Friday, May 06, 2005

Une Mère et sa Fille

Aujourd’hui, à neuf heures du matin,
une mère a décidé de quitter son mari.
Elle a venu à moi, pour l’assister
Avec sa petite fille.

Pendant la nuit, hier soir,
elle attendait l’aube
parce qu’elle signifie la commencement
d’une nouvelle vie.

Elle n’a aucune idée
de quoi elle va faire,
sauf échapper
une vie misérable et violente.

Et donc, elle sort
comme chaque jour-
cependant, aujourd’hui
elle ne va pas retourner.

Pendant tout le week-end
je vais penser d’elle
et sa petite fille.
J'espère qu’elles soient en sécurité.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Driving Into the Blurred Past

Driving home,
watching white dashed lines blur
into one, remembering the past year
and wishing I could go back.

The angle of light endlessly shifts,
guiding dancing shadows across the landscape.
The sunbeams are almost parallel to the road,
straining my eyes and challenging my vision.

My thighs are sweating,
the droplets coalescing into warm pools.
There's no AC. The outside air still too balmy
to cool the car.

Perfect purple hues and strokes of yellow
paint the horizon, only to quickly disappear
behind the gray mountains
as the sea swallows the afternoon light.

The smell of yesterday's cappuccino
drifts in the air, luring me back into a caffeine haze.
I would kill for a cup right now,
even though the day draws to a close.

Finally, the fog begins to drift over the hills
like frothed milk- ebbing from the sea,
falling into the mountain crevices and
finally melting into the warm valley.

I am almost home.


I wrote this poem last fall-it was inspired by one particular ride home from work
on a hot afternoon. I changed it a bit, but it remains mostly the same.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Tears in Africa

A week ago, on my way home from work, I heard a brief summary of the violence and rape devastating Eastern Congo on NPR. "A recent report from Human Rights Watch says "virtually all" of the armed groups operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo's east, including the Congolese Army, have sexually abused civilians. The systematic rape of females is among war crimes allegations being investigated by the International Criminal Court in the Hague."-All Things Considered, NPR 4/20/05

As I listened to the account of young women's testimonies, describing how they were victimized, raped, often brutally beaten, sometimes to the point of death-I felt tears welling up on the tips of my eyelids. I pictured tears running down swollen cheeks and young girls paralyzed with fear. In Darfur, women have been suffering the same brutality, even when they seek protection in refuge camps. The rebels and Congolese soldiers have specifically hunted for young women, those they believe are still virgins. They have even raped children. Mothers have been pushed aside at gunpoint while men rape small girls at gunpoint. Many women and girls, not killed
during the act, have died shortly thereafter due to lack of medical care. Many women are too ashamed or afraid to tell their families that they have been raped. In many African countries, if a woman is raped she is considered to be impure, and it is difficult for her to marry.

U.N. Officials, Helping or Hurting?
What is even more frightening, is that many U.N. personnel who were sent to Eastern Congo to protect civilians, especially women and children, have raped women and children themselves. ABC News has an excellent article on this subject, and some of the ways the U.N. is trying to combat and prevent such atrocious and disgusting behavior. I was very disappointed by the United Nations lack of effort and comprehension in dealing with this problem. An ABC News article, entitled, U.N. Sex Crimes in Congo writes, "The United Nations said its crackdown on sex crimes includes a tough dusk-to-dawn curfew for U.N. personnel soldiers and a midnight deadline for civilian employees." This temporary solution is utterly misguided, and shows a complete lack of comprehension of the gravity of the situation. Rape doesn't only occur after dusk-it can occur during the day. Top U.N. officials should not be presenting rules and regulations from oversees, they should be conducting sweeps, and checks, as well as supervising their personnel and soldiers in Congo. William Swing, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Eastern Congo, is quoted by ABC News as stating that he was unaware of U.N. fraternization with prostitues there. He makes many promises, but at no point promises to attend to the situation himself-at the scene of the crimes. Moreover, U.N. personnel do not go through background checks, and they are exempt from prosecution in Congo. I respect the U.N. and all that they have done all around the world, but they have lost control of this situation and do not seem to be taking it seriously enough.

Below are the testimonies of women and girls from Eastern Congo found on the Human Rights Watch website. If you would like additional information, please visit their website.

