As is his style, Dusan appears with no warning, practically popping up in a bowl of fufu I’m about to eat. We must to go to Goma, please, really baby I need favor. I would not be asking if I am not really needing you, I know you have job to do in Butembo but really, please baby.
I arrange for Urbain to keep looking for a projector in Butembo and I give Baloti $100.00 donated to buy condoms for the Association of Women Living Alone, and we head to Goma. I wonder, during the bumpy ride, if there is a Guinness World Record for the longest amount of time a person can talk in a stream. I count the seconds that Dusan does not speak and add them up when we reach Goma. The grand total at the end of the nine and a half hour trip is: 12 seconds. He really could acquire a world record.
-Everything is hypocrisy, he says during one of the few times I’m actually listening. You must to have hope that you’ll find otherwise but know that you won’t finding it.
-Are you a hypocrite? I ask, considering the ways in which I’m one.
-Is that yes or no question?
-I guess I should rephrase, how are you a hypocrite?
He ignores the revision of my question but answers the general thought just the same.
-I think I’m less of hypocrite than is normal. But everyone is hypocrite. If you are lamb in pack of wolves, you won’t be lamb. You can’t be lamb. You must to survive. To survive is first. About these elections.
As usual, he changes the subject with no transition between thoughts.
-I’m needing you to always have your passport ready. And if there are some problems, you will nto have choice, I will pick you in Lubero. You will be in Lubero and you will leave.
-Don’t worry, I respond, I’m definitely going to take your advice and leave if you think I need to.
With the elections only a month away, the country is finally starting to buzz. Governmental forces have more than tripled in number and the ratty uniforms have been switched with crisp new camouflage. In the cities, people are starting to discuss the various people running for “delegate,” though nobody seems to need to discuss Kabila.
-I’m thinking, continues Dusan, I am almost sure in this. That there will be no problems but if there are problems.
-I need to be prepared, I mutter and he nods.
-Yes this is it. You know, it’s like rain. You’ve been in Congo long enough now to seeing that when the rain will come you can smell it in the air. Even if you do not going outside, you can smell this rain. There is something not able to touching in the air but you can feeling this.
-Yes, I add, realizing that now that the rainy season has started again, I have been noticing myself reading the signs. The wind often blows and the skies are often dark, but there is a subtle threshold and a certain something else that lets you know that rain will actually fall, not just threaten.
-This is how I’m feeling about elections. I do not think there will being problems but there is something in the air. And situation is not good in Rwanda right now, I am not happy about this.
-What do you mean?
- America shifted support to Uganda, France is miniscule in terms of support even though they are still with Rwanda. Kagame knows this is problem. Rwanda is not a good investment. It is now 17 years since genocide, and when Rwanda loses int’l support they have nothing. They have no sustainable economy. This is very bad. There will be civil war but not yet. Sarkozy went to speak with Kabila’s government in Kinshasa to ask them to give Rwanda open access to some of minerals Congo has here. And he survived, amazing. If someone is coming to Croatia and asking us to give our resources for free to neighboring country he will be killed, immediately.
-When do you think there will be war in Rwanda?
-I do not knowing but there will to be more problems still. You hear this that Obama has sent 100 American soldiers to Uganda.
-Yeah, to search for the FDLR and LRA except those groups are both in Congo not Uganda.
Dusan chuckles at this blatant deception.
-They are, I am telling you, he says. Listening to everything is happening in Eastern Congo. Right now they are listening to this what we’re speaking, I am telling you. They are going to wait to see how things are going to happen with elections. If things do not going their way they will to cause instability.
-What will happen with CNDP (Congolese Tutsi forces who are integrated into the governmental army but are thought to be the connection between Kabila and Kagame)? Will Kabila be kicked out?
-I don’t know. America is to decide. They will listen and see what is to happen and they will to decide with not anybody knowing, what is to happen in entire region.
Normally, I’d shake my head at this as a conspiracy theory in which the United States is always the devil. But he’s almost definitely correct. It’s well known that when Lumumba became the first Prime Minister the CIA ousted him to install Mobutu. By this time, probably, the U.S. will be a bit more practiced at hiding their involvement. We pass through a village that’s covered in FaRDC—governmental soldiers.
-They’re really rolling out the troops, I say.
-Yes, they are needing to protecting the voting booths. They do not wanting the rebels to attacking the voting booths, this is sure. But how many people they will forcing to vote for Kabila, we’ll see.
Dusan veers the conversation again to talk about politics and homosexuality in Croatia, so I tune him out again. We arrive in Goma at night; Mount Nyragongo sits against a starry sky like a black cauldron, its top simmering with fire like the country it is rooted to.
Dusan introduces me to a friend of his, Lia, from Serbia and we all go out for dinner. After dinner Lia comes back to our house to smoke some more cigarettes and talk politics and history with Dusan. I guess the topic changes to something I might be interested in and the men switch into rusty English.
