Jambo! Habari gani? Greetings from Bukavu
I have seen and experienced so much in the past week it feels
as though several weeks have passed already. I am on
the far east side of DRC on Lake Kivu
, walking distance
from the Rwandan border. It is stunningly beautiful
here amidst the horrifying backdrop of a war zone.
The Congolese have a tenacity of spirit similar to
what I recall sensing from other war-affected people
during my travels in the middle east.
I am staying with a family of 9 here, experiencing a
taste of Congolese daily life. I am enjoying
plantains, cassava, peanuts, dried fish, mangos, and
bananas. i even had goat meat last night, but decided
to pass on the dried monkey meat. Unfortunately I've
had a bad case of "traveler's tummy" but am starting to
feel better now. The woman I am staying with, Yvette Kalumuna,
directs PAREC, a peace and reconciliation organization that is
working on an arms exchange program for the many
militias still roaming the mountains. She facilitates
dialogue with militia leaders and collects their
weapons in exchange for highly valued tin roofing
materials and bicycles. The weapons are then
destroyed during community gatherings - a practical
act of peacebuilding and a symbolic rejection of
violence. She is a brave and passionate woman and I
am deeply inspired by her committment to healing the
wounds of her country.
I spent today with Yvette's husband Dr. Dieudonne,
director of treatment for leprosy and TB in this
region for the ministry of health. He works closely
with the Leprosy Mission headed here by an Australian
woman named Maggie Mead who has lived here for 14
years, through three wars. Quite a woman! Leprosy is
still an issue here but new cases are decreasing.
Much of their work addresses the needs of families
affected by leprosy due to the disability it causes
and the associated stigmatization. TB is on the rise
here due to its connection with poverty, malnutrition,
and HIV. Many continue to die of this preventable
disease every day.
Yesterday I visited Panzi hospital especially known
for it's work with the multitude of rape victims from
the war. Thousands of women have been treated here
for rape-related injuries including many who were shot
and mutilated with sticks, knives, and gun barrels
resulting in fistulas
. Doctors here specialize in
fistula operation and women travel here from far and
wide for a cure. I met one woman here who was raped
and tortured at the age of 17 during the height of the
war. She has been at the hospital, away from her
family for over 6 years now enduring one operation
after another. She said that she did not feel human
anymore and had no future.
I also met a precious 5-yr. old girl named Julie who
had just returned from 8 months of medical treament in
the US after being gang raped and shot by militia.
Last week I visited with women in a small village
outside of Bukavu who told their stories of being
raped and then shunned by their husbands, families,
and communities. I met women who are pregnant as a
result of rape and some who have also been infected
with HIV. The stories like these are unending.
Though most of the conflict related violence is
diminishing these women will continue to suffer for
years to come due to the physical, psycho-emotional,
and social wounds that have been inflicted on them.
My heart does not stop cracking open...
Even so, there is q sense of hope present. It is in
the air - a tangible desire for peace, stability, and
prosperity. People seem tired of just surviving.
They are careful not to be too optimistic as they have
seen the country plunge into war and political
instability all too many times. But leaders are
arising, choosing to forge ahead to develop a better
place for their children even in the face of
...internet cafe closing... more to come...