Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In The Jungle

          Sunday morning I’m rocked into the world by the smooth sounds of an Italian symphony orchestra.  I can’t separate myself from dreaming for a while; the sounds of string harmonies tie my dreams to reality and the two worlds are able to communicate with the music acting as translator.  I wake up when a male’s voice becomes another layer over the smooth water sounds of the strings and I realize that the music is in fact real.  On Sunday mornings, Conchetta and Father Giovani play opera music or soft symphonies from large black loud-speakers.  Starting at 6 a.m., the music floats over the village to help ease everyone through the transition from dreaming to life. 
          In the dining room, most everyone is already awake.  A thermos of golden espresso is waiting alongside the remaining Kit-Kats, some handmade cheese, and gradually aging bread. 
    -Chief, says Dusan walking in from the front porch.  Good morning.
    -Good morning, I respond as I pour Conchetta’s magical, smooth black coffee into a mug. 
          There is nothing like fresh Italian espresso in the morning in the middle of Congo.
    -Are C—and the others already setting up?  I ask.
    -I don’t know.  I am thinking yes but I cannot think too early in the morning.  You know this.
          C—and his team are going to have a photo shoot in front of a green screen all day. 
    -I think I’m going to go check out the church for a little, I say. 
          I finish my coffee and then walk down the dirt road to a small brick building with colorfully dressed people covering the grass outside.  I sit down next to an elderly woman who smiles at me.  Nobody can hear anything that’s happening inside the church, yet everyone is sitting quietly as if receiving their own private mass and I’m the only one who can’t hear it.
    -Maman ,says the woman turning to me.  Give me money.
          The woman puts the back of her left hand in the palm of her right and slides her fingers towards me repeatedly.  It’s a common gesture and one that’s necessary to ignore unless I want to go broke or murder someone. 
    -No, I’m sorry, I say in French. 
          I stand up and leave the church, since I’m not included in the sermon anyway.  Back at the house the music is still blasting but it has switched from soft symphony to children’s music.  In front of my room there are about 20 children dancing around to the music.  It’s quickly apparent which song is their favorite, and I think Conchetta must be watching since the song plays three times more often than the others.  As soon as the first notes start to play all of the kids jump into action; right hand to forehead and left hand to back, then switch, shake booty and shuffle around.  They look like rhythmic, and happy little worms.
          In the jungle the miiiiighty jungle, the liooon sleeps toniiiight.  In the jungle the mighty jungle the lion sleeps toniiiiiight.
          A-weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee—a-wiimmmbaaa- weeeeeehhhh.
          During the chorus all of the children start howling along with the song.  I let one of them show me how to do the hand-to-forehead-rump-and-shake-then-switch dance and all of the kids laugh but keep dancing. 
          Hush my darling, be still my darling the lion sleeps tonight.
          I look past the little crowd of laughter and movement and notice someone leaning against a banana tree on the far right side of the compound.  He is wearing army green, black boots, and has an AK-47 slung over his shoulder.  He’s leaning with one arm up against the banana tree, watching the children without seeming to really see them.  I look on the other side of the compound and notice another AK-47 in green.  The children either haven’t noticed or simply don’t care. 
    -The Mai-Mai have started to arrive, says Aubrey walking up from behind me.
    -Yes, I was just noticing.  Are you guys ready to get started?
    -Almost.  I think C—still has some stuff to do.
    -Has he already set up the photo area?
    -He’s working on it right now on the porch.
          I say good bye to the kids with a quick worm gyration and walk around the house where there is a fairly large wooden porch jutting off of the house.  C—has spread a green cloth on the far end of the porch and is arranging different sized lights that look like fancy umbrellas.  I look towards the church and notice people starting to flow out.
    -It looks like church is finished C---.
   -Okay, thanks, I’m almost ready.  Nelson and Aubrey will be selecting people as they come out.
          C—has a cigarette hanging from his lips that wobbles as he speaks.  Within only a few minutes the grass area around the porch is cluttered with human beings.  As the number of people increases, so does the number of Mai-Mai.  They stand mostly in a clump around the two Colonels who are sitting in wicker chairs.  A few stick their fingers in the monkey cage, with their machine guns swinging in the air behind them.  A young guy with short braids and colorful beads throughout is carrying a large rocket-propelled grenaden(RPG).  Except for the Colonels, all of the young men are carrying at least one weapon. 
          I smile at the braided young man carrying the RPG and he nods at me and smiles back.  Two of the young men carrying AK-47s turn and laugh at each other as one of the monkeys in the cage munches on some green weeds.  Even though their carelessly held weapons often point at my chest and face, I feel completely at ease with them.  I realize now why seeing the boys the other day seemed so normal; because they are normal.  Army clothes and deadly weapons don’t make a boy a man or a monster.  They are people, and once again, all of my preconceived judgments and ideas about things in Congo deflate completely.  No, there shouldn’t be boys taught to kill but the reality of everything is much more complex than a simple right or wrong judgment. 
