It takes at least four break-downs and several hours, but we finally make it back to Isale with les petites-commerces. The women are all waiting. When we pull up even the eldest eagerly jump forward to help us carry the heavy supplies down to the dirt clearing where we now always meet. As I walk down the thin path covered in rocks and stray roots with a large bag of salt on my head (which, inevitably provides a substantial amount of entertainment), my heart jumps at one of the most shockingly beautiful smiles, directed at me. The woman's face is glowing and it takes me a few seconds to realize it is Kavira, one of the two eighteen-year-old survivors I spoke with the last time.
While we were sitting in a dark room the week before, Kavira couldn't look anyone else in the eyes. Now she is laughing at my apparent surprise and the goofy muzungu smile I give her in return. There's a flash of neon pink behind her and I see Kahambu, the other eighteen-year-old survivor. She too is smiling at me, in a pink matching track suit with the word OBAMAA on the front. Both of them look slightly abashed but are giggling together. They look like different people.
When we get down to the clearing, Hangie, a woman who was victimized by rape four years ago, starts singing a prayer. She seems to be a village pastor of some sort, as she starts off our meetings in this way every time. The women clap and say Amen! to Hangie's Hallelujahs. When Hangie finishes, Maman Marie immediately starts handing out the supplies to the various groups. Kavira and Kahambu are glued together. If one of them is called forward by Maman Marie, within moments they gravitate back towards each other like giggling magnets.
I ask Urbain if he can quietly ask all of the survivors who spoke with me previously to come into the little room. Although I already gave them my speech about the possible consequences of publishing their stories, images and names, I've been worrying all week that I left something out. I want to reiterate to make sure they understand. I would never hurt these women again or take the power of choice from them. All seven quickly file into the room curiously. Urbain stands in the middle of the room staring at me, with the women behind him. I reach forward, pinch his shirt in my hand and slowly drag him next to me so he's facing the women. Everyone laughs. I go through the speech again, elaborating extensively to make sure that they understand the concepts of publishing. They don't know what the internet is but they do understand what it means to share their stories with the rest of the world.
They respond emphatically, making me feel stupid for even bringing it up, but I'm glad that I am. I want to make sure they understand the distinctions between aid and jorunalism, public exposure and privacy, etc. After they have said Yes, we know and We agree, several times I stop blabbering. Sifandiwey looks up at me immediately and says something in Kinande. She looks straight at me without breaking eye contact at all. I look back at her as Urbain translates next to me.
-She says she wants you to release it and share it everywhere, so people will know the level of their suffering.
-Okay. I say, still looking at her. I'll try.
Sifandiwey breaks our eye contact and gets up to go back outside. Again we make the transition from thick darkness to blinding sunshine. I pull aside one of the survivors, who has a familiar little bundle hanging from her back. It's the little girl we met last time, who looked like she had already moved onto the next adventure; the next life.
-How is she doing, is she better? I ask Mom.
Mom nods and shifts her bundle so a little face pops out. The baby girl's eyes are slightly tired, as if she just woke up from a nap, but there is a little piece light and life behind them that wasn't there before. I touch the girl's cheek with my finger and she smiles at me. Her name is Mbambu, and she's back.
-Is she eating and going to the bathroom okay now?
-Yes, explains Urbain as Mom launches into an explanation. She's eating very normally and is not having diarrhea anymore.
-That's absolutely wonderful. I'm so happy to see her doing better.
I pat Mbambu's curved little back and for some reason am overwhelmed with a feeling of love, and the thought that this little girl is more special than any other little girl in the world. I'm just so happy to see a little person behind those eyes again. I check on Kasuera and Kahambu, the two women who came to Butembo to go to the hospital. Kasuera's arm still hurts but is feeling much better. I still can't tell if it will be usable but at least the pain is decreasing. The infection in Kahambu's finger was excised and is healing very nicely, so she will no longer need to have the digit removed.
Before we leave I notice little Mbambu again. Mom has swung the little girl around front so she can breast-feed. Mbambu is darting in and out of the cloth sling from boob to open air, playing a little game with herself.
All in all, it cost $112.00 to save an arm, a finger, and potentially, a life.