she speaks, nor do her criss-crossed eyes.  But she speaks the words with perfect clarity.  I almost fall off of my chair.  She has clearly been following the entire conversation, even the moments when Tatu disappeared.
    -You--I start to ask her if she speaks, but obviously she does.  She continues staring at two different spots on the wall.
    -Yeah, says Tatu.  Kri-sh-nuuuuu.  He lives around the corner.  See him all the time.
          And she's back.  I wonder if Krishnu exists, or is simply a part of the Tatu that needed medication in the first place.  The boy outside is still croaking out his toad song.
    -I have a husband named Jean-Louis, says Tatu.
          Now I'm wondering if her freedom from CEPIMA plus her illness equal prostitution.  It wouldn't be abnormal.
    -First his name is Krishnu, then Roger, now Jean-Louis.  Make a decision, you're crazier than me.
          Again, I'm not expecting Marie's mental presence and my mouth physically falls open.  The Marie inside of her is battling too;  the Marie that wins is just a bit more shy than Tatu.  I notice that it's getting slowly darker so I have to leave immediately.
    The past Thursday and Friday a student was assassinated by the police, one each night.  They were stopped on their way home and asked for money.  When they weren't able to procure the few dollars, each was shot in the head and left in the road for someone to find the next day.  The other University students have been 'revolting' for two days--but only during the day--putting up barricades in the road and demanding money in a frightening mob mentality sort of way.  The students are demanding money so they can buy enough gas to transport the bodies to the cemetery.
          Stores have been closed and people have been running in crowds into alleys when possible student sightings arise.  I drive home on my shiny new motorcycle quickly, in order to avoid the possibility of sad and angry, thus out of control students, but I have a bit of a smile on my face the whole way.   Tatu and Marie are still fighting.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A little distraction

    -Nothing is complicated, Dusan says.  Nothing except that thing about rocket in space, I tell you about this, yes?
    -Yes, I say.  Why does it continue to move away from the earth once the fire stops, when there's no atmosphere and thus nothing to contribute to propulsion.
    -Only this is complicated.  Everything else is easy once you change approach.
    -I would add one thing that's complicated.
    -What's this?
    -Human love.
    -Ooof.  Ooof.
          He gets up from the bench and starts pacing back and forth.  We're in our normal spot, outside of his room in the dark, flicking cigarettes into the outline of palm trees and mountains.  When we're both in Mulo and both know the other is there, we sit outside for an hour or two talking about questions that seem important, but are mostly important because they give us both a break from the things we see and can do so little about.
     -This, I know nothing about.  He continues.  Absolutely, bloody nothing!  He laughs.  My question is, what is difference between love at first seeing, yes? And love that builds from knowing person more and more?
          He's looking at me through the dark very seriously, it's not a question I expected from him.
    -Well, I don't know.  I know less than you do about love.
    -Please, tell me.  I need someone else to talk for while.  I talk too much, please tell me your thinking.
    -Okay.  I think that love at first sight is kind of like walking into a fire; it eats you up immediately, it's completely consuming and once it passes it leaves behind just a pile of ashes.  But it can't last, because you can only las so long in a fire like that.  The other kind of love, gradual love, is like walking on warm stones and the warmth moves up from the bottom of your feet until it has warmed your whole body.  And that's much more sustainable love.  I hesitate.  But I really don't know.
    -Ooof.  Oof!  This is interesting.  Now I am thinking.  I never talk about this with anyone; now I am thinking, really.
          He's quite for a moment staring intently at the cement.
    -This first love, love at first sight, this is something nothing can touch, he says suddenly.  It is non-comparable!  Do you know smoking marijuana?  Oof, it's been a long time, but love is like this.  When you smoke this and you feel this vibrating in your legs and you don't even know if you can walk because of this.
          We both laugh.
    -Do you think the first love is better than the other kind? I ask.
    -Yes.  Yes, I think this.
          He starts pacing again, still staring at the ground.
    -Do you think it can last?