          C—invites some of the Mai-Mai onto the porch and begins arranging them; he molds their weapons and body positions as the villagers look on.
    -There are two FDLR here, mutters Jay from behind Dusan. 
          He says it quietly and makes sure not to move his lips.
FDLR are a Rwandan rebel group that originated after the Rwandan genocide.  They are composed primarily of ex-genocidaires and Rwandan refugees.
    -Don’t look, he barks as Dusan begins to turn around.
    -There is one next to the empty chair behind me, and one by the monkey cage, Jay continues as if practicing ventriloquism.
          Everybody within hearing distance slowly scratches their cheek with their shoulder or stretches inconspicuously.  The two men Jay is referencing look exactly like the other armed men in the yard.
    -How can you tell?  I ask.
    -FDLR always carry two weapons.  And I spoke with them and if you talk to someone you can know immediately.
    -Why are they here? Is that a problem?
    -No, it is not problem.  Colonel S. invited them.  FDLR gave warning that if we extracted anyone they would retaliate.  Colonel S. told them to send people to make sure that we are not doing anything funny just taking pictures.
    -Small chief, says Dusan.  I think you must to arrange the things with Colonel S. for your dick-cutting project.
    -Okay, I’m ready, I say.
          Dusan motions to Colonel S. who quickly walks over to me.  We step off the porch and walk a few feet away from the crowd.
    -So, I was thinking I can just talk to your guys as they finish taking their pictures, I say in French.
    -Okay.  That sounds like a good idea, he says. 
    -Also, you told me you wanted me to speak with the head of some civilian council, correct?
    -Yes, the Mwami-King.  I think it is important you speak with him.  The civilians need to be educated as well and they often are doing this raping and blaming it on Mai-Mai.  The Mwami, for example, he will take a wife as young as this girl.  He will take several wives of that age.
          Colonel S. points to a little girl of about five years old hugging my leg.
    -Really?  I didn’t know that.
    -Yes.  It’s not good.  You need to speak also with them so that they can know that this is not okay.
    -Okay, I’m not sure when we’ll be able to but I will make-sure to make that part of my plan.
          I’m also not sure how I’m going to combat culturally ingrained values and convince a village King that he shouldn’t marry a five year old.  We finish speaking and Colonel S. walks onto the porch where he is similarly molded and posed.  I grab my pamphlets.  There are three pages, two with basic information about various sexually transmitted infections/HIV/AIDS and the Geneva Conventions.  One page has an image of a very ill man and an image of infected genitalia.  As these men have been living in the bush with almost no access to anything, the information I’m giving is basic but most likely new.  It’s a bit crude, but still informative and just the beginning.
          I walk over to the monkey cage when C—finishes taking their pictures.  Rather than just one at a time coming, all 14 of the Mayi-Mayi and both of the FDLR soldiers follow me.  Jay has agreed to translate for me and he and I stand in the middle of a messy half-circle.  I hand out the papers to each person, and every individual reaches forward eagerly.  One of the FDLR rebels reaches over the shoulder of a Mai-Mai a bit over-zealously and knocks the Mai-Mai guy forward a little.  Neither seems to notice.
    -Hello, my name is Amy, I begin.  I’m here to talk to you about sexual violence, but also to just give you information related to this.  I know that many times you are accused for things that you do not do, and by speaking with me you can show to others that you are not the ones doing this and that you want to suppress this type of behavior.
          Jay translates and the rebels all watch me silently.
    -This information is just basic information about sexually transmitted infections as well as the Geneva conventions, to show you what the consequences can be from sexual violence, on the part of the man.
          One of the soldiers says something in rapid Swahili.
    -He says they are not allowed to do this raping thing.
    -Yes, I know this.  I am not saying they are doing this or not, I’m simply trying to give them information about it.  And I know that the purpose of Mai-Mai is to protect the communities.  So if you will be open to working with me more, you can not only show that it is not you who are doing these things, but you can even become like teachers in your communities.  That way if you know civilians who are confused about this or thinking it is okay to rape, then you can act as teachers and show them that it is very bad to rape.  And as Mayi-Mayi, you are particularly good for this because women are such an important part of the community and you can further help protect your communities by learning about this and teaching others that sexual violence is very bad.
          I speak some more about the information on the papers and the Mai-Mai stand patiently, listening and looking at the pages. 
    -I look forward to working with you more in the future, and thank you for speaking with me today.
          I nod at them and smile and Jay and I turn to walk away.
    -Merci, I hear several voices say behind me.
