It becomes high time for me to go to Goma. I miss asphalt on the roads. I make plans to fly on one of the ten seater airplanes, but Dusan is going on Tuesday, and I haven't had a good dose of his round-about English and weaponry talk in a while. Goma and Bukavu are the two largest cities in the Kivus. I take the motorcycle back to Mulo, where Dusan is leaving from. The mountains are as stunning and foggy as ever, and the Crosier brothers are equally as welcoming.
-Amy! You are becoming really beautiful. You're getting so fat!
-Thank you, George.
I get this comment frequently now, after four kilograms and four months of essentially drinking oil. In the Nande culture this is a huge compliment. I am slowly getting better at resisting the urge to throw whatever heavy object I can find at the person I'm speaking to. It's one of the most clear cultural differences for me. I explain once, when a group of four priests is commenting on me becoming a "big woman," that in my culture this is impolite to the point of being mean. They don't quite get it and think the idea of wanting to be in shape is absurd. Weight here represents wealth and health. The fatter you are, the farther from death, in a way. I understand this better after watching Kahambu whither away into a hospital bed.
The brothers are gradually realizing I'm uncomfortable when they make these comments, even if I don't punch anyone in the face, and I notice attempts this time around not to "compliment" me too much. At 7:30 a.m. Dusan and I leave Mulo. He begins my regular International Relations class as soon as we get in the car. I ask him about the Rwandan elections, and say it seems like there wasn't too much chaos.
-Yes, it was better than I had hoped, he says. But Kagame is piece of shit. Piece. of. shit. He has pissed off Big Brother, and he will be killed, not any question. But they will put up with him for a little while.
He explains something involving about eight different countries that I don't have enough of a background to follow well. It all comes down to minerals, Kabila, Kagame, and somehow, Southern Sudan, which borders Congo on the North Eastern line.
I asked him previously if I could speak to Setraka, the head of the Mai-Mai faction in our area, who Dusan has a close professional relationship with, that may actually be real affection. The Mai-Mai General is the man who staked a man's head at one end of Beni and left his body at the other end of the city. He told nobody to touch the body for a week, and nobody did. I wanted to ask him if there was some organized purpose to the rampant rape by soldiers. I wanted to see how his face would move as he lied to me. Dusan said he would think about it, but now, he tells me, some things have become unbalanced and even though this individual is ready to speak with me, Dusan himself will not allow it. I'm bummed, but in reality I know I could ask any man in army green on the street and get the same lies.
-I can tell you about this rape problem, but you cannot speak to him about this, he says in the car, while puffing on one of his perpetual cigarettes. There are two boxes in the car, and this is a six hour ride through one of the most dangerous regions in Congo. We won't be able to stop and buy more.
-You can tell me what the motivation is, beside the obvious, for the mass level of rape in this country?
-Yes. I can tell you. I am Dusan, I am genius.
He chuckles to himself. He says this about twenty times every conversation and I believe it more and more with every passing day.
-The first time this happens, he continues, is in Bosnia, yes? You know Bosnia?
-Yes, and I don't know much about things there, but I know there was a huge incidence of rape in order to blur ethnic lines, or something like that.
-Correct! You are junior genius.
-Of course I am; I'm Amy.
-I like this! It is good to be proud of your name. Okay, so. Amy. He looks at me for emphasis.
-Bosnia is first time this happens. In Bosnia, as you say, it has organized motivation. There is long history and yuck-n-yuck-n-yuck-n-yoo. Organized motivation is, mix the blood. Congo, there is no motivation. Believe me in this, there is no organized motivation. You must consider culture. Culture, tribalism and poverty. Every woman in Nord-Kivu is prostitute.
He looks at me again, waiting for me to fight him. He always has a follow-up, so I wait.
-Okay, every woman is prostitute because every woman is poor. This is not always case, of course, but generally speaking, if you offer money to girl, she will go with you. Because, she needs money. She needs money because she needs to eat food and children need to eat food. So, money is power, yes? Money is power, and gun is power. Men here see, if you don't have money, gun is same thing because gun is power. If you don't sleep with me, I shoot on you. I do not understand brain, if this is bran, that can be aroused when woman says No! He strikes the air with his hand and continues. I do not think this is brain, and I do not understand this. But, with poverty and chaos of war, plus tribalism in which woman is nothing compared to man, it is not any problem for soldier to rape woman or girl. Because girl is nothing.
-So here is my question, I interject. There is poverty and war in so many countriest. But this, aside from Bosnia, is the only country where there has been such a massive movement of rape. Why here? What sets Congo poverty and chaos apart?