Delphine W., twenty-one years old, about her rape in September 2001 in Goma: I don’t know what time it was, I was asleep. Four men, soldiers, came to see what they wanted to steal. They were armed with knives. They spoke Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili—the two languages of the military. Some were Rwandan and some Congolese. Some were in civilian clothing and some in military uniform. There was just me and my mother in the house. They forced the door open. I was in bed. When the door opened I cried out. They said they needed the girl. Three of the men raped me. They did not rape my mother. They said they didn’t need the mother, just the girl. They asked if I was married and I said no. They asked me if I had ever been taken by a man and why. [One of the men] said, “What girl has never been taken by men?” It was the first time I had ever slept with men. They said if I refused, they’d kill me. The first one who took me hit me with his hands; he took me by force. I asked for mercy. He said that if I didn’t let him do it he would kill me. I refused. He hit me so I accepted. I was still in bed. The others didn’t hit me. The second one wanted to put his thing in my mouth—I refused. The three raped me, the fourth left. When they took me, I felt sick. In the night I cried and said to God: “Why did you want it to be like that? I refused so many men. Then I had to accept men I had never met before, I didn’t even know their faces.” My mother told me I should thank God I was still alive. She told me to be brave and not say anything to other families so as not to lose my reputation. She said if I talked about it, I might not get a husband. They could say I have illnesses because I was with soldiers. I was
sick for three days. I felt cold. It felt as if they had put chili in me—it burned. There was lots of blood running out. In the morning my mother gave me water to wash with, just water. I haven’t seen a doctor or a nurse.

A mother about the murder of her daughter Monique B., aged twenty, in Kabare: On May 15 of this year [2001], four heavily armed combatants—they were Hutu—came to our house at 9 p.m. Everyone in the neighborhood had fled. I wanted to hide my children, but I didn’t have time. They took my husband and tied him to a pole in the house. My four-month-old baby started crying and I started breastfeeding him and then they left me alone. They went after my daughter, and I knew they would rape her. But she resisted and said she would rather die than have relations with them. They cut off her left breast and put it in her hand. They said, “Are you still resisting us?” She said she would rather die than be with them. They cut off her genital labia and showed them to her. She said, “Please kill me.” They took a knife and put it to her neck and then made a long vertical incision down her chest and split her body open. She was crying but finally she died. She died with her breast in her hand. RCD officers came and looked at the body. But then they went away and I don’t think they ever did anything about it. I didn’t talk to other authorities because I thought it was a military matter. There is no electricity there, and we couldn’t see much, but we could hear her scream and see what happened when we saw the body in the morning. I never saw the attackers again, but I couldn’t even see them well that night. They didn’t stay after they killed my daughter.

Sophie W., a mother in her thirties from Shabunda, about her abduction: We went into the forest at the beginning of the war. My husband thought the forest was safer, and there was nothing to eat in town. But we moved back to town in 2000. In July 2000 the Mai-Mai came and took my husband. They beat me up and shot him and then cut up his body in front of me. They said my husband was a spy for the Tutsi. There were eight Mai-Mai. Two of them held me
down and the others raped me. They put two knives to my eyes and told me that if I cried, they would cut out my eyes. The Mai-Mai [took me back to the forest. They] spoke Kiswahili, Kilenga, Lingala, and Kinyarwanda. They were filthy—they had fleas. We had no shelter. There were only leaves to sleep on, and when it rained, we got soaked. We had mats with us, but the Mai-Mai took them away. There were many of them during the time I was in the forest—even 150 or more. They sometimes fed us small animals that they killed, but they didn’t give us much food.

Eléonore R, twelve years old, on an attack by on her home in Goma in August 2001:Four [men] came into the house and there were more outside. They opened the door, took the papa, tied him up, hit the mama, and took everything in the house. They made a lot of noise. I hid under the bed. They then came to my room. One was very tall, the other fat. I didn’t know them and didn’t really see them. They had guns and flashlights. They spoke Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili. When I refused one hit me twice with his hand. Then he did the act. There were four other children in the room, all younger. The man who did it told the others to close their eyes. I also closed my eyes. They stopped when the blood came.

A forty year old woman farmer from Uvira on an attack in July 2001: We were all working in the fields when some Banyamulenge men in uniforms and with arms surrounded us. We ran and hid but they grabbed a Burundian woman who was with us. They accused the woman of being the wife of the Mai-Mai. She said that she had come to seek refuge here. Seven soldiers took the Burundian woman off and raped her. Then they put a gun into her vagina and shot her. When they left we carried her with us. She died on the way [into town].