          I’m exhilarated.  They listened, they were interested.  They even said thank you.  And I have the go-ahead to keep working with them, which was the primary purpose of this initial visit.  And even FDLR elements now have some of the papers and will no doubt bring them back to their camps.  The papers do not accuse anyone, they simply include information.  Education is a tool, and hopefully I’ll soon be standing in a crowd of FDLR with a Mai-Mai monitor or two.
          The rest of the day consists of posing.  The Mai-Mai, FDLR, and villagers all watch with the same interest and amusement.  I’m even asked to step in for a few photos wearing head to toe African pagne.  After a few hours the Mai-Mai’s patience is clearly starting to run out and Dusan has to inform C—that they need to leave.  C— waves them off and keeps taking pictures of the villagers.  He asks each one what their dreams are: a radio, cars, an education, a husband, hair like a muzungu girl, an angel as a wife.  For dinner we eat Mediterranean salad complete with a type of coos-coos and olives. 
         Of all of the things I imagined about the bush, not one single thing was correct.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Colonels

          We gather ourselves and our things, including $50,000 worth of camera equipment, at one of the MONUSCO bases on Lake Kivu.  C—explains while we eat omelets in the luxurious MONUSCO restaurant that he’s doing several things.  He runs the UN Television station in Goma and is making a series on DDR/RR, Dusan’s section.  He wants it to be hard-hitting, and show United Nations whistle blowers and decision makers in New York that “they don’t know what the fuck Congo is.”
          C—is accompanied by two other Americans; Aubrey, a tall, wavy-haired doctorate student, and Nelson, a fairly quiet and freckled film maker who has a large black camera constantly glued to his hand.
    -So, you’re sure that security is good enough, asks C—when he finishes explaining his project.  I can’t simply replace this level of equipment.
    -Yes, yes.  Responds Dusan.  Not any any problem.  You can to ask Amy, she was there.  We Arranged The Things with The Guy and this is sure.  Absolutely sure.  Right Amy?
          The conversation with The Guy did end in the agreement of arranged security but it seems as if Dusan is doubting his own appraisal of the agreement.
    -Definitely.  I respond.  He said he’ll arrange everything.
         I don’t really trust my own appraisal either, but The Guy seemed straight forward and even a little kind. 
    -And aside from equipment, we are needing to take special care of the ladies, says Dusan, turning to Aubrey. 
          He has a glint in his eye that I recognize but I know she won’t be prepared for.
    -I am thinking this is good thing you are coming, Aubrey.  Because in this way, Amy won’t have to be only one raped.  You can split it.
          Dusan laughs, and I put my face in my hands.  Aubrey looks shocked for a moment but quickly recovers and chuckles along with Dusan. 
    -Wow.  Well, I guess it’s a good thing I’m coming, Aubrey retorts.
    -No, I am not meaning this, says Dusan.  I am just liking to confusing the things.  If you think I am worst person in the world, then when I’m polite you will think I am extremely polite.  And I am Croatian, and I am Dusan.  So I am not often polite.
    -Okay, well now I know, says Aubrey.
          When we finish our omelets, half of the table smokes 3-4 cigarettes, and Dusan has rebuked Aubrey for speaking in a man’s presence before exploding in laughter, we move into the bright sunshine and climb into the shiny white vehicles.  We drive several hours along the route Dusan and I just travelled to Kirumba, where there is a parish with rooms for only $10.00 a night.  We stop at a local restaurant and eat salted tilapia fish, fries, sombe, and listen to Dusan explain the nuances of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. 
          The next day we set out for Muhanga.  On the way we stop at the Indian battalion in Kirumba, where three men were recently killed by Mai-Mai. 
    -These Indian soldiers are not soldiers, explains Dusan.
          He and C—seem to agree on this point and they discussed it at length before we left even Goma.
    -They are paid much better in UN than in India, he continues.  But when they are here, I am telling you, they are doing everything they possibly can to do absolutely nothing.  We are to stop here and to telling them that we are to go to Muhanga and if we need help they are to come.  This is stupidity, I’m telling you.  You see these cars their country sends?  They can’t to drive more than 10 kilometers an hour.  And no possibility they are to make it through the roads to Muhanga.  I am telling you, they are using every effort to specifically accomplish nothing.
          The United Nations is an interesting creature with many colors, traditions, religions, values and opinions.  Dusan explained previously that one reason the UN is not as effective as it should be, is because of the extremes in cultural variations.  It seems slight to me at first, but the more time I spend with UN employees the more it makes sense.
          When we arrive at the Indian battalion the entrance is blocked off with layers of barbed wire.
    -They are extremely more cautious now because of this attack, whispers Dusan.