    -Yes.  Yes, always.  Love never does not last.  If you love someone, you always love someone.  Maybe you have added emotions to them, but love is still there.  My first love, yes?  I was just a boy, but I was so in love I would do anything!  I mean anything.  I would fight anyone who says, they love their girlfriend as much as I love mine.  He laughs again.  But then, I screw it up.  Big time.  I spoil everything that can spoil and then some.  Completely, completely on me.  I spoil everything.  Getting some girls pregnant and this and that.  I mean completely spoil everything.  She is important person in Croatia now, so recently, maybe year and a half ago, this is after twenty years, I look her up.  I find her e-mail easily, and I send her happy birthday on her birthday.  I still remember her birthday, of course.  I still remember her phone number in Greece from twenty years ago!  After a few weeks she writes me back, because she doesn't check that address often.  She tells me about her husband and her family, and she says something about he is opening her eyes, this husband she is having.  And I am finished!
          He makes the sound of a rocket taking off.
    -Furious!  Someone else?  Opens your eyes?  Not me?  And this is after twenty years!
    -So you still love her?
    -Yes... Well?  I don't know if this is love.
    -Love plus some?
    -Yes.  Maybe.  No, I don't know.
          I can tell he's scared to admit he still feels that shaking in his legs when he thinks of her.  The shaking that's incredible and devastating at the same time.  It's refreshing to see him like this, laughing and talking about love rather than all the horrible things he sees.
    -I don't know, he says.  I never think about this or speak of this with other person.  I am, getting, images you know?  Images, but I have to analyze these and put them in order to see the movie.
          He chuckles randomly to himself as he crosses the small width of his pacing.  I sit quietly on a little bench and watch him.
    -This is mystery!  He says finally.  Nothing is mystery; but this is mystery.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Rook

            So we--humanity--insist that the body shall still cling to the wire.  We put out the eyes and the ears; but we pinion it there, with a bottle of medicine, a cup of tea, a dying fire, like a rook on a barn door; but a rook that still lives, even with a nail through it.
                                                          -Virginia Woolf

           Even with a hundred dollar bill you can't do everything.  I return to FEPSI about once a week after leaving Kahambu in their care.  Each week she is laying in the same position in the bed, but several times I see her actually eating the food her daughter gives her and she even focuses her eyes on mine for a few moments.  The Doctor says she is walking on her own sometimes and they have treated her for the physical effects of her rape.  They have given her an HIV test and miraculously, it comes back negative.
          After a month, the head Doctor tells me that they have finished treating the direct symptoms of the rape and it would be best for her to be transferred to a Center for Psychological Health around the corner.  I don't like the idea of moving her when she is clearly getting better at FEPSI.  I don't have much of a say, and I try to trust the Doctors even though it's impossible to tell who's actually a doctor, who is a nurse and who is just a random person walking around in a lab coat.  I don't like the move but I come back the following week to help them transfer her to CEPIMA.
          Kahambu looks like a Queen.  When I peek into the room behind the wooden partition she is sitting up in the bed, perfectly straight with her head wrapped in scarlet and a string of plastic pearls around her neck.  She has a tiny bit more meat on her bones and when I greet her she responds without hesitation.  She gives no more than the typical one-word response but everything I see is an improvement from what she was a month ago; even the plastic pearls.
          While I wait for Kahambu's daughter, Devoté, to collect their things and wrap clothing around her mother, the three little girls who are present today bounce around me in brilliantly white and orange dresses.  I laugh with them and take pictures of their happiness.
          When all is ready, Kahambu rises from the bed, and with a nurse at her side she walks one foot in front of the other and begins to descend the stairs.  I walk in front of her, one stair at a time, staring openly with a huge smile on my face like a child at the circus for the first time.  The nurse helps her slowly into the back seat of the FEPSI truck after a few workmen unload several bags of cement from the truck bed.  Ambulances don't exist.  Her movements are slow and cautious, but have certain confident fluidity to them.  She is present, in some sense, in what's going.
