Recently a photo journalist came to do a follow-up story on the women of Minova. Two years ago, there was a major rape trial held in Minova (the small town where Mama Masika lived). Mama Masika was a driving force behind this. She gave the women encouragement and strength to stand up for their rights as victims of sexual violence. There were also men who were victims during this time. Sadly, there were very few convictions and many of the predators were never charged with crimes, only the subordinates. Still, the women are doing very well and finding healing. But it’s harder now with Masika gone. More on this in a minute.
I was able to go with Diana, her fixer, and the Un Jour Nouveau psychologist/head of security. Honestly, as much as I wanted to meet some of the women and hear their stories, I wanted to go and see Sifa and the other children in Masika’s center. When we finally arrived, I made the rounds saying hi to the kids, giving kisses and fist bumps (they love this). When I found Augie (on one of the older girls backs) he immediately started smiling and then laughing. Then I found Sifa. She had just woken up from a nap and was crying. As I rounded the corner, she recognized me, put her arms up and when I picked her up she stopped crying. After I changed her diaper (which is a thin piece of cloth, not actually a diaper. She immediately started smiling, laughing and making the silly faces I taught her in the hospital. The reunion was beautiful!
Augie, Me and Sifa... the band back together again.
bath time for chubby baby...
I think we have the same smile.
Jojo practicing his name on their "chalkboard"... all the little guys are watching.
We stayed in a local Catholic Parish. It was clean and safe and that is really all I needed. However we looked at a few “guest houses” hoping to find something a little nicer… instead we found a place that gave you a bible on each bed and a condom on each night stand. We got a good laugh out of this, but chose the stay in a place a little less sketchy.
The sketchy place...
Our Parish bedroom
Dining room. The food was pretty good. Super fresh
a VERY simple bathroom.
sunrise at the Parish
The next morning we drove as far as we could, then parked the car and walked out into the countryside to meet up with some of the victims. One woman in particular was about 65. After her attacks (when M23 came through) her husband left her. Now she sells juice to make a living, but she struggles to provide for herself. She has an amazingly positive attitude despite her situation. She says Masika used to come and visit with her, give her counseling and pray with her for healing. Now that Masika is gone, it’s been very discouraging for her, but Desange (Mama Masika’s adopted daughter who is taking over the organization) has been coming and carrying on her legacy. It’s very hard for the women here to know who to trust, but they trusted Masika. Now they are building relationship with Desange and learning to trust her and receive counsel from her.
Me and DesAnges
I told this woman she was beautiful in Swahili and she lit up.
I also partially fulfilled my goal of riding a chukadoo down a hill… It was REALLY muddy so I chose not to go all the way down the hill… didn’t want a broken leg while I was at least a 30 minute walk out in the bush! But I will… mark my words. I will ride a chukadoo down a hill in the near future. (a chukadoo is a bizarre bike looking scooter transporter thing. They are specific to the Eastern part of Congo, specifically the Goma region. The guys that "drive/ride" them ride them like skateboards down the road. I want to take one on a hill. This one was a smaller one, because the boy using was only about 12...the ones in Goma are MUCH bigger).
DesAnges trying to pull me back
On our way out, we stopped in a displacement camp to meet with another victim. My goal, living in another culture, is to always be respectful of the peoples dignity. I don’t come in with cameras take pictures, without asking, especially when I am not associated with the people in any way. (at UJN, we are family so everyone takes pictures together ALL THE TIME!). This was a very sensitive situation, so I chose to leave my camera/phone in the car. So as Diana went into the hut with the woman and her fixer, I stayed outside with a quickly gathering crowd of the residents of this camp. It started out with all the kids staying a good 8-10’ away… the moms even farther back and the men all gathered together about 15’ away just watching… “what is this woman going to do”. Actually, a lot of the men started to take pictures with their phones and one guy even had a camera. Which is how I ended up getting all these pictures!
slowly moving in...
Keep in mind, I am very tall. Here in this camp, most of the people are very very short. The children were somewhat scared of me initially. I squatted down and started to use the limited Swahili I know to say hi and ask names, how you are… and then started offering up fist bumps, or “chinzs” (again, they love this!)… pretty soon, the circle closed in on me and we began playing games. I also started to teach them English. I would say something in Swahili and then have them repeat it in English. It was so fun. Eventually, the kids started clapping and singing, to which I began to dance. (My DNA does not allow me to hear music and not exhibit some sort of movement). One of the kids went home and got his big drum. It turned into a very exciting dance party. The matriarch of the camp was a TINY, old woman with tribal tattoos on her face. We danced together, she taught me a few moves. I wish I had a picture of her, she was beautiful. So beautiful!Learning a few moves from the Matriarch with the red scarf on her head. They gave me an umbrella because the sun was hot and I am "so white"!
oh yeah... this move was caught on camera. It's all in the hips.
The plan is to eventually go back and do some sort of kids camp here. The people of this camp have been displaced from fighting in their villages for more than 15 years. They are often over looked, so we are trying to plan some activities for the kids there in the next few months.
a view of the camp from the road.
much love from Goma...