          Inside the compound the film crew surrounds Dusan as he speaks to one of the Indian officers.  I wander over to a guards tower where there are three chiseled, tan, Indian men holding machine guns and watching the camera crew.
    -Excuse me, I say as gently as possible.  I heard that you were recently attacked here and you lost some men.  I’m very sorry for your loss.
          The men stare at me blankly before looking around at eachother.
    -English little, says the tallest one with the most chiseled features.
    -Oh.  Um.  Attack.  Men. Dead.  I say slowly.
          They understand this much and nod their heads.  A short soldier on my left holds up three fingers.
    -I am sorry.  I say and put my hand over my heart.
    -Thank you.  It is here, says the tall one.
          He points to the far end of the compound, swings around to the other side of the compound, and then settles on a red X painted on the ground just inside the gate.
    -Man died there?  I ask.
          The tall one makes the motions of chopping into his own neck with an imaginary machete.
    -Machete? I ask, taken a back.
    -Machete and guns.
    -I’m very sorry.
          The men simultaneously return to staring at the camera crew with stern faces.  When Dusan has finished his conversation the cameras are lowered and I walk back into the group.  On the way out we pass the red X, and I imagine the man who was killed.  A man most likely with a wife and children, insecurities, ideas, habits, comforts, and fears.  In the car Dusan continues talking about whatever whatever, and I silently fume next to him.  With all of the talk of how this battalion is incapable, everyone is forgetting the importance of those three lives.  Criticizing the men who lived, and the men who died, means nothing in the face of the empty spaces they left behind. 
          After about an hour we stop and pick up Jay, a member of Dusan’s team and a translator.  I gladly allow him to take the front seat so I can organize and calm my thoughts.  The road turns from potholes and dust to overgrowth and craters.  C—‘s car gets stuck three times on the way in, but Dusan tightens something on the front wheels and they unstick easily.
    -This is best weather I have ever seen for this route, says Dusan.  Can you imagine this after raining at night?
    -Absolutely not, I respond shakily as I’m thrown around on the seat.
          After about five hours, and a brief pause to buy cow meat, beans and a live goat, we arrive at a small wooden shanty covered in dried banana leaves.  Dusan stops the car in front of a long wooden barrier across the road.  A boy runs down quickly from behind the hut.  He’s wearing army green clothes and carrying an AK-47.
    -Mai-Mai, mutters Jay. 
          Within seconds, three more individuals who can only be called boys, show up next to the shanty.  Dusan and Jay both get out of the car and talk to the first Mai-Mai, who is now standing by the barrier.  After a few minutes Dusan pounds the soldier on the back and I hear him yell, “thank you my friend!” 
    -How old do you think those guys are, I ask as we pass under the barrier. 
    -All underage, responds Jay.
          I remember the demobilized Mai-Mai I spoke with a while ago.  At the time it seemed like such a frightening idea.  Yet somehow, actually seeing the boys in action, despite the guns, seems almost normal.  I lose track of the time and focus only on the cratered road and the car handle I’m clinging to.
    -Hold onto handle like you are to take it with you back to United States, exclaims Dusan whenever we hit a particularly large hole.
          Finally, the brush opens into a little village, and just as the sun is setting we pull up to an L-shaped brick house where a plump little muzungu woman is waiting for us.  Conchetta is a beautiful elderly woman from Italy.  Dusan calls her a “nannie,” meaning nun, but I find out that she’s just a woman who wanted a simple life and so moved to the middle of nowhere Congo almost 40 years ago.  Father Giovanni runs the parish but he is in Italy for a medical condition. 
          There’s a make-shift metal merry go-round with toddlers dripping from it. 
    -This little compound is for the kids, says Jay.  Don’t tell them what to do here unless they’re hurting each other.  This is their space. 
          Six hours off of the main road, in a place marked with gold and diamond mining, where Mai-Mai and FDLR rebels live side by side and not always peacefully, the Muhanga parish has 24 hour electricity, internet, two security cameras, and walls painted with brightly colored ocean scenes and rainbows. 
    -You two women, Conchetta says quickly in a mix of French, Swahili and Italian.  You can share this room and then you will share the bathroom with me.
          We follow her to a clean room with two beds and then into the main house.  In the bathroom there’s hot water and a washer-dryer machine.  I smile to myself as I watch the little woman with dyed black hair point out the various things we ladies might need.  In the kitchen there’s a large wooden table with a lazy-susan ready to spin. 
          Maman Conchetta quickly places a bag of Kit-Kats and a bag of Snickers on the susan.  Someone else quickly adds a bottle of J&B whisky.  Dinner is ready shortly after our arrival.  Maman Conchetta grills up the cow meat, fries potatoes, brings cheese and fresh bread, and places six cold Heineken beers on the table. 
