10
Aug
08

congo pt. 1 (continued)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008.

(My mom’s birthday. Sorry I didn’t write, Mom – I was in the Congo.)

This is a work trip, so in two days, we crash around Bukavu – just me, Sean, and the humongous drum that he bought in Burundi, boucing around in the covered bed of a truck where the seats are two benches that face each other; I get out feeling kind of battered every time. In all, we meet with about ten different agencies and their practitioners to get a sense of what’s going on in the region and how we might help out. I don’t need to reiterate the details of those meetings, except to say that not everyone’s stories line up, but I will mention one place in particular.

Panzi Hospital (please visit http://www.panzihospitalbukavu.org/) is located a few kilometers into the hills of Bukavu. The road there is so dusty all the leaves on the plants lining the road are completely coated. It’s like the whole scene has been spray-painted sienna except for the female pedestrians wrapped in a splash of vivid colors. From what I hear, Panzi is one of the best-equipped hospitals in the Great Lakes region. Unfortunately, its favorable condition correlates to the need for such a facility.

Walking into Panzi, the first few patients we see would belong in most general hospitals. A few people on crutches, bandages on various parts of the body for others. I do notice though that they are very young. As I have started to learn more about eastern Congo, I start to ask myself what caused the injuries that I’m seeing. That boy on crutches? Probably not a skateboarding accident. Would I want to know the answer?

Sean and I meet with the deputy Director because the real Director is at a conference in Germany. The deputy Director leads us around the facility.

Panzi responds directly to a need in the region: treatment for victims of sexual violence. The term « systematic rape » is sometimes used to describe what is happening in eastern Congo. Women are the principal victims in a conflict that includes armed groups from several countries, groups that operate with relative impunity. No matter how I try to add up the motives of these groups, I cannot see what would lead to the brutal suffering they inflict on women. Some stories I wish I had not heard.

As the tour moves on, and I feel more awkward and sad, we enter wards full of recuperating women. All are rape victims, our guide confirms. We visit the operating rooms, where shiny metal stirrups are already set up. The sterile tiled rooms, the equipment – it all feels cold and menacing.

Toward the end of the tour, we come up to the side of a large shed, almost like a hangar. When we get around to the front and look inside, I am startled by a massive congregation of women and children seated at bench-tables, a few with baskets and other crafts in front of them. Up to the moment when we look into the hangar, I did not hear any sound that would suggest so many people were just around the corner. It’s kind of eerie. Later on, Sean says he thinks there were over a thousand women and children there. Sean and I end up buying a few of the crafts. Big laughs when I flip one of the baskets over and put it on my head. Sean says, « You knew that was going to happen. » Sure, but if you know me, you know I would put something on my head every chance I get (even bike helmets, on occasion).

On the way out, a chubby kid with the puffiest shiniest cheeks I have ever seen just grabs my hand and starts walking with me. Two fat little moons – they are so perfectly round, I don’t even want to pinch them, lest I disturb them. The boy walks with us all the way to the car and then waves us goodbye.

 

It’s been about two-and-a-half weeks since the visit now, and I have formulated two project proposals to pass on to HQ to see which one might be more workable. Here they are:

Congo Plan One:

Congo Plan Two:

 

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