I'm tired of this situation and I'm tired of letting my heart hope beyond reason that good will win over evil. Evil is a much more powerful force; although maybe good in numbers can stand a chance.
Melanie effectively transferred out her daughter, Leslie's brother, and a girl who was potentially being raped, but turns out not to be Leslie's sister. The details wrapped in this crinkled tin foil of a situation change constantly. I can't see from one crinkle to the next. I do know, though, that Melanie got the kids out with leverage I don't have. The problem is that leverage costs a lot of money.
Melanie also had power. Melanie's friend and translator, Jared, reveals that his father is a rather important man.
-Here, come with me, Jared says in the living room of his family's apartment.
I get up, caked in dried, salty sweat and sagging from the weight of defeat. We walk into the hallway with Melanie tailing behind. Jared stops and stands before a large framed photo on the wall.
-Do you know who that is?
The picture is an image of Jared's father, Papa J, shaking hands with someone. I laugh.
-President Kabila, I mutter.
Melanie hasn't heard me.
-Who is it?
-That's the President, Jared states proudly.
-Of Congo? Asks Melanie.
-The main man, numero uno, I say still laughing.
-My dad will help you, says Jared.
-Really? You think so? I can use all of the help I can get at this point.
-Yes, he is not happy about this. He is furious with Marie Vuvu.
When Papa J walks into the living room after a nap, it seems as if he won't fit through the doorway. He's enormous, but not frightening. He commands respect in a way that doesn't require asking. he's forward but not aggressive; slightly intimidating but kind. Papa J used to be government, he has friends in high places and he wants to shut this place down as badly as I do. I go over the things I've been told and the lies I untangled by hanging around Maison L'Espoire for a few days. Every time my words brush over an image of suffering, Papa J's face falls into itself like a falling blanket catching a rock.
Watching someone with ties in the government respond with anger and pain to the picture I paint is more than comforting, it's exhilarating. Papa J can't force anything, but he insists he will speak with Marie Vuvu. Later, he asszures me he has spoken to his friends in high places. I'll need to give a statement and we're going to figure out what's really going on.
And, he assures me that if I'm arrested I have his support. I just got a get out of jail free card, but I know it's only effective if I don't do anything stupid.
Papa J speaks to Marie Vuvu and she agrees to transfer the kids. Then she refuses, then she agrees. She flip-flops like a jellyfish on dry land being poked by a stick. Finally, after days of spineless flopping, Melanie agrees to go with me to Maison L'Espoire. She will use the leverage she has left to try and help Lawrence, Bellevie, and her sister.
I arrive in Ndjili two hours before Melanie and wait around the corner at the same restaurant I hid in before. When Melanie calls to say she and Jared have arrived I head to the orphanage. At the gate Melanie is walking with Lawrence towards her car.
-Lock the doors, she says to the driver. Lock the doors and do not open them for anyone.
She opens the door and Lawrence slides in. I look to my right and see Marie Vuvu standing in the doorway staring at me.
-Bonjour, I say.
She doesn't respond. Melanie walks back to the door and we all enter. Marie has set up two tables outside with chairs around them for us to work on. The chairs and tables were unnecessary. Within a minute of my arrival, Marie is screaming at me, Melanie is screaming at Marie and Jared is trying to control the fray.
-Who do you think you are? Yells Marie, pointing her finger at me and shooting daggers with her eyes. You came here just to hurt me. Do you know how long I have been doing this work? Do you know when I started this orphanage?
I sit down next to Melanie.
-Everybody sit down, Melanie screams.
-Why did you come here, why are you doing this?
Despite my best efforts to remain quite and seated, I stand up and point my finger back at Marie.
-There is a fiver year old in the States who sustained anal injuries in your orphanage and you're asking me why I'm doing this?
-Amy sit down, don't say anything, says Melanie turning and pointing to my chair.
-Sit DOWN! She screams at Marie turning back to her.
I sit down, Marie does not. She continues wagging her finger and yelling.
-Do you see this paperwork?