          CEPIMA is only a few short minutes away.  On the ride there I'm glowing in the front seat; I'm ecstatic about her progress but apprehensive about the fact that we're switching roads when this one was going uphill.  The entrance to CEPIMA is a brown metal gate hiding brown dirt buldings.  I walk in first, intent on finding the person in charge so I can establish a room and a bed and make sure les filles are equally settled.  Inside the gate is a tiny dirt area in front of tiny dirt buildings with a tiny dirt pathway winding between.  There is no light here and at least 30 men and women are milling around in the small space.
      -Is the Doctor here right now?  I ask the general population.
      -The doctors are crazy too! Someone yells from the group.
          I don't like any of it.  The dirt ground, the dirt walls, the men and women mixed everywhere, the supposed medicine within all of it.  Everything is moving too quickly but with Kahambu, her daughter and especially the three little lights attached to me I can't slow it down.  Kahambu has walked in slowly behind me with the help of Devoté.  A young woman in a white coat appears and ushers us into a mud closet.  Kahambu is helped onto a stiff wooden bench with no back to it.  I know she's uncomfortable, I know this is the most she's walked in three months, but she doesn't indicate anything with her face.  She simply plays along.
          I explain to the nurse that we are coming from FEPSI and hand her the Doctor-written note with the official FEPSI stamp.  The woman looks at it and begins asking me questions, ignoring Devoté sitting on Kahambu's other side.
      -What's wrong with her?  How long has she been like this?  What caused her to become like this?
      -I don't know anything, really.  I know she was raped about three months ago.  She didn't leave her bed for three weeks.  She was sick before that, but was eating and speaking and walking fine.  After the rape, she stopped everything.  Beyond that, you have to ask her daughter.  I would like to help if I can, but it's not actually my family so I don't really know, and all of the decisions will be made by her daughter. So it's best if you speak directly with her.
          The nurse turns to Devoté and begins speaking in rapid Kinande.  After a few minutes she turns to me and without provocation, explains.
      -The daughter says that her mother lost her husband to the war and that was very painful.  Then she lost seven children to the war, the same war that continues always here.
      -Seven children?  I ask.  I can't absorb the number.
      -Yes, seven.  The nurse shows no emotion.  Kahambu as well is sitting next to me blankly staring at the ground.
        -When she came to Lubero she married another man and they had two more children, her daughter, here--she motions to Devoté--and another daughter who lives in Musienene.  But there were more problems with the war and the second husband started drinking, and he drank himself to death.  That wasn't too long ago and that was when she stopped interacting fully with the world.
          I know Kahambu's "illness" before I met her was that she would leave the house and walk through the fields on her own.  I guess that's what the nurse means by not interacting fully with the world.
      -Then she was raped in Lubero, and that is what you know.
          She finishes and waits for me to say something.  I want to leave this mud closet, this horrible so-called health-center where patients wander around with no emotions but bitterness and resignation; I want to leave this city, this country.  I want to throw Kahambu and have her land in a clean hospital in the United States where Doctors can be sued and medication is monitored and recorded, not strewn across a wooden table and doled out like candy.  I want to see white walls around her and sparkling needles.  I want all of these people to be okay.
          The two twins of the grand-daughter crew, Lydie and Lyssie enter the dark closet searching for their mother.  Lydie taps me on the knees and lifts her arms to be picked up.  I place her on my lap and wrap my arms around her.
      -What about security during the night?  I'm pretty sure the little girls won't be sleeping here, but will Kahambu be safe at night and will the little girls be safe during the day and the evenings when they're here?
          I hope to god the girls aren't ever here close to dark; but for all I know they could end up sleeping here too.
      -Are there always nurses here? Do men and women stay in the same areas?  Can she have her own room?  Are you sure there is security?  Completely certain?
          The woman laughs at my rapid fire questions and assures me there are nurses all the time and that everyone is constantly monitored.  I don't believe her but things are still moving too quickly for me to change directions.  Kahambu is slowly sinking towards the ground next to me; her once perfectly straight posture is now the top of a question mark.  The more I talk the more she suffers.
