PLEASE BE ADVISED: THE FOLLOWING BLOG CONTAINS POTENTIALLY DISTURBING GRAPHIC CONTENT RELATING TO SEXUAL VIOLENCE.
In a tiny mud room with orange coals glowing next to me like Christmas lights, the women file in two or three at a time. The group of women Maman Marceline told me about is a puddle of humanity outside of the dark cave I am sitting in.
For a few minutes I sit silently in the room with two very elderly women. They don’t speak French so we simply flick our eyes back and forth, trying to inspect each other inconspicuously. Maman Marceline is speaking with one of the women outside trying to organize the little crowd and make sure everyone is present. When she finishes she enters the womb-like room and sits on a tiny bench next to me; we begin.
Maman Marceline begins speaking with the two elderly women. I expect her to ask them politely to step out, but she asks them questions instead.
-Are these women survivors? I ask.
-Yes, they are. They are some of the vieilles who were raped.
I’m caught off guard and it takes me a moment to collect myself and regain my composure.
-What is your name? I ask in Kinande.
-How old are you Maman Jacqueline?
I thought Maman Marceline might be exaggerating when she indicated previously that there were women this old who had been raped. Every wrinkle in Jacqueline’s face makes it clear there was no exaggeration.
Jacqueline was trapped on the road by soldiers, two years ago. She was 73. She went to the hospital but she became very weak and sick after the rape.
-Do you feel better recently?
She shakes her head no, immediately.
-She is still weak, says Maman Marceline, but she has forgotten her anger.
There is a six year old child on Jacqueline’s back. She says the child is her granddaughter, and also a child of rape. Jacqueline’s daughter is outside waiting to come in.
Jacqueline finishes and I turn to the next woman in the room. Christine is slightly smaller than Jacqueline, but looks just as old. She is 78; she was raped by the Interhamwe a few years ago. They killed her husband with machetes. Yes, she was there. Yes, she watched.
-At that time, they raped me and left me there.
She has sad eyes as she speaks, but she seems confident in her words. Her voice doesn’t tremble or hesitate.
Because of this suffering she has become weak, she says. She stays in the house, she doesn’t know what she can do. Maybe she can sell something like fish, she says. If you can find something to help, she will be so happy. She doesn’t have her own house and she can hardly find food.
Emilia is 76 years old. She was trapped by “bandits” while going for water. It was three years ago, when she was 73. She’s almost twitchy with enthusiasm and she is the first to laugh, but she shifts uncomfortably when I ask who attacked her. It was soldiers, but she’s feeling a little better now. She feels weak, she is a widow, she had to take lots of medicine after the rape. But emotionally, she is feeling better than before.
Janette is 40 years old. She was trapped returning from the field looking for sweet potatoes. She was raped by two civilians. It was three years ago. She gave birth to this child.
She pats the little bottom sitting on her lap. His name is Kambale. After the rapes her bones began to hurt and she feels very weak always. When she goes to the field alone and sees a man she is very afraid.
Little Kambale is whispering quiet nothings to himself as his mother speaks above him.
Aimee is forty years old. She was looking for sweet potatoes to feed her children. She was raped by three civilians. Four years ago. After the rape she became pregnant with the child in her lap. He’s a handsome little boy with bright eyes. Her husband fled the home because he said, “you were taken by the Interhamwe.”
Arnestina is 55 years old. She was never raped but she is considered a vulnerable because she was never able to have children and was never married. Florida is incomprehensibly old, she says she’s 80. I breathe out a sigh of relief when she says she has never been raped. She’s too old to cultivate, she suffers a lot because she can’t find food.
Goretti is 24 years old, the same age as me. She’s soft-spoken and has soft eyes to match. She was raped in 2004, she became pregnant.
-I’m sorry, two? I ask and hold up two fingers in the air.
-No, she says. Ten.
She holds up both of her hands and extends all fingers to be clear.
-You were raped by all ten?
The question sprouts from pure horror, I don’t mean to ask it.
-Yes, all ten.
-I remember when this happened, says Maman Marceline. Goretti was in the hospital for at least a month. She was very very sick.
-How are you feeling now?
-I am afraid and I have constant pain still in my uterus. My headaches most days; because I was raped there is no one who will marry me. They are afraid of us.
-Do you want to get married? I ask.
-Yes, unfortunately there will be no candidate.
Blandine was raped by two soldiers who spoke Kinya Rwandan, her husband fled after she was raped. He was angry with her. She has fear in her heart.
Devote is 25 years old. She was trapped in the field and raped by five soldiers who spoke Lingala.
Kavira C. is 40 years old, she was raped three years ago by three soldiers. Her husband fled because of the rape. He was mad because of the pregnancy so he left. She suffers a lot.
Jeanine was raped in the field when she was 35. It was four civilians. She had a man but he fled. After a pregnancy men always leave. They don’t want to pay for hospital bills or food so they always leave. She needs help feeding her kids. One already died.
The youngest girls are 15 and 16 years old. Diana has beautifully smooth skin and a toddler in her arms. She was raped by one soldier when she was 12. She became pregnant. She was in school but she had to leave to take care of the baby.
Albertine was 14 when she was raped. Her baby girl’s name is Naema, meaning grace. It was two Mai-Mai soldiers. She always has headaches and she had to drop out of school as well.
The list goes on. I leave the mud hut in the early afternoon after four hours of speaking with the women. My notebook is a little staircase of stories extending across the pages. At the house I smoke a cigarette and contemplate the fact that I’m not processing any of it emotionally anymore. It’s the first time I’ve heard so consistently about husbands leaving because their wives were raped. It makes me furious and sad. But the rest of the stories are just words at this point. I decide not to delve into it and go any further; I know I want to help them, I know they’re important, I know it hurts.