"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

6.24.2006

empty as a monday morning church

Congo is apparently crawling with international journalists preparing to cover the elections. Here are stories from the Post and one from the Times that came out while I was in Atlanta.

The Other Diplomat told us all about how ridiculous the ballots are. They have to use pictures because so many people are illiterate. Since there are 3,000 people running for the National Assembly, the ballot has all of their tiny pictures printed. It is a logistical nightmare like we cannot comprehend.

The thing that should make a casual observer take notice is this sentence in the Post: "Some of the 53,000 polling stations are so remote that election workers will have to walk for 10 days down jungle paths to deliver the ballots."

This is because there are almost no roads in Congo. How do you have a free, much less fair, election in a place where someone has to carry the ballots for 10 days through jungles full of militias and soldiers who have absolutely no interest in real peace?

What's most haunting to me, though, are the pictures in the Times story. There's a woman sitting on a bed with her daughter, who is starving to death in the shadow of an empty IV hookup. There's no medicine to save the baby, and she knows it. She's wearing a skirt made from the cheapest type of bright pagne fabric you can buy in the eastern Congo, and her infant daughter is wrapped in the other half of that piece of fabric. It's colorful. It's turquoise and orange. It's familiar. I probably saw that fabric every time I went to that part of the market in Goma. I know I saw women wearing dresses made of it. If you flip through the photos, you'll notice that several women are wearing the same print. It's a popular choice. It's not expensive, it's bright, and the red clay dirt won't show.

How many times did I see that fabric and not even notice? How many times did I look it over and decide that it wasn't pretty, wasn't to my taste, wasn't something I'd be caught dead in?

Now it will be a shroud for a sweet baby girl. Now it will be the mourning cloth for a mother who couldn't do anything to save her child. Now it will be a haunting question: how many times were there mothers and babies did I not notice? How many times did anonymous suffering become so familiar that I didn't even see it? How many times did I overlook people created in God's image because I didn't take time to stop and hear their story, and see if we knew someone who could help? How many times?

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