-You are only junior genius, I cannot expecting you to understand this now. But you will try, okay? You must keep in mind culture. You cannot look at this from America perspective. If you are Tutsi, you are maybe top, then maybe Hutu, then whoever-whoever, then last before animal is pygmy. Safest man in Rwanda, can say anything he is wanting. He can talk whatever he thinks about Kagame himself, and Kagame will not touch him. He will never ever touch him. You know why?
-He is safe because he is pygmy! And Kagame will not put him in jail because this is treating him as human.
-Oh, jeez. That's so much worse than an organized motivation.
Women are raped because men have power, and men don't see women as human to hurt. I don't fully agree with him, but in the sense of soldiers, I can see this coming into play.
-But you cannot ask Setraka this. And he will deny it, and if he does not deny it is happening, he will simply tell you same thing as I am telling you.
I'm silent for a bit. As we head south there are more and more soldiers on the road, mostly in the form of random sentries of three or four men. Suddenly, Dusan slams on the brakes as we pass a trio of soldiers.
-My friend! He leans across me and reaches his hand out of the window to one of the soldiers.
The man shakes Dusan's hand, and then mine. He doesn't smile, but crosses his arms and rests his elbows on my open window.
-Dusan, it has been a long time since I am seeing you.
His English startles me.
-Yes, yes. I am always in the bush, my friend.
-You hear FDLR are joining with ADF-Nalu? The man laughs. He has slightly lighter skin than most of the Congolese and he has scars on his right arm, where the sleeve is pulled up slightly. His face is unshaved but clean.
-Fucking Nalu, he continues. I am going to do an operation, big operation. We are going to kick their asses.
I cringe at his words, but quickly straighten my expression. I'm pretty sure he hasn't seen it. I imagine the civilians fleeing their villages as this man directs his "operation." I imagine the girls running through the woods, trying to escape the bullets, only to find a man with a different kind of weapon waiting.
-My men are all around here, he says and swings his arm around, pointing to the mountains surrounding us. I am going to do serious mission. But this Foster, he is in my way.
-Yes, yes, I know. I am arranging the things.
Dusan always references "the things," whatever the things are.
-You are arranging the things? Okay, but my problem is, Foster is major genocidaire.
He spits out the last word. As if he hasn't killed hundreds of civilians, and is somehow morally better than this Foster, simply because he's using a different word for killer.
-This is possible, says Dusan. He sounds uncomfortable, and I can tell he's caught in between two different groups and needs to maintain a balance he has been working on establishing between them. He has to tread lightly. This, I guess, is what demobilization is. There is a massive truck beeping at us from behind. Dusan pulls over and gets out to talk to the soldier. I am not about to hover around their conversation. I trek down a path to pop-a-squat, but there isn't much cover. Just across from me, about a quarter-mile on the opposite mountainous peak, a group of people is forming to watch the muzungu pee. I go quickly. When I get back Dusan is finishing up his conversation and we both get back in the car.
-That is very smart man, he says once we're driving again. He is FRDC but trained in American camp, and he is only superior officer who actually does the work and makes sure his men are doing what they should be doing. It is impossible to find FRDC trained in American camp. It is even more impossible to find competent man in FRDC.
-Who is Foster?
-He is FDLR.
-The FRDC and the Nalu have both been giving me problems, but not much from the FDLR, I say.
-What do you mean Nalu are giving you problems?
-Well, they're not giving me problems, personally. But I've been talking to a lot of girls who were raped by Nalu soldiers. Mostly from Graben and Isale.
-You will not go there anymore. You will not even speak to anyone close to Nalu.
-What? That's crazy talk.
People who tell me what I will and will not do typically don't get a very good reception. Even if I agree with them, I have a tendency to argue and then do exactly as they advised.
-I am telling you, do not go near even woman who is raped by Nalu soldier. If they are thinking you cause them problems, they kill you. Not any problem. They can kill you in Lubero if they want.
-If a woman comes to me and says she was raped and hasn't been to a hospital, I'm going to help her get to FEPSI even if it was Nalu.
-You will not do this. Not even I can protect you if this is involving Nalu. That is extent of how dangerous they are. I cannot protect you when it comes to Nalu, and this is my region. Because I am not working with Nalu.
He's getting fired up. I'm still doing follow-up with several women from Isale who were raped by Nalu and this is in no way going to stop me. Nalu soldiers have moved down into Graben anyway. If they were still in Isale I would take his advice. Maybe.
He starts going on one of his usual tangents about weapons. Apparently, someone already tried to assassinate Kagame by shooting down his plane but they missed.
-Only idiot can miss with this weapon; only someone who is learning how to shoot it by watching movies. If this is me, I do not miss. Sure.
He keeps speaking about the different types of rocket launchers, fire and forget versus follow-through. With fire and forget, you can shoot the rocket and then look away and not worry about it. It will always hit the target. With the latter type, a bit of an older model, the sight of the rocket launcher helps direct the rocket until it is close enough to the heat of the targeted object to direct itself. The "idiot" who tried to assassinate Kagame had the latter, but fired and forgot.