          In the morning, there’s freshly made Italian espresso that tastes like gold.  When I sit at the table, I notice a man wearing a clean black and green track suit who I hadn’t seen before. 
    -Colonel V, says Jay, noticing my confusion. 
          I reach out and shake the young man’s hand.  He nods courteously but doesn’t say anything.
    -Mai-Mai?  I ask.
    -Yes, Colonel of Mai-Mai, says Jay.
          Colonel V picks up his fork in his left hand, his knife in his right and begins carefully cutting a slice of cheese and bread on his plate.  His back is straight and no elbows on the table.
    -He’s tres chique, adds Conchetta a little later.
          The Bush Bed and Breakfast: The Most Comfort You’ll Find in Any Rebel Territory!
          After breakfast, C—and his team get the camera equipment ready.  We have a meeting with the Mai-Mai.  Their camp is not far from the Muhanga parish but we can’t go directly there, we have to be invited.  Colonel V gets into the back of Dusan’s car and I climb in after him.  On the road we run into Colonel S.  I’ve met Colonel S. before and he greets me enthusiastically.  Colonel S. was extracted from the bush as part of a larger program, but when the program fell through Colonel S. fled the MONUSCO camp and ran back into the bush. 
          Colonel S. climbs in and sits next to me.  As we drive I ground myself in the fact that I am sitting sandwiched between two Mai-Mai colonels, both of whom are innately fugitives from the state.  Colonel V has his arm stretched over the seat behind me.  All I can think about is how fresh his arm pit smells and how clean both Colonel’s clothes are.
    -So, when you speak with the General, you must to tell that this is not documentary, says Dusan. 
          Colonel S. speaks French, Swahili and basic English but Jay translates to make things smoother.  Colonel S. interrupts Dusan and Jay starts laughing.
    -He says, they are not worried about this movie thing.  They are afraid of Aimé.
          I turn quickly to Colonel S. and then re-steady my gaze out of the front window.
    -He says, even the General L.F. is saying he is afraid of what this muzungu woman wants to do. 
          I realize how strange it must actually be, having a young white woman, requesting an audience with the Mai-Mai.  I’m a rogue party and they don’t know what my intentions are.  I smile to myself.
    -Stop here, says Colonel S. in French.
          We pull over on a stretch of road that’s completely vacant of anything but trees, dirt and children.  Everyone climbs out of the cars.  Now it’s C—‘s turn.  Colonels V and S stand in a circle with C--, his translator Horeb and Nelson and Aubrey circling.  They have to discuss what C—wants and what he’s going to give in return.  The conversation doesn’t interest me much so I watch the accumulating children.  Suddenly, there’s a commotion.
    -You’re just a fucking murderer, C— shouts at Colonel S.  I’m not going to play any of your fucking games.
          I look quickly to Colonel S. who looks startled but in control. He's very hard to read.  The little party separates as Horeb tries to calm C—and smooth the disrespect thrown at the Colonels.  Dusan looks a little nervous.  He walks between C—and the Colonels trying to calm the situation as well.  C—is eccentric and not a coward, but he’s also not stupid.  And his reaction is histrionic, even for an artist.  He’s acting.  But he’s definitely taking a risk.
          Only a few minutes after the commotion begins, C—walks over to Colonel S. and apologizes.  He explains a miscommunication that I don’t fully understand, and effectively gets Colonel S. completely on his side.  Free pass, as long as the General gives permission.  C—really does know what he’s doing.
          We get back in the cars and drive to a school on a hill.  All nine of us begin hiking up a path to a little wooden bench where now and then there is reception.  We’re joined by a few more Mai-Mai soldiers, younger and less confident than the Colonels.  As the Mai-Mai and Jay stand with their hands and cellphones in the air trying to catch a ray, Dusan speaks to C—and the cameras.  I sit on the little wooden bench with Horeb.  He’s a light skinned Congolese man; very intelligent and has a good sense of humor.
    -So, what I don’t get, I say squinting through the sharp sunlight.  Is how and why are FDLR and Mai-Mai just living next to each other?  I thought they were enemies. 
    -They are, sometimes, he says.  But right now they have a common enemy.
    -The governmental forces?  I ask.
    -Exactly.  And besides, the Mai-Mai aren’t actually strong enough to chase the FDLR from here.  The Mai-Mai are equipped with weapons but they can’t actually win against the FDLR.
          Horeb turns his head quickly towards the clump of Mai-Mai and cellphones.  He yells something in Swahili and Colonel S. responds immediately.
    -I just asked him if the Mai-Mai ever beat the FDLR, he says turning back to me.  He says yes they have beaten them many times.  The problem is that when they do win, the FDLR begin pillaging the villages and raping the women in order to get back at the Mai-Mai and reestablish power.