-My friend, says Lia standing against the porch railing, used to say that he would go around and ask every woman in place to fuck him. He would get 49 slaps but always he found one woman to go home with.
-That’s ridiculous, I say cringing. I don’t get how anyone can be so non-selective.
-It’s just for a fuck, Lia says laughing.
-You can to be horny! Dusan adds happily.
- I’m not proud of this, Lia says suddenly. But when I was kid I was drunk I was in car situation and she didn’t want to but she couldn’t get out of car.
-Wait, I say quickly, but you stopped right you didn’t continue?
-I was young and drunk kid. She cried, he says chuckling. I stare at him not sure what to do, how to move or what to think, so I just kind of stare.
My world fades away and only Lia and I are left in it. Dusan sees the potential fury building up inside of me and he changes the subject, but I just sit there staring at Lia. This man who I sat next to at dinner. Dusan sees I’m stuck so he returns to the general subject.
-I do not to understand how anyone can to have erection when woman says no, he says in a non-accusatory way. If woman says no, is no. I do not understand brain that can to have erection when woman says no.
My whole body is screaming fuck this country! But it’s not this country. This happened in Serbia, in an everyday, non-conflict zone situation. It was probably a date that the girl was enjoying until that moment in a car. I wonder how her life changed. I don’t know what to do. Lia has a wife and kids and is one of the few men here who doesn’t bounce around cheating on his wife. He’s respectful and kind and I can’t mesh the images together. It’s like oil and water. Two years ago I would have responded to this with indignation. But now indignation feels useless. What does it accomplish? How can I tell this man who’s 10 years older than me, that’s horrible. He already seems to know it but still… he should be in jail. My brain is a train wreck of confusion so I excuse myself from the men and go to bed.
Dusan and I spend the next day at the MONUSCO offices, Arranging The Things. When we’re about to leave, a tall dark man who speaks perfect English wanders into the office where I’m sitting. He has an IPad and doesn’t know how to connect to the internet, so I agree to help him.
-What do you do here? I ask, after we’ve left his office and are standing outside in the cold night air.
-I’m in charge of corrections in North and South Kivu. Prisons.
-Wonderful! I respond. I just started working in the prison in Butembo.
-Good, he says. They need all the help they can get. I feel so bad, I’m trying to help those women in the prison but if we lock their section of the prison all the time they will never have access to sunlight or open air.
-Yes, I’ve only been a few times but I can already see it’s a horribly complicated situation.
-It is. You know, there was a fourteen year old girl who was raped just last week.
-Was she a prisoner?
-No, she was visiting someone but she was kidnapped and hidden. From Thursday until Monday she was hidden and kept as a sexual slave.
I shiver, despite the sweater I’m wearing.
-Is she okay?
-I don’t know. I don’t know how they could have hidden her for that long.
Was I there when she was? The thought brings ants to my skin.
-Help them as much as you can, he says.
We shake hands and he walks back to his office. Dusan and I leave to meet up with Lia for dinner. I still don’t know how to react or feel. We sit at a table facing the lake and both of the men immediately commence chain-smoking. I sit silently, not sure how to act. As always, the conversation turns to prostitution.
-How long did you make it before giving in to sleep with these local girls? Lia asks.
-Six months, says Dusan.
-Because I am here only four months, responds Lia, and I am already fucked up in the head. This is why I’m avoiding alcohol because I don’t want to sleep with these local girls.
I can’t take it anymore, I know I need to say something or leave Congo because I won’t deserve to be here.
-Even if you were drunk would you ever force a woman like you did in the car? I ask.
-No! Never, Lia says emphatically. That wasn’t because I was drunk it was because I was young and stupid. I had nothing in my head. Thinking only with the dick. Now, I know who I am and what is okay to do to another human and what is not. I am sorry about that hundreds of times over. It’s not human. You know, my mother says that you can see a girl’s tears written in night sky.
I nod, not knowing what else to do. His indignation against himself is the only thing that could allow me to keep speaking with him, though I still feel strange about it. What I’m trying to do in the prisons and with soldiers is to help educate them so they can move forward from a harmful mentality; to find humanity in people who seem to be monsters and hope that their humanity provides a road to progress. Maybe Lia is an example of that hope or that road. But now that the situation of honesty, confession, has presented itself I don’t know the difference between justice and justified forgiveness and acceptance. Everything feels grey.
When I was a child, I found out that someone I cared about and respected had sexually molested someone else I care about. I dismissed the man from my life but my pre-established love and respect for him fiercely battled the hatred that arose. Forgiveness and justice are undefined and can’t be pinned down. All I know is that Lia’s mother was probably right about tears, and there are a lot of stars in the sky.