          I feel something wet on my jacket and look down at my arm.  There is crimson smeared all over the baby blue.  Lydie has open wounds running up and down her arm that I didn't notice before.
      -What happened to her?
          The nurse stands up while asking Devoté my question.
      -She fell of the motorcycle.
      -Why did they not clean and treat these when she was at FEPSI?  I say more to myself than anyone else.
          The nurse disappears and returns with a bottle of neon purple liquid that she says is rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.  She soaks the swab and starts wiping the blood off of my jacket.
      -No, what are you doing?  Please, clean her arm before you clean my jacket.
          Lydie's blood is creeping down her arm in thick gobs, although she doesn't seem to notice.  She seems more frightened about the fact that I have blood on my jacket as a result of her little arm and have thus displaced her from my lap.  I don't know how to say, don't worry in Kinande.  The nurse looks at me like I'm crazier than all of the patients when I pull away and point to Lydie.  She steps forward and keeps wiping at the baby blue.  I'm seeing the hierarchy of respect more and more as something that drastically gets in the way.
       -I don't have much money on me, I say, once the nurse has finished wiping my jacket and dabbing at Lydie's arm.
      -I know you don't provide food, will 5 dollars be enough for Devoté to feed her mother for a week?  I think I can come back in a few days but it may be a week.
     -Five dollars will be plenty for the week.  Maybe you can give me a little something too?
          The question is not new, but at the moment I want to stab the nurse in the leg with the pen she's holding.  I would never do that though because it would probably get infected and there wouldn't be a clean hospital to treat it in.  I have no control over Kahambu's health or prosperity or happiness and I'm can clearly see myself reacting to it like a five year old.
      -I have to go, I say.  Devoté can answer yoru questions, I'm not actually in the family so I don't know all the things you should be asking.
          Again, anger and frustration are getting the better of me.  I do have to leave though, it's getting close to evening and I can never be out after dark.  Nobody can.  I give the 5 dollars to Devoté, keeping my remaining three dollars for the moto-taxi back to the Crosiers.  I walk through the gate not quite knowing what just happened, feeling completely confused and out of control.
          When I get back to the Crosiers, I can see through my fear a bit more clearly for a minute or two.  The men and women mixed together in CEPIMA were all battling les maladies psycologiques and I only saw two white jackets amidst all of the confusion.  I just left a completely incapacitated woman and four tiny, completely vulnerable girls in a 'health-center' comparable to the U.S. 'mad-houses' of the 1940s.  I have images of frightend and confused patients finding the innocent little girls accidentally alone, and taking out their confusions on them.  I start panicking again, trying to find a way to get back to Butembo immediately.  It's already night and nobody will even listen to my requests.  Dieu Donnée is going back to Butembo the next morning and I beg him to take me with him.  He seems reluctant; after the previous trip with me involving a woman the width of cardboard, too many children and not a lot of control, he's been reluctant to take me every time I've asked.  I ignore his uncertainty and convince him to take me anyway.  Poor guy.
          That night I get into an argument of sorts with one of the Priests.  Worrying about the girls has made me shaky and extremely bad at maintaining appropriate social conduct.  During the day I also heard that the man who raped Kahambu was a man who had come to pray for la malade. It's a common practice for people to pray with and around a sick person.  When the grand-daughters weren't in the hut, the man cut his prayer short and went to hell.  I explain this to Père Benjamin, and I know my exclamations of hypocrisy and disgust are way over the line.  He stays calm and tells me kindly that those are the actions of an individual, not an entire religion.  That man will have to face his demons when he dies.  I want to keep arguing and know that I need to get myself in check, so I go to bed.