Melanie has a signed piece of paper on business letterhead in her hand.
-Do you want me to adopt you daughter? I am not going to adopt your daughter and you're not going to get the money for Leslie's brother unless you get the transfer ready for Lawrence RIGHT NOW!
Melanie is an older woman who's California thin. The roar that leaves her mouth is unexpected.
On the other side of the table Jared is interjecting sporadic words and glaring at me when I make any movement that indicates speaking. Marie picks up her phone and calls someone, with Melanie still trying to explain what Marie is giving up if she doesn't help Lawrence. Marie looks straight ahead and speaks in Lingala into the phone.
Melanie is fed up. She takes the paper in her hands, turns it sideways, and begins ripping. As Marie finishes her phone call Melanie throws the scraps of paper in Marie's lap. Marie glances at the shredded paper and flinches for a second before regaining her now stoic composure. Within a few minutes, we know exactly who she called.
A man walks in wearing dark blue, oversized boots and carrying an AK-47. Three more police officers enter and stand in a half circle around the table. They speak to Jared and Marie in Lingala. I sit calmly not saying anything. Although my body is fully awake and pumping, I'm not actually worried. I have taken every precaution in the past few weeks. Despite knowing that Lawrence has no file and technically does not exist according to the State, I haven't stolen the boy. I could potentially do so, as Marie is the one who has broken the law by not registering him, and you can't steal someone who doesn't exist. But I didn't want to give her any ammunition.
-Okay, we need to go with the police, says Jared turning to me.
Somebody has released Lawrence from the car. Marie is still screaming at me, but flopping her jellyfish head back and forth from the police to me. I leave the compound with a police officer on my left, another on my right, one in front of me and one behind; a Congolese diamond. Marie is walking next to the police officer behind me still yelling in Lingala.
-Maman! Yells the police officer on my right, turning around. Calm down!
She is her own worst enemy at this point. I think she realizes that and she stops talking.
-Don't worry, nothing is going to happen, says Jared on my right.
He has entered the diamond. Needless to say, people are gathering in the road and peeking through concrete windows to see the police escorting a young, female muzungu to the station. We walk for about five minutes across a sand filled field to what looks like a broken down boxcar. POLICE NATIONAL is written in yellow letters over blue paint on a metal wall. The police usher me into the broken metal box and instruct me to sit on a wooden bench. There's a teenager lying under the table.
Marie sits next to me and picks up her diatribe immediately, asi f someone simply pressed pause and then play again. I sit quietly. One of the police officers winks at me, suggestively.
-Here, come sit out here please.
Another police officer points to a plasticchair just outside the opening to the metal office. I follow his finger and sit down.
-Do you speak French? The officer asks, in French.
-French? No I don't understand, I respond in English. Very little.
Jared has requested I speak in English so he can translate directly into Lingala. French is nobody's mother-tongue here. Pretending not to speak French is surprisingly exhausting but only lasts a little while.
-Amy come here, Jared says through the opening in the metal.
Marie is still ranting behind him. A crowd of about 40 people has now gathered around the police office. It seems like there's a soccer game or a party going on. I walk back into the metal microwave and stand next to Melanie, who has now entered.
-Did you write that Reagan raped the girls? He asks.
Marie explodes again. The boxcar is filled with police officers at this point and everyone is chatting.
-Moment, moment! I yell.
Everyone miraculously stops speaking. I look at the officer who is asking me questions about the article.
-Do you speak English? I ask in French.
I turn slightly and look at Marie Vuvu.
-Do you speak English?
-Then nobody has any idea what was actually written and it doesn't matter anyway.
The police officers nod their heads but everyone starts chattering again. Marie makes a call on her phone and hands the phone to the police commander.
-She called a Priest in the United States, Jared says to me in English.
-Oh jeez, I say and step back out of the boxcar into the sand.