    -Oh.  That’s terrible.
          A half-siren rings out from behind a neighboring hill.  At first it sounds like a loud bird, but as the rhythm continues it becomes clear the sound is machine made.
    -That’s a signal to the Colonels, says Horeb.
          The Colonels don’t seem to even notice the bird-like alarm.  After about 40 minutes one of the cellphones finally gets through.  Angry sounding Swahili explodes through the speakerphone.  I hear my name mentioned several times.  Horeb walks over to C—and translates quietly into his ear.
    -The General is refusing Amy to speak with his men.  He says she can be present for our work but she cannot speak to them or mention sexual violence.
          I nod my head and look back to the screaming phone.  All I have brought for this initial trip are basic pamphlets about sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and the Geneva conventions.  One pamphlet simply includes an image of a bubbling, infected penis, and the words IF YOU RAPE YOU CAN BECOME SICK, in Swahili.  The pamphlets are very little; the primary aim was to gauge how open to working with me the rebels would be.  Even a refusal gives me information.
          Jay quickly weaves through the Mai-Mai and speaks into the phone.  I can understand enough of his Swahili to know he’s explaining what exactly I want to do.  The screaming voice gets softer and I understand an affirmation.
    -Thanks Jay, I say as he walks passed me. 
          He gives me a low high-five and a fist pound.
    -He just thought you were coming to accuse them of raping and he can’t have that.  I explained that you want to do education and that it can show to UN that Mai-Mai want to suppress sexual violence.  So he agreed.
    -Fantastic.  Will I speak with them tomorrow?
    -We will either go to their camp today or you’ll speak tomorrow.
          I walk back down the hill glowing with intrigue.  The Colonels are well-educated, but will the lower soldiers even listen to me?  Back at the house Conchetta pulls cold Coca-Cola’s from the refrigerator and hands them out to everyone.  Colonels V and S sit outside of Dusan’s room laughing with the translators and sucking on the cold clear bottles.  I watch the kids running around in the courtyard and try to figure out how I feel about the day.
         Colonel V stands up and starts walking across the sand lot.  A little girl, about the height of his knee, picks up a pebble and tosses it to him.  Colonel V catches it dramatically and tosses it back to the girl, who tosses it with laughter back again.  The Colonel catches the pebble and pops it into his mouth like a peanut.  I see the pebble sail behind the Mai-Mai Colonel’s back but the little girl’s jaw drops open for a moment before emitting squeals of delight.  She sees only a grown man in a green and black track suit chewing happily on a pebble.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Goma, The Guy, and the Mai-Mai

    Dusan and I don’t see eachother for two months, and then suddenly, and as out of the blue as always, he reappears.  We meet in Ivatsyro hotel, a four story hang out for FaRDC, local police and Internationals.  The concrete building is lit with every color neon light making it feel permanently like a red light district or Chinatown.
    -We are to go into the bush, to Muhanga.  We will stay there about three days and we are to also go to Kirumba and to Goma, says Dusan over a double whisky and a Pall Mall cigarette. 
          I have been trying to get Dusan to take me into the bush since the first time we met almost a year ago.  Finally, with plans for a rebel sensitization project, it is hopefully coming to fruition.
    -We are to pick C—in Goma, he is movie maker and he is making some film, whatever whatever, and he is to travel with us into Muhanga.   And you can do your soldier project.
          He pauses and moves his cigarette away from his face.
    -You know what I am calling this actually?  This what you are doing?
    -No, what, I ask, knowing the response can only be slightly offensive or full of doubt.
    -I am thinking you are vivisectionist.  Dick-cutter.
          He doubles over in laughter.
    -Okay, I guess you can call it that.  I have a question though, unrelated.
    -What?  His face immediately snaps back to serious.
    -I was thinking, with Kabila the father, he was assassinated supposedly because he was indicating he was going to do deals with the Soviet Union.  Of course, the western world can’t stand for communism or any hint at communism, and they helped arrange this assassination.  Now, Kabila the current president has just made a deal with the Chinese government for however many millions of dollars.  Do you think the western world will still consider this a big threat and arrange Kabila’s assassination?
          Dusan puts his whisky glass on the table and nods his head quietly, but not as an affirmation.
    -You must to understand.  First of all, you are not genius like me.  But, okay, you are junior genius so we can speak a little.  This is all political issue, this is all international relations.  It is not so simple as support or not support or communist contract.  Every government who does not have a lot of power, must to play the games.  They must to play the games always, always with two sides.  Because if they play the games with only one country, then that country will be in power of their government, not them. 
          He pauses and puckers his lips contemplatively.
    -You know, I think Rihanna has nicest ass in the world.  In The World.
