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


c'est pas facile

I cried twice today.

It was just another Goma day. I stayed out way too late last night with Anna and her friends, who are now my friends, too. We had pizza at Doga, then went to Coco Jambo to dance. There were too many drunk mineral pilots (the eastern Europeans who fly old aircraft from here to Dubai or Hong Kong or wherever without asking too many questions) bothering us, so we left and went to T's house to talk. We said good-bye to Anna and I got home about 2, which was unfortunate, since I was supposed to meet someone who would take me to meet an interview subject at 10. Did that, wandered all over the place as he tried to find the guy (this is why I don't pay people to "help" me with my research in Congo), but ended up getting a really helpful interview with a civil society leader who understood exactly what kind of information I needed.

And then I came home for lunch. A woman was here to visit E. She's an interior decorator and landscaper - can you imagine, in a place like Goma? But she has books full of pictures of her work, and she makes all kinds of creative furniture for private homes and hotels and such. She runs a successful business that does all that and much more.

And then E asked her about her family, and she told her story. And it was a hard one to hear. Her mother was raped by Tutsi soldiers. She died a week later. Her sister sits most days and stares. "She can't even find the strength to move her eyes," she said. She said, "You have to forgive so you can live." And she began to cry, and to say over and over again, "Mais c'est pas facile. C'est pas facile." It's not easy.

Later, after she'd stopped crying, after we'd all stopped crying, after C and E told her that they believe God is a God of justice, after C said that it's so important to tell these stories, after C prayed, N asked her age. She's 30. A year older than me. She looks much older.

We went over to Heal Africa after that so E could visit the children at the early childhood development program she helped to start. Those children adore her. I have great pictures of the tidal wave of children that hit her when they realized she had returned, but they won't upload on this connection. Maybe Monday. I played with kids, tried to get them to go home as their teacher had told them to do, and got in the car to leave. We took the visitor back to her office and went to get gas. A man came up to the window to sell us something, and E didn't want to buy anything, but heard about his church and his studies in Nigeria. He went and stood in front of the car and I watched him count his money. He was so thin. So was his cash. He had a $5 bill, maybe another $2, and some Congolese francs. Maybe, MAYBE $8-10 in total.

The realization that that is probably all this man has in the world hit me so hard. Here's someone who's traveled, who's educated, and whose only hope is to stand in the streets with a bag full of cheap perfume and Christian music cassettes, hoping someone will buy something that will add a few dollars to the little he has.

It's overwhelming. Everyone needs something, everyone is suffering, and everything is broken. The other night I had dinner at the Lusi's with their current crop of students, several of whom are in training to be doctors and nurses. "I envy you," I told them, "because you get to see that you made a real difference in someone's life." "Yeah," replied a sweet college student from Minnesota, "but it's really frustrating. We treat the wound, but we're not doing anything to solve the problem."

You can't fix it. Wilco Ben said he'd seen my letter to the editor about Congo in a back issue of Time. I'd forgotten about it. It was a response to an article that basically said that the world community needs to fix Congo. One of the things I wrote was that the responsibility for "fixing" Congo must ultimately be up to the Congolese themselves. I still think that's true. We have to help, but we can't fix it.

I had a conversation with a Canadian medical student on Thursday in which I told him that I think that Congo is beyond fixing, that it's such a mess that it won't get better. He grew up partly in Congo, partly elsewhere in Africa, and couldn't disagree more.

I don't want to believe this place is beyond hope. But when you look into the eyes of a woman whose family has been traumatized by violence, when you see a too-thin man counting his money over and over again, it's hard to see how any of this will be made right.


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