Jean-Claude Atusameso is the Director and Founder of Jatukik Providence Foundation. It's the same organization that connected the four American families with Maison L'Espoire. According to Marie and Reagan, Jean-Claude is the individual who told them about my writing in the first place. I call him to talk about the fact that the kids are being sexual abused and he ignores me three times. He threatens American Gabe saying he will take back Gabe's adopted son Joshua if we keep looking into the issue. Jean-Claude's organization asks for your kind generosity to help the orphans of Congo. Whether or not he tries to help orphans I don't know, but the fact that he has been telling Marie Vuvu to fight me, rather than asking her about the sexual abuse, makes me wonder.
The police commander hands the phone back to Marie.
-What is someone in the United States going to tell me about a problem in Congo? He asks the room.
After about an hour of more yelling, Melanie stands up in the boxcar and asks if she can speak. Age is a respected thing in Congo and every police officer turns off. Melanie explains slowly and in full detail. She explains the lawyer who robbed her blind, she explains the lies Marie told her, she explains that she is adopting Marie's biological grandchild. She explains a lot. She even tears up towards the end, but I'm almost positive she's acting and she really does act beautifully. Then it's my turn to speak.
I explain everything as well. The police listen, Marie has occasional outbursts but I wait for hter to be silenced by the Commander and I continue. Melanie's speech seems to have been the turning point. THe police shift their accusing gazes in Marie's direction. After I'm done the Commander says he has heard enough.
-Bring the adoptive mothers tomorrow and we will get the paperwork done and you will leave with the three kids.
I don't celebrate just yet; this woman is not giving in without a bitter fight and a busted lip.
-Thank you Commander. I hope that you will also take what's been said here and do what you can to protect the other kids.
In the United States just mentioning sexual violence would start a chain reaction. Here it's like throwing a tomato on the sidewalk.
-Yes, of course Maman Amy. We need to protect the kids and Marie shouldn't be blocking the adoptions. Why? Why block?
-Exactly, I say.
The next day I arrive with Maman Lydie and Maman Christine. Both women have work, children and lives to lead, and both immediately pressed pause to try and help the kids. Reagan is there this time, along with a man who says he's a lawyer. Marie and Reagan enter the boxcar office quitely and in a controlled manner. They want to play ball but within a few minutes they're preactically kicked out by the umpire. Reagan can yell a lot louder than his Mother.
-I am here to speak for you, yells the lawyer. We cant arrange this situation without the Priest here, who is the one in charge of the boy.
I go outside and immediately call Father Roger. He tells me to send the driver so he can finish this business.
Back inside, Marie is quiet but Reagan won't hear of it. He brings a printed copy of my writing and starts speaking about "the article" again. He even says he has a printed copy in French. I almost regret writing the posts, but not quite. This is exactly the kind of furor I needed to bring attention to what's going on and help all of the kids; not just one and not just three.
-Okay, Maman Amy. I'd like to ask you a question, says the lawyer on my right in the tiny room. Finally the room is quiet.
-With this article, you have truly hurt Maman Marie. You can see that she is hurt. She is not going to cooperate with you because of what you wrote about her and the hurt that you caused. Now, I personally, because I am representing the orphanage, would like to know what exactly your motivation was for hurting Maman Marie in such a way.
I wait a moment to make sure Marie won't start screaming at me again.
-Okay, I say and lean forward on my plastic chair. I will explain to you two things, one of which will be my motivation for writihg the article. First of all, and most importantly...
I hold a finger in the air for emphasis.
-This article has nothing to do with the reason we're all here today. If I wrote things that are completely untrue and Marie can prove that, fine. Okay, but that is an issue for the tribunal and you as their lawyer can accuse me in the tribunal court. Anything that I wrote and the emotions and hurt involved have nothing to do with the kids. I have found two families, really great families, who can take care of three of the children. Marie already indicated she has no means and is above her capacity and that the kids are suffering. I have found a simple way to help three of those children not suffer at that level anymore.
Marie scoffs and shifts her weight dramatically but for the most part the room remains silent.
-Now, I continue. Keep in mind that the article is not related to the children, that is between Marie and myself. But I would like to explain actually.
