I don't know how to put this trip into words. For now, the best I can muster are snippets from here and there:
- This photo was taken in one of the slums in the city of Goma. Sewage and waste water are dumped into the streets and alleys, where babies were crawling and children running barefoot. The children swarmed us hoping for cookies, and when one stumbled over a stone, my coworker said "Uh oh!" Suddenly, like a chorus of little birdies, more than a dozen kids were repeating "Uh oh! Uh oh!" over and over.
- When we arrived in a tiny, remote village called Nzenga, the community greeted us with singing, dancing and flowers. They rolled out a red cloth for me that I (reluctantly) walked on. I have never felt so completely inadequate and unworthy, but I was told they wanted me especially to feel welcome because they don't see many white American women. After visiting three different villages with similar displays of hospitality, it got a little easier and I could accept their effusive welcoming somewhat more graciously. (Still, I'd settle for handshakes and hugs.)
- I flew over an active volcano in a tiny plane and smelled the sulfur. After we landed and got on the road, we had to stop and walk across the girders of a bridge that was being worked on. I could see the river rushing below me. Then we had to wait for several hours on the other side for another car to come pick us up. That was the only time so far I had to pee in woods.
- At a hospital, I met a woman who was brutally attacked by an M23 rebel soldier a few months ago. As he tried to rape her, her husband resisted. The soldier cut off her lips. She is currently awaiting another surgery on her profoundly disfigured face. I don't know what happened to the husband.
- I met another woman who used to run a brothel in her village, and she was one of the richest people around. When our project came to her village to educate on women's rights and encourage empowerment activities, she shut down the brothel, paid for many of the girls to return to their families and became a respected leader in the effort to end violence against women in her village.
- I spent a night at a convent at the base of the breathtaking Rwenzori Mountains. It cost $8 for the room and $5 for dinner. There was no running water, air conditioning or internet, but the fresh mountain air was priceless. The nuns thanked me profusely for visiting, and they asked me to go back home and tell everyone that Congo is not as violent as everyone thinks.
- The next day, while out in the field visiting project sites, our Congolese partner looked down at her watch and said in French, "Ah, we better get going. We need to be off the roads by 5, because there might be an ambush." Touché, Congo.
- So far I haven't felt truly in danger at all, but I've missed my family terribly at times.
- One week down, one to go.
Thanks for your prayers during this trip!