If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phils of odors…A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.
–James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
If Rwanda is small warm flame burning through my heart, Congo is a burst of mad fire, bathing everything in a bright light, faces agape, eyes bright with shock and wonderment, nothing left to hide in the shadows, all exposed. The night before we entered Congo, I put my toes in Lake Kivu and turned twenty-nine. To my right was Goma, the bright boasting lights of the wealthy on the shore. To my left, sparse pinpricks of the lights of Gyseni, Rwanda. And, in front of me, in the middle of the lake, the methane processing plant, working to provide power for my surroundings, a looming reminder of all the wealth and power that lies in the soil here.
Crossing from Rwanda into Congo is more than a physical act of the body. It is the shifting of energy inside your heart, your gut, your very base. The Congolese have eyes filled with hunger, sharp pains that start at the ground under their feet, spilling out of their thirsty, beautiful faces. There is a chaos, a lack of logic, a rampage, an indescribable need for survival that flattens itself against your chest and pulsates until the second you cross back. You are moved along and jolted with the ebb and flow of it, the stop and go go go of it, the rock and roll of it, the contradiction and madness of it. Everything an irony, a hypocrisy, a metaphor, a lament, a tiny joy, an absence of air, a fight, a small victory, an aching want. Never have I had more of an inner struggle with my own thoughts and feelings before. Never have I felt the need to take a whole country in to my arms and weep for it. Never have I felt so spoiled, so privileged, so unworthy. Never have I felt such hope and pain, spiraling around each other, a twisting double helix, churning against the walls of my heart.
How can I describe the act of driving to see the IDP women at our training center in Goma? The act itself exhausting, the road potholed, dangling on a precipice, a cracked film of suffering, hurrying, surviving, sharp black-gray spectrum of volcanic rocks, black dust, selling and hustling, all piled on top of each other. Motorbike taxis crammed three deep across behind and in front of us, a hand reaching in the back window to snatch Zainab’s video camera, a vacant look. Looming volcanoes, smoking and threatening. Military and police with AK-47’s on every corner. My body feeling thoroughly shaken and disjointed, my head, numbed, floating above my shoulders.
There are five IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Goma alone. Women for Women International supports 1,000 of these women from one of the camps. These women have just started our program, they are so new, so green, so despairing, that I am at a loss to anticipate what we will find at the training center, about a 15 minute drive from our Chapter Office. Just as in Rwanda, the training center is surrounded by high walls with a locked gate and security guards (40% of our DRC staff are security alone). As has been the theme of my experience here, we approach the gates, they start to open, Zainab turns and says, “Brace yourself” and I’m overtaken with a surge of joy and heat and energy. The women are crowded at the entrance, hundreds of them, a sea of colors and singing hearts. They are dancing, clapping, rejoicing at our arrival. Some are trying to touch the car before we can even get out, some are crying with happiness. The manual trainers are trying to hold them back as they themselves try and snap pictures of us at the same time. Tears fill my eyes now, as they did then, writing this two days later on the plane, and I can hear the cries and voices loud and piercing, their notes have a different feel and soul to them, their singing like all the violence and destruction and rocks and dust, once crammed in their throats, is now escaping, breaking the silence, pulsating out and over this place.