          The next day when I arrive at CEPIMA the nurses greet me with excitement.  I ask about la malade de Lubero and they take me through the small winding pathway slick with some sort of liquid to the back of the compound.  Through the little windows I can see cots stacked upon cots.  Kahambu is in a dark room with only two of these cots.  Her roommate is sleeping in a strange position with her face in the mattress and her rather wide dérriere pointing up to the ceiling.  She doesn't wake up or even move when I come in.  I'm very happy Kahambu is not in the milieu with ten or more people in a room.  At the same time, the room is still dark and smells of faeces.  I can't tell if it's a smell that has soaked into the walls with the passing of many patients, or something recent that no one has cleaned yet.  Devoté is sitting beside her mother who lies as prostrate as death on the bed.
      -Where are the little girls?  I ask the nurse who translates for Devoté.  I am worried about them here, I say frankly even though I know the nurse will take offense.
        The nurse does take offense, and I spend several minutes explaining that I'm not comfortable with young children being around men who are ill.
      -That's just how it is here, I say and finally she agrees.  You can't live here and disagree with that.
      -She took the little ones home to be cared for by her sister in Musienene, the nurse finally responds.  Now she is ready to be here for her mother until she is better.
          Devoté has noticed the same chaos that I have and put up the necessary walls around her children.  She has a pot of meat stew and a bowl of fufu in front of her.  She carefully rips off a small chunk of fufu dips it in the stew and places it delicately in her mother's mouth.  I'm in awe of this young woman.  She is returning the favour, giving back the immense devotion her mother gave her; it is how it should be.  It is how it should be, but at the same time, I think, it isn't fair.  Parents see the beginning of life, the explosion of personality and light that come with growing existence.  Parents help it grow, children must help it go out.
          Kahambu's withering body effects me deeply; I can't imagine how it hurts Devoté.  I think about what it's like in the United States with people this sick or this old.  I think of the nursing homes I worked in as an EMT Co-Pilot, the elderly people fading into the walls with nobody around to even notice.  We seem to have lost the courage to perform the task that's given to us the second we enter the world.  I have a lot to learn from this young woman with the beautiful smile despite the broken teeth.
          My panic deflates now that I know the girls aren't walking around in all of this suffering.  I give Devoté ten dollars for medication and leave.  As much as I want to think I'm helping by being kind or compassionate, the only people that are actually doing work are the Presidents in my bag and in my skin.


          After two more weeks I come back to CEPIMA in the hopes of seeing Kahambu waiting at the door.  When I arrive the nurse on duty greets me with the same excitement and ushers me inside.  After several forms and languages of hello I ask her to take me to the woman from Lubero.
      -Oh, she went to the Hospital in Kitatumba.
      -Why?  And why didn't you tell me this ten minutes ago when I arrived.
      -She developed a fever, so we sent her there.
          I leave immediately and hire a moto-taxi to take me to the hospital.  The hospital sits on top of a rock and the roads are almost impassable even by motorcycle.  When I arrive the nurses hear the word Lubero and know exactly where to take me.  Kahambu is now laying on her third cot.  She's so thin she looks like a pattern on the sheets.  Her mouth hangs open and her eyes are rolling back and forth into her head and out again.  The speed of their movement is faster than anything I've seen her do yet.
      -Why are her eyes doing that?
        The nurse or doctor--man in a white coat--chuckles.
      -She's sleeping.
      -You're not giving her too much medication?  What medication are you giving her?  Are you giving her psych meds or pain medication or both?
      -No, she's just taking antibiotics and medication to help her rehydrate.
          It hurts to look at her.  I step back outside into the sunshine with the white coat.  I have a question I want to ask, but I'm not quite sure how to pose it.
      -She's suffering a lot.
          I try to preface my question.
      -Yes she is.  A lot.
          I chicken out and the words don't sound right even in my head.
               Would it be kinder if we just let her die?
          Throughout this entire process, with all my optimistic muzungu thoughts and faith in having a little money, the only thing I've done is delay a rest that's long overdue and more than well-deserved.  I know letting her rest is the only thing that's left;  I'm just extending her suffering.  Devoté shows up at my side, still smiling and wearing the same hair net around her Amy Winehouse style beehive of braided hair.  I ask her several times what she wants to do, indicating that if she wants her mother back at FEPSI, where she was actually getting better, I can arrange it once a space opens up.  She says to the white coat who says to me that that is what she wants.  I descend down the rock with the moto-taxi.