          I laugh and figure he doesn’t want to talk politics, so I let him move on.
    -But, he continues.  Rihanna has no tits.  And a woman with the nicest ass in the world but no tits, is still not a woman.  For me.
    -I’ve never studied Rihanna’s ass or her tits before but okay.
    -FaRDC governmental forces have some men.  But they have not any effective artillery, weaponry, there is almost not any structure at all.  Out of ten, FaRDC has maybe one point.  So, they are like Rihanna.
    -FaRDC has an ass but no tits, I say laughing.
    -Yes.  Yes it is true.  It is not so difficult thing for International government to overtake Kabila and this FaRDC.  They have no tits.
    -Okay, I’m catching your point.  That’s a nice parallel.  I don’t think Rihanna would like it very much but I like it.
    -Yes, but she does have nicest ass, so it is okay.
    -So when will we leave for Muhanga?
    -Today, of course.  You can pick your things and we will proceed to Lubero after dinner and tomorrow morning we will proceed to Goma to pick C—and after that we will going to Muhanga.
    -Great.  I’m ready.
    -Yes, you think you are ready.  But, you are only dumb American so this is just thinking.
          He breaks into laughter that sounds like a ten year old boy.
    -This is true. 
    -Yes, but this is enough.  Maybe you can still become genius.
          That night we drive to Lubero and in the morning we stop at the United Nations DDR/RR office in Lubero to pick-up a woman Dusan has extracted.  She is the wife of an FDLR officer, and the rebel has agreed to allow her to leave and join her parents in Rwanda.  She’s 20 years old but looks 17.  We greet each other in Swahili but she speaks no French.  Dusan explains that she is from Rwanda but has lived her whole life in the bush.  Even though her Father was the President of a secondary school and her Mother a teacher in the school, Eugenie doesn’t speak any French.  When Dusan asked her why she did not benefit from her parents’ knowledge she responded, “Because we had to eat.”
          On the drive we pass through Kirumba and Virunga national park where there are scattered sentries of FaRDC soldiers.  All are wearing new-extremely tattered army digs and carrying mostly tattered machine guns.  I wonder what they would do if they knew we had an FDLR commander’s wife in the car.  The scenery changes from fertile mountains to fertile plains.  I give commiserating looks to Eugenie as we’re tossed around in the white metal vehicle.  Dusan talks the entire way about this and that and this and that.
          N’ Yuck’n ya n’ yuck’n yoo.
          We reach the perimeter of Goma after dark, though we should not be on the road at this time.
    -I think we are okay, says Dusan.  There was an attack last night and civilians were killed.  Some drunk civilian I’m sure causing problems and then another drunk civilian wants also to cause problems to counter problems of first drunk civilian.  And then people start yelling and whatever whatever.  FaRDC come and instead to arrest they start shotting.  And so for some drunk idiot two people are killed.  Stupidities.
          He nods at me.
    -Stupidities.  All.  And you are black cat so this is making me extra little bit nervous.
    -I’m a black cat?  Why?
    -You remember first time we drove this road and we pass Indian battalion only few hours before attack there and soldiers are killed.  And you are my responsibility.  I know you are not wanting this,  but this is how it is.
    -If I’m a black cat that’s a big responsibility to take on, I say.
          He shrugs his shoulders.
    -I am genius. I simply must to think twice.   Look there is Nyragongo, he adds.
          I look to the right and see a smoldering red light hanging in the air.  As smoke rises from the lava it carries the light on its back making it look like a floating ridge of burning trees, or the end of a simmering cigarette in the night.  I’ve never seen anything so ferociously, naturally beautiful.
    -Eh, and look on the left there is Rwanda.  Eko Rwanda, says Dusan. 
          He switches into basic Swahili and points to the left of the car where there are tiny pricks of light.  Eugenie leans into the window and stares at the black mountain where she is from; a place she has no doubt heard about all of her life.  She turns back to the front of the car and her smile hangs in the air like the Cheshire cat.  Nyragongo doesn’t hold a red candle to her excited hope.
    -And there ahead is Goma.
          Dusan slides his hand across the front windshield.
    -Eko Goma.
          The lights of the city spread before us like a spider web after a rain and for a moment the car is silent.
    -She has never even been to a village the size of Kanyabayonga, says Goran breaking the silence.  Can you believe?  This is crazy.  This must to be crazy for her.  I flew over New York city once, not land just fly over.  First time I am seeing light like this. It is like one big light and then you fly 30 kilometers closer and it becomes even bigger and bigger light.  You cannot imagine this, what it is like.
