whatever i believed in this is all i have to show
What kind of person rapes a seven-year-old? This is the question I've been pondering for the last 24 hours or so. But to explain how I ended up spending yesterday helping interview survivors of the unspeakable violence in the countryside here, I should probably back up.
Mr. Florida finally made it to Goma on Tuesday, after taking the scenic route with the UN flight. Anyway, someone he randomly met in Kinshasa had some friends here, a couple named Camille and Esther, who went to college in Los Angeles and are missionaries supported by a church there. Camille and Esther are Congolese, but they are not from Goma and life here is just as much an adventure for them as it is for me. They are super-nice and are letting Mr. Florida live with them, and have also offered to let me live at their wonderful home next month when they are back in the U.S. Esther has been incredibly kind to me, inviting me over for dinner and taking me shopping for kitchen supplies. I am so thankful for their friendship. And, plus, this Sunday Camille is preaching on The Purpose-Driven Life en francais at their church. I am, as you can imagine, very intrigued by the prospect.
Anyway, part of what Esther is doing here is thinking about ways her church in America can help with the violence perpetrated against women and girls here in the eastern Congo. Long story short; the regular army, the rebel forces, and the various armed factions in the region live off the land because they aren't paid regular salaries. They loot from villages, but sometimes they first demand protection money. If a family can't pay (which of course most can't), their homes are burned, their things are taken, and the girls and women are raped. Another particularly heinous practice that is unfortunately common among one particular rebel group (the one led by the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide) is to take young girls and make them soldiers' "wives." These girls are as young as 6 years old, and, as my friend Nicole pointed out, they can't cook or clean or grow goods to sell in the market, so there's only one reason these awful men want "wives."
Some of these women and girls end up living in the forest for years. Yesterday, I joined Esther, Nicole, and Mr. Florida in videotaping interviews of some of these survivors. One woman who is my age had been taken in the forest and had her arm broken by the time she managed to escape -- she was found by some Christians out in the forest. She has four children and no idea how she will provide for them now. Another woman has a health problem that would be so simply solved in the west, but here she had to make her way to Goma, and now must wait for a doctor to come from Bukavu, all for the simple services of an ob/gyn. The picture at left is of these womens' children, who were completely absorbed by Mr. Florida and the camcorder.
Walking out of a hospital that specializes in treating these women, Esther stopped to say hello to a little girl, probably about 8 years old. She smiled and had a nice conversation and then went on her way as Esther told us that she is a victim. Then, later at the house before lunch, we looked at the tape of the interview they had done before I arrived with Chantalle, who is 13, and who was abducted when she was 7, lived with the rebels for 6 years, and has finally managed to escape with her baby. She told her story with no expression on her face and she seems numb.
We sat at lunch in stunned silence. I couldn't help but think about the GA's and the teenagers at church. These girls are exactly their ages, with all the hopes and dreams and fears that come along with growing up, but their childhoods, and probably their lives, have been destroyed by men who are beyond evil. As Nicole pointed out, how will they live the rest of their lives? How will they raise their children if they have been so traumatized as to have had to shut down their capacity to feel or to show emotion? And how will they ever get better in a place where there are so few social services, almost no counseling services, and where, if they become depressed and can't get out of bed, everyone else is too busy trying to survive to help them?
I'm wondering what it would look like to be able to provide comprehensive serivces to women and girls who are victims of rape in the eastern Congo. There are lots of groups working on this, but the number of victims is in the tens of thousands. What would it look like? Because now that I know, really know, that this is going on, I can't just stand by. I've looked into the eyes of children who've known more suffering than anyone can bear, and those eyes are going to haunt me for the rest of my life.