Two days and twenty hours of driving later, Dusan and I arrive in Lubero. It is the rainy season; at night there is no light but the lightning. I always seem to sleep best in Lubero. The darkness and the silence of the village envelope my mind and calm the many thoughts and frustrations of the day. The next day, after another two hours of driving, Dusan drops me at home in Butembo.
I have some Things To Arrange in Butembo for a few days. When I’m done, I’m eager to get to COPERMA and happy to see my colleagues diligently working in the main room when I arrive. All of them greet me with enthusiastic hellos and complaints about how long I was gone.
-You have become une voyagere! Exclaims Maman Marie with a tinge of disappointment.
-Yes, I’m sorry, but I’m still a part of COPERMA.
-Amy, says Hangie walking in from one of the smaller offices. There are the three survivors of rape here.
He points to the wall behind me, and I turn around and see three familiar faces I completely missed on the way in. All of them smile at me and greet me in Kinande, knowing now that I can respond. I greet them back, shake hands with each woman on the thin wooden bench and bow my head slightly before following Hangie into the small office he came from.
Even though I’ve been working wiith COPERMA for over a year now, there are still cultural divides in communication, especially in terms of money. Several months ago I had to arrange to have only Hangie speak to me about money; it was too overwhelming receiving requests and needs from everyone on the team.
-That’s great the women came for their follow-up, I say once we’re alone inside the tiny concrete room.
-Yes, they came on motorbike, but Amy we don’t have the money to pay for them to go home. They will walk for several days. And they need to stay overnight and we don’t have money to feed them, if they can stay at FEPSI.
-Okay, well I’m actually leaving soon I have to go to Goma again. But I am able to bring some funds to help. Tell me what else is going on.
-Amy, one of the women here, it hurts my heart very much.
-One of what women?
-The women from Katolu, the three women sitting in the office. She has leprosy. Amy it hurts my heart, truly.
He presses his hand against his chest and looks at the table.
-Shit, I say as a pang of fear hits me in the chest. Did you speak with the Doctor at FEPSI to verify it was leprosy?
-No, but she has infections and wounds on her sex and all over her lower body. She told us that it was leprosy.
-But have you verified it with the Doctor? She has probably not been to a hospital to determine the cause of the infections, and neither you nor I nor she can verify if it is leprosy.
-No, I have not spoken with the Doctor. But we will need to take her to a colony in Musienene.
-Hangie, please speak with the Doctor first to find out what the is problem and then we will figure out a solution from there.
Due to the lack of education in all of Congo, people often pick the first likely name for any illness. A cough is automatically malaria, strange behavior is traumatization, and even when people are able to go to local hospitals they are rarely diagnosed before being given medication for one of these more well-known illnesses. I start thinking about what to possibly do if the woman does have leprosy. Though a frightening problem due to the many horror stories about the illness, leprosy is treatable these days. If there is a colony in Musienene, which I never heard of while living there, it would more than likely mean that the medication to treat leprosy is not available in this region. Or hopefully, they just don’t know about it.
-Please check with the Doctor as soon as possible to find out if it is leprosy, I say.
I start planning ways of finding or smuggling in enough leprosy medication for a potential colony.
-What about the woman from Katolu with the broken arm? I ask, switching tracks.
When speaking with the women in Katolu, one woman had a severly broken arm. After raping her, the soldiers tried to hit her in the head with their guns but she blocked the blow with her arm. The break happened months ago. At FEPSI, the Doctor said she would have to go to Goma for surgery. She would need a guardian and a Doctor from Butembo who would continue with post-op follow-up to go to Goma with her. Dr. Mukama agreed, Maman Marie was selected as the most appropriate guardian, and I arranged with the United Nations to provide her free transport. Dr. Mukama also talked to Dr. Luisi, the founder of HEAL Africa in Goma and arranged her free surgery and care. Yet, it’s been over a month since making those arrangements, as Dr. Mukama needs a free week to travel, and all three travelers need to provide copies of their identification to the UN in order to arrange the Movement of Persons (MOP) order.
Even with money, the largest obstacle in Congo is logistics. The woman lives three and a half hours away from Butembo on a road that’s not always accessible. Her ID will need to be brought to Butembo to be copied and then returned to her, and during that week she will be at greatly increased risk, as not having an ID is a common excuse for a soldier to feel justified in raping a woman. Soldiers near Graben, where the woman lives, can ask women at any time to show their identification. I’ve already spoken to one woman in Katolu who was raped because she had forgotten her I.D.
-We have not yet obtained her I.D. Urbain went out last week but she didn’t have it with her.
-Why didn’t he go to her house to get it since he was already out there?
-She lived ten kilometers away from the village center and it was already late enough where Urbain was in danger traveling.
-Okay, I say rubbing my forehead. Please send Urbain out again early in the morning.
I take out a few hundred dollars of money recently donated and hand it to Hangie.
-This woman must be a priority, I continue. It’s already been months and we have everything arranged except for her I.D.
Amazingly, the woman doesn’t have any children, which is a saving grace in this case. It means she can leave home without leaving a ten year old in charge of the younger kids. Hangie takes the money, says thank you and nods his head.
-Also, he says suddenly. The woman in Isale with the mental illness gave birth recently.
-Has she gotten any better at all?
The woman Hangie is referencing was a puzzle of thoughts that didn’t fit together or with the outside world. COPERMA was able to bring her in for treatment in Butembo, but psychological treatment here means wiping out a person’s brain for at least a week with psychotropics, and hoping the “break” will clear their minds. Of course, more than often it makes the situation drastically worse.
-No, she is very bad. And she cannot care for the child.
-What are we going to do?
-I don’t know. I think we must find a family member to take in the child but we have not found yet.
If a family member is able to take in the child, they won’t be able to effectively support him and follow-up is something COPERMA can’t even consider. They're already struggling to help the many survivors of sexual violence in the village that's almost inaccessible.
-They haven’t released the child from the hospital yet, as she can’t afford the fees to liberate him.
-Use the money I just gave you to liberate him from the hospital, but not until you’ve found someone to take him in.
-Okay, we will arrange that when we go for the I.D. We can pass through Isale on the way to Katolu.
-Great, I’m so sorry I can’t join you and help but I have to go to Goma again, today.
-We will see you when you get back then, he says standing up.
Outside I quickly say good bye to everyone and rush home to pack for another trip. First to Goma then Mangurajipa. Mangurajipa is a gold mining village Northwest of Butembo. It’s the village I was advised not to travel to without security, by a gold salesman. Security has now presented itself, so Dusan and I will go To Check On The Things.