Throughout this entire process, with the ups and downs, lies and stories, I thought that at the end if I got the kids and closed the orphanage, it would feel good. But feeling the heat of Marie's anger and watching her twitch with hatred in front of the police, doesn't feel good at all. I've had to constantly remind myself that none of this is personal, it's children. I don't want revenge; I don't even really care about justice. I just want to help the kids and prevent others from suffering in the same way. I turn to Marie and look her in the eyes. She looks back. I explain exactly what I wrote; the things I saw and the things I was told.
-I did not come here with the intention of hurting you, Marie. It's really not personal. But when I hear that a child has a tear to his rectum, that is grave to me. I don't know if you know about the abuse, but it's happening. My motivation is to help the kids. And it's not my job to verify who is abusing who or how many or in what way. These kids don't have a way of speaking out and I wrote that stuff to give them a way to do that. I wanted exactly this to happen. I wanted to get the authorities to realize that there is a problem here and it needs to be looked into. I can't do that myself, that's your job.
I look at the Commander. The room is silent.
-That's a good reason, says the lawyer.
His comment takes us both by surprise. He coughs and then quickly launches into a speech with too many words explaining why he needed to know my motivation. Marie gets up suddenly and she and Reagan leave. The attorney follows them out. I look frantically to the Commander but he just shrugs.
-That *expletive* article! You all are ******************!
In English, I yell things my Grandmother would slap me for saying. Nobody speaks English here so it's soothing and without consequences. After several hours Father Roger arrives. He leaves with Maman Lydie and two police officers, who now seem to be on our side. Another hour or two later they return.
-The paperwork is all done, says Father Roger. Only the Governor has to sign but you can pick up the boy tomorrow.
Police officers clap and shake hands.
-Why do you look upset Amy? It's done don't you see you need to be happy.
-What about the two girls? I ask.
Not to mention, I won't be happy until we have Lawrence in the car and Marie Vuvu is nowhere in sight.
-Well, I will force Marie to give me the address of whoever brought them to the orphanage. And I will stay in contact with Maman Christine.
He nods his head respectfully towards Maman Christine, the mother of a friend, who is a nurse and is eager to start getting Bellevie and Ketchia back to health.
-We'll work it all out, don't you worry, he says.
I am worried, but I'm also prepared to take a note from the Kinshasa mosquitos and annoy this man until his sanity is gone or the girls are out. The next day I wait again in the little restaurant of my asylum while Maman Lydie goes around the corner to get Lawrence. Three hours later I haven't heard anything and Maman Lydie isn't picking up her phone. Another hour later the car pulls up and there is a beautiful young man sitting in the back. Lydie whoops from the front seat.
I grab my things quickly and run to the car, over-flowing with something that feels good. I climb in the back seat with Lawrence.
-Bonjour, Ca va?
He looks at me timidly.
-Oui, ca va bien.
I want to hug him, but he doesn't know me at all. I' mjust some random white lady who visited a few times and then everyone started yelling. I'd like to talk to him but I don't know what to say.
Welcome to the world?
What's more "real," the world out here or the one behind those concrete walls?
Are you excited? Are you Afraid?
I would be.
Did they hurt you more because of me?
All of it passes through my mind but none of it feels appropriate. Finally, something pops out.
-Joshua says hello.
-Merci, he says.
At the restaurant where we eat chikwanga and Congo River fish, I'm filled with a consuming sort of joy. It feels like melted butter. Lydie explains that Marie tried to refuse encore, but by this time we had enough people who had decided a child is more important than a dollar bill. Even the lawyer argued against Marie. Maman Lydie's oldest son and her daughter both call to speak with Lawrence and welcome him to the family. He looks at his lap while holding the phone and smiling more brightly than any diamonds in this country. There's still a lot of work to do, making sure he's settled, paying for his school fees, keeping him protected from the evils that exist on this side of those walls. And then of course, there are the others. As good a story as my month in Kinshasa makes, it's still real life. And the thing about real life is, there is no The End, only, where do we go from here?