Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cate & Rebecca in Congo: Cat Fight, More from Mumosho, Women Bearing the Burden, and the Healing Touch

Wednesday, January 4th — We woke to sunshine two days in a row, further drying out the roads and apparently fixing our wifi woes - though we're in an internet cafe now to have the best service.  Amani is on his way to Kigali for his visa interview with the U.S. Embassy.  We're planning on his visit to the U.S. in late February, so he might act as a representative of Congo for two days of advocacy in D.C. with Jewish World Watch, and we can introduce him to everyone at a fundraiser in March. 

We're not on our own, though, as we've become fast friends with Gunilla, the Swedish woman working here and in Rwanda, teaching techniques for trauma healing.  We'll be visiting with her, and perhaps going to an organization that houses and rehabilitates former child soldiers.  We're also hoping she invites us to her house, as she has a fabulous view of Lake Kivu.  It's good to have a couple of days to relax a bit and let the body, mind and soul process all we've seen and heard already.

Yesterday morning, Cate and I untangled ourselves from our respective mosquito nets after a restless night listening to what we could only identify as a cat vs. .... wildebeest? fight (we were too freaked out by whatever it was that sounded BIG to check), just outside our window.  A little sleepy, we're always grateful for the woman who cooks our breakfast at the Swedish Mission, downed some egg whites and mango, and headed out jump in the truck with our team, Amani, his ABFEK assistant Willy, and Gunilla.  Tuesday looked to be laundry day; as we drove the mountain road, clothing and fabrics laid out to dry on both hillsides of the valley that divides Congo and Rwanda created a patchwork of bright color against the green vegetation.

As we waited at a roadblock on the road to Mumosho for Amani to pay our $5 toll, supposedly collected to fix this horrible road, despite the lack of evidence of any work crews, Gunilla pointed out the inequality of men and women here, seen in a couple walking past our truck.  The man strolled with ease, his empty arms swinging by his side, his head bare to the sun, while the woman bore the burden of a heavy bag of goods hanging from her forehead.  Thought we do see young men and boys struggling to push heavy-laden carts of wood up the rutted road, or a man balancing over 30 loaves of bread on a board atop his head, the majority of people we see are women, hunched under back-breaking loads of branches, bags, and jerrycans of water.

At the entrance to Mumosho, we dropped off Willy at the Peace Market with blue paint, paintbrushes and a slip of paper spelling out the words for the sign to thank and honor Robin Wright for her donation to build the latrines that make using the market possible.  Amani, Gunilla, Cate and I continued on to the church and school, to meet the women for the second day of trauma tapping therapy.

All 16 participants from the day before had returned, and were waiting for us, even though we were an hour late.  Once again, African time proving the value of patience. Once we'd settled in the small room, Gunilla thanked them for returning and opened the day asking if anyone had tried the tapping therapy the night before.  A third of the class raised their hands, surprising Gunilla, who said it usually takes longer for people to soak it in and feel comfortable offering the therapy to others.

A woman named Mapenda volunteered to share her experience.  She visited her neighbor, and told her about the training she had leared.  "I told her about trauma, and how I'd felt very well in my mind when we were practicing the therapy," Mapenda explained, "and my neighbor said she has several problems, and was interested in the treatment."   At the beginning, she said, the woman and her husband were laughing, thinking the tapping was a game, but after the first time, the woman asked Mapenda to repeat the treatment.  When she was finished, her neighbor asked if she, too, could join the training sessions, but Mapenda explained that when they had completed the training, they would share it with everyone.

As the other women shared their stories from the night before, a common theme arose.  Almost each person treated asked to join the training, and stressed the importance of sharing it with others, from a young miner who had been abducted by the FDLR soldiers, and escaped from them with nothing, and since had not been sleeping at night, to a poor widow who couldn't sleep from stress and worry after her only crops had been ruined by erosion.

The women in the training were engaged and eager to share their stories, asking practical questions that showed they were already envisioning how to use the training, anticipating problems or questions that might arise from their neighbors. Once again, they separated into pairs, to practice the tapping therapy on each other, and it was lovely to see women caring for each other, carefully touching their fingers to a forehead, holding hands and breathing together.

Gunilla told Amani that it is obvious the women are trusted in their community, and they know the suffering that is there.  It is also clear, she told him, that they trust you.  There's something about this community and the work you've been doing here.  You have been constant, and they know the work will continue."

The day ended with an exercise, the woman standing in a circle, following Gunilla through a series of stretches, self-massage and relaxation techniques. As Gunilla bent into a half-squat, her knees and feet close together as she swayed in a circle, the women joined her with a song, this move was part of a dance they know well.

Before heading to the Peace Market, we stopped by the Mumosho sewing center to meet the women, and so Amani could introduce us and the importance of the women and girls sharing their lives through photos, video and story, to continue to raise awareness for their needs and to find support for the program.  Amani explained that there are 26 students this year, though there are many more women who want to join.  They sorted through the applicants, choosing the most vulnerable women, women left alone and with nothing after their husbands divorced them (women have no rights to income or land here), or young single mothers, who were nursing their babies while the others worked on the pedal-powered machines in the dark room, the only light coming in from a window.

Promising to return next week, we continued on to the Peace Market, where Willy was supervising the creation of the latrine sign.  When I'd seen the blue paint, I'd assumed it would be a hand-painted sign on wood, and was surprised to see two craftsmen, chiseling the words in perfect Helvetica font into a sign of concrete.  We left before the letters were finished, and will see the completed project next week, when Amani symbolically hands over the keys to the latrine to the Market Management Team, giving them full ownership of the Peace Market.

Sending love and thanks from the people of Bukavu and Mumosho - their gratitude is overwhelming - thank you all for your support of the people here!  Learn more at

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