-Complete idiot. It does not make any sense.
I see a large boulder in the road, but there is enough space on the side to pass. Shortly after the boulder, there are two banana trees laid across the road. The car has trouble getting over them but Dusan keeps going and we're able to dislodge them from the wheels. Obstacles in sequence are not normal. The roads are terrible, yet well-kept. We both know that this could possibly mean something unpleasant.
Sure enough, after the next bend is a group of children standing in the road. Some are carrying long sticks draped in vines, with a triangle of sticks at the top. Dusan keeps driving and the kids move mostly out of the way, but I can see the panic and anger rise in their faces. One of the older kids, of about fourteen, picks up a large rock and pulls his arm back to throw it at the front windshield. We aren't far enough past them and the stone would surely shatter the glass. Dusan again slams on the breaks. The child's arm drops down, and the kids quickly swarm around the car. Dusan accelerates again, knocking the older boy out of the way. I roll up my window and duck towards the center of the car; as the boys cock their arms back again, I wait for the shatter of the window. There are several cracks as the rocks hit the side of the white Land Rover. Again, the car skids to a stop. Dusan throws the car into reverse and speeds backwards a few feet towards the children. It only takes a few feet and the threat of being run-over to make the kids scatter.
-What do you think they were doing?
-This is Mai-Mai demonstration, you can tell because of how they are dressed. Not organized by adults, just by kids who think they are big men. But you see, only few feet backwards and ping. They are gone. They know I will smash them and they take smash seriously.
I can tell he's slightly rattled and angry. After a few minutes he changes the subject, but there's still irritation in his voice.
-You try here, but not always can you do right thing. I told you, recently, I get 37 child-soldiers out of the bush. This is big deal, it is not easy to get 37 child-soldiers at one time. I bring all of these boys out and I bring them to Save the Children in Goma. They do not have housing for them there, so they find local families to take them in for a few dollars, while they arrange the things. Three dollars a day for 37 children is $111.00 times seven days is $777.00, and maybe it will be more than seven days, so around $1,000.00. Families who are taking these children in are doing so because they have now a few more dollars in pocket each night, and then they are able to use the children in the fields to help them, which is hard labor. So, now children are with families that use them for labor, because of poverty it is necessary, and children are now wanting to go back to the bush where I supposedly "rescued" them, because they are happier there.
I can tell he's frustrated by this, but also resigned.
-The first day we talked, I say, you were telling me not to let anything here touch me too much. I argued with you a bit, but now I understand. You can't let it touch you too much, because there's just too much to be touched by; it'll overwhelm you.
-It will eat your heart, and it will eat your brain. And then you really won't be able to help. You will become senior genius, I think. Maybe soon.
We both laugh. It's so easy to try and help, but unintentionally make things worse. Maybe not worse, but not necessarily better. I explain how glad I am to be working with a Congolese organization, because they all keep me in line, and I am able to ask them at every turn if what we're doing is a good idea in context of culture. They understand that I'm not familiar with the culture, and they let me know their opinions about my ideas at every turn. Most of the time, I'm wrong; but I'm learning.
We drive through a savannah that Dusan explains used to be a famous tourist attraction; before the war there would be the typical African safari vans driving through searching for animals. We see several baboons on the road, and almost have one climb into the car as I'm taking a picture, but Dusan drives off just in time, as always. There are no more tourists, but the number of soldier sentries increases as we go deeper into the park.
I see something ahead in the road and smile. Within an instant we go from violent lurching to the sensation of flying. Asphalt. Dusan notices me smiling.
-This is first time you see asphalt in four months, yes? He's laughing at me.
-Yes! And it feels great!
We get to Goma with no further interruptions, aside from two small break-downs which are quickly fixed, and several stops to pee. Both cigarette packs are gone. As we drive in, the scenery of Congo that I know changes completely. The dust is still everywhere, but it changes from light brown to ash. The ground is covered in lava stones., from the last time Mount Nyiragongo erupted, in 2002. The houses are built on and out of the black, porous stones. There are so many people on the sides of the roads, and they're more forward than the people in Butembo. The kids don't just wave, they come up to the window and rap on the glass, staring at me. I feel like a fish in a tank and someone is pounding on my glass.
We stop by several UN compounds, asking about Dusan's car being fixed, arranging his transport back to Beni. He is flying home in two days, and I will be without his sound wisdom and soldier-warnings for three weeks. After about seven and a half hours of driving, and four kilograms of dust accumulating in my lungs, Dusan leaves me at a hotel and we agree to meet at a club around the corner at eight p.m.