        It’s true, I can’t.  I grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. and lived in Manhattan for a year.  The change from village to city and the fears and novelties that must come with are out of my reach.  We leave Eugenie at a UN camp for ex-combatants where she will go through a 45 day repatriation program and hopefully, be reunited with her parents.  She has no children, somehow, and she has the status of being married so maybe fortune will be with her and whatever life she has left will be overshadowed only by the good of this next one.
          Dusan and I spend a few days bouncing around Goma greeting people and Arranging The Things.  I meet C—and his film team in the UN café perched on Lake Kivu.  C—is an eccentric, slightly cynical, but kind and hilarious individual.  He spouts ideas as if there’s a bomb exploding in his brain, but one that feels good, and he can’t keep his excitement to himself.  There is another muzungu woman traveling with us, along with 50 thousand dollars worth of camera equipment so Dusan must be sure security is okay.

          We meet with The Guy, The Guy who must not be named, in a back road of a back road in the darkness of a small concrete house.  Inside, The Guy is sitting on a couch drinking a Vitalo—a soft drink that tastes like Grenadine.  The Guy is a fugitive and a Mai-Mai Colonel, so the curtains are drawn.  He has a kind but intelligent face and a white, faux-Louis Vuitton t-shirt stretching across a small pot-belly.  He greets Dusan with three taps of the head and bows his head in respect when he shakes my hand.  The walls are covered in posters of the Holy Mother, a Jesus calendar, and a large poster of American rap stars.  Jesus, Marry Ludacris, and Biggie stare down at us as we speak.
    -I am needing to arrange the things, this is not so good that you are in Goma because I think it is best if you are in the bush, says Dusan immediately. 
    -I am to bring myself along with a film crew to Muhanga, as well as Amy here and one other woman.  Because of this I am needing to be absolutely sure that security is good.  The film crew is not doing a documentary, I must stress this.  They are doing a film that is like art, and it is also about DDR/RR and this work that I am doing.  So it is not to be a problem for Mai-Mai and your faces will be hidden and blurred.
    -Why you to cover our faces?  Asks The Guy.  Maybe you are showing FaRDC faces and you hide our faces and this makes like we are ashamed or doing something wrong and want to hide.
    -No, not any problem.  It is not like this it is for art it is not something to say who is doing what.  You understand?  It is not this documentary type.
    -It’s a film utilizing fiction mixed with reality to show a point, I say in French.
          The Guy nods his head and leans back.
    -And as you see, Amy is to go with us into Muhanga, Dusan picks up again.  She is doing very important work this sexual violence stuff and she is collaborating with DDR/RR as she is doing very important job.  If you work with Amy, she can give report saying that you cooperated to learn about sexual violence.  It can show that you are not committing that what people are saying you are committing.  That you are wanting to suppressing this.
          The Guy lifts his eyebrows and juts out his lower jaw in agreement every few seconds, a common Congolese gesture of active listening.  When Dusan finishes, The Guy looks at me and remains silent for a moment.
    -You know, it is not us who are doing these rapes and such, he says to me in French.  It is mostly civilians who then blame it on us because they know they won’t get in trouble if they say they are Mai-Mai. 
    -No, I understand this fully, I say.
          It’s impossible to get an idea here for who’s doing what and who’s simply blaming it on each other.  Rape was once a weapon of war here, maybe.  Now, it’s a weapon of politics, a smear campaign, and collateral damage. 
    -You will speak with the head of the civilians, he continues.  He will tell you things and you will see.
    -I would like that very much.  My aim is not to blame anybody, simply to give information about the consequences.
    -I will have to be in Muhanga, otherwise will not be safe, says The Guy turning back to Dusan. 
          Dusan reaches into his pocket and takes out a few bills.
    -Here, use this to take picky-picky and we will meet you there.  Can you to be there before we arrive on Friday afternoon?
          The Guy takes the money but keeps talking.
    -I think I can to go with you in your car, he says.
    -No, this is absolutely not possible.  I am telling you, please believing me in this.  It is idea that will end in disaster.  I cannot do that.  You must to understand, I would like to transport you but it is simply not possible.
          The Guy doesn’t look too happy but he tucks the money into his pocket.
    -Okay, I think I can get to Muhanga before you. 
    -Great, thank you my friend.  We must go to arrange the  other things.
          Dusan stands up and picks up his packet of cigarettes and the black Manchester lighter.  Finest Virginia Tobacco.  The Guy walks outside with us and chats with me in basic Kinande.  Like everyone else, he finds it hilarious that I speak even a few words of his local tongue.  As we leave the house, I see several FaRDC soldiers walking only a few meters away from the house, completely clueless that the fugitive they're searching for is right behind a thin veil of flowered sheets, hanging as curtains.  Drinking neon red grenadine from a bottle.
        If all goes well, we'll be seeing him next out in Muhanga.  Where Mai-Mai and FDLR are allegedly "co-habitating."