          The next day, while in the market place buying rice and tea with Frére Maurice I get a call from the hospital.
      -She left the hospital, the man on the other end says.
          The French over the phone is too garbled for me to understand fully so I hand the phone to Frére Maurice, interrupting his attempts to bargain down ten pairs of blue plastic sandals.
      -She left the hospital, he says when he gets off the phone.
      -She left?  Already?
          I paid the hospital bill yesterday but they told me she would be paid up for the rest of the week.  If they forced her to leave because they already had the money they've got a ball of white fury coming quickly their way.
      -Yes, her daughter wants to take her back to Lubero.
      -Oh.  Okay.
          I'm slightly relieved.  That decision wasn't mine to make, but it needed to be made.
      -We can go to the hospital now, he says.
      -But you just said she already left.
      -Yes, but she's still there.
      -She's still there, but she already left?  Maurice that's a contradiction.
        He laughs.She left the hospital care, but she's still physically there.
      -Okay, let's go then.  Thank you.
          We climb the steep rocks once again, barely making it to L'Hopital General de Kitatumba.  Devoté greets us at the door to her mother's room.  She looks uncomfortable with me there.  Every step of the way I've sensed her intimidation, but now she's working hard to come out and actually tell me what she's thinking.  I still don't speak her language, of course, so she tells Frére Maurice.
      -She says she thinks it's time to go home now.  Her mother isn't getting any better and she has a husband in Lubero, and they've all been away from home for two months.  She says her mother has taken many medications and nothing has really helped.  She says she thinks that now, it is enough.
      -Ndiyo sana, I say to Devoté.  Yes, definitely.  I completely agree with her.  I'm impressed by her courage and the never-ceasing smile throughout.
          I arrange an ambulance, which is simply a white Land Rover, and the next day we arrive once again for Kahambu.  She's still wearing the plastic pearls but now they're glued to her neck with sweat.  She is skinnier than when I first met her, something I didn't think possible.  Here eyes have sunk as far as they can go into her skull.  When the nurse moves her to wrap blankets around her body her eyes begin rolling once again and I recognize it as the only way her body has of communicating pain.
      -Please go slowly, I say.
          The nurse goes slowly, but Kahambu's joints still creak and her eyes still roll.  The nurse and two men lift her carefully from the bed.  I make exclamations and repetitively ask them to go slowly and be gentle, but I'm just getting in the way and they patiently ignore me.  The weight of her own body seems to be causing her pain, so anything they do doesn't matter much anymore.
          We place her tiny body in the reclined front seat.  Pére Aristide, who has agreed to drive the car, buckles her seatbelt.  I look at her from the back seat and wonder what it would be like to be inside of a body and a mind that's cutting itself from the inside.  I know she is conscious of her pain and the world; she always responds to my hellos, if just a whisper, and her eyes change their focus following the movement around her.
          On the ride home we drive slowly over the rocks and potholes.  We pick up the four grand-daughters from their Aunt's hut.  Lydie or Lyssie, I'm not sure which, sits on my lap and sucks on a ring-pop bon bon that I brought for each of the girls.  I watch the twin's progression of sleep as her ring-pop drops down slowly to her side and then jerks back up again with every big bump.
          Several times when the road shakes the car violently and I can't see Kahambu's chest moving, I find myself hoping that we will arrive in Lubero to find that she has left this world.
          At the family hut, everything is still the same, even the guinea pigs munching happily in a dark corner.  We carry Kahambu back to her wooden plank in the darkness behind the stick partition; I leave the little family, hating the shape of a circle.
      Now all that's left is the hope that she passes quickly from this life to the next and that the next is a little bit kinder.  She's been through enough.

       Twenty-six hours later I receive a call from Kahambu's niece.  Sometime during the transition from July 9th to the 10th, Kahambu Kyakimua Wenderaki passed from this one to the next.