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Monday, January 31, 2011

Departure Day -- and a hope to be of use

Well I'm giving it a go.  A couple of long flights await; a big reading list to occupy the time; a hope that I will be able to write about the journey and experience along the way. 

Today I depart for the DRC.  The trip will be comprised of two main parts:  First stop will be Bukavu in the eastern Congo (DRC) where a large crowd, possibly 75 in number, have come from all over the world to be present at the opening of the City of Joy.

The City of Joy is a project that was conceived by Eve Ensler and in partnership with Vday and UNICEF for the women who have been treated at the Panzi Hospital.  You can learn more about the Panzi hospital by googling "Panzi hospital, 60 Minutes".  It's a rare place-- working very hard to fill an incredible need.  The City of Joy will be the next step for many of these women and it was created to give women, some of the most brutally raped in the world, a chance to heal, a chance to rebuild their lives, to be filled with strength, to turn their pain to power, to begin to have a long term impact on Congolese society-- to change the future for life in the DRC.   

The second part of the trip will be spent with Human Rights Watch.  I will be traveling with my friend, Mindy and we will be accompanied by Rona and Ida, both HRW researchers.  We will travel by boat from Bukavu to Goma, also in the eastern DRC.  We will spend 4 days in and around Goma observing HRW doing their field work-- interviewing both victims and perpetrators of rape and torture.  HRW works to bring justice to victims.  A very tall order in the DRC. It is slow, meticulous work and it's value without measure.   But it is happening.  Little by little we see members of the Congolese army being prosecuted for rape.  Hope.

There are two things I want to share in this opening post.  Last week I got an email from a dear friend that contained a poem that if I could, I would wear around my neck.  It is called, To Be Of  Use.  When I think about this trip and why I am going I know in my heart that somehow, I will be of use.  When I describe the DRC in my short elevator pitch I always say it is simply the worst place in the world to be a woman, a child, part of a family.  I say we can't look the other way.  To do so is to be complicit.  We all can be of use.   So I hope by being there, both for the opening of City of Joy and for my time with HRW, that I will be of help, that I might just give someone a moment to take a breath, divide the heavy weight of the reality , that I might better understand the story and share it.   

The second gift I want to share is a closing PS from a letter that Eve sent yesterday to the group of us preparing to depart for the opening of the City of Joy.  Her paragragh is thoroughly and completely her intent--her intent for each of us to hold in our hearts and our minds.   It is SO full of everything possible-- there is so much good in the world...

So I leave you now with these two gifts-- Uses and  a PS.  And I sign off and hope to update you all soon. 

To Be of Use, by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.



PS from Eve Ensler

imagine if you will that this opening of city of joy begins a time of peace in the democratic republic of congo imagine that it creates an unstoppable energy spiraling through the women and girls that makes rape impossible that prevents violence that brings women and girls to a balanced portion of power that demands that the world stop exploiting the minerals that puts the countries resources back in the hands and mouths of the congolese imagine that this opening says yes to the women says its yours its time we are behind you and with you imagine there is wood on the fire and all it needs is a little wind to catch and we are the wind imagine that we are witnesses and supporters and friends imagine that as the doors to city of joy open another door flies  opens the big door and the women of congo come into their bodies and voices and visions and that allows and inspires the women of neighboring villages, then cities, then countries then continents to come into their bodies and voices and vision imagine we are beginning that

i thank you with every bit of my heart for coming to open the future.
i thank you for your generosity and your faith and your willingness to engage in this struggle.
i thank for your love

eve

PSS--If  you want to read more about the DRC, I highly recommend King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild and Blood River by Tim Butcher.  I also direct you to the HRW website where you can read their most recent reports on the DRC, http://www.hrw.org/.  Adam also had 3 fascinating articles on the DRC published after his trip last year--The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Review of Books and Mother Jones-- all can be found on Google.  I have also pasted in an Op-ed by Adam in the NYT from two weeks ago on the DRC.  I can go on and on about the Congo.  It is the heart of Africa and I think possibly the heart of the planet and I hope it finds a way to yours...

Here is Adam's Op-ed on the DRC  from the January 16, 2011 New York Times

An Assassination’s Long Shadow

By ADAM HOCHSCHILD
San Francisco
TODAY, millions of people on another continent are observing the 50th anniversary of an event few Americans remember, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. A slight, goateed man with black, half-framed glasses, the 35-year-old Lumumba was the first democratically chosen leader of the vast country, nearly as large as the United States east of the Mississippi, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This treasure house of natural resources had been a colony of Belgium, which for decades had made no plans for independence. But after clashes with Congolese nationalists, the Belgians hastily arranged the first national election in 1960, and in June of that year King Baudouin arrived to formally give the territory its freedom.
“It is now up to you, gentlemen,” he arrogantly told Congolese dignitaries, “to show that you are worthy of our confidence.”
The Belgians, and their European and American fellow investors, expected to continue collecting profits from Congo’s factories, plantations and lucrative mines, which produced diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and more. But they had not planned on Lumumba.
A dramatic, angry speech he gave in reply to Baudouin brought Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, left the king startled and frowning and caught the world’s attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous.” Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.
With no experience of self-rule and an empty treasury, his huge country was soon in turmoil. After failing to get aid from the United States, Lumumba declared he would turn to the Soviet Union. Thousands of Belgian officials who lingered on did their best to sabotage things: their code word for Lumumba in military radio transmissions was “Satan.” Shortly after he took office as prime minister, the C.I.A., with White House approval, ordered his assassination and dispatched an undercover agent with poison.
The would-be poisoners could not get close enough to Lumumba to do the job, so instead the United States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and aid to rival politicians who seized power and arrested the prime minister. Fearful of revolt by Lumumba’s supporters if he died in their hands, the new Congolese leaders ordered him flown to the copper-rich Katanga region in the country’s south, whose secession Belgium had just helped orchestrate. There, on Jan. 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, he was shot. It was a chilling moment that set off street demonstrations in many countries.
As a college student traveling through Africa on summer break, I was in LĂ©opoldville (today’s Kinshasa), Congo’s capital, for a few days some six months after Lumumba’s murder. There was an air of tension and gloom in the city, jeeps full of soldiers were on patrol, and the streets quickly emptied at night. Above all, I remember the triumphant, macho satisfaction with which two young American Embassy officials — much later identified as C.I.A. men — talked with me over drinks about the death of someone they regarded not as an elected leader but as an upstart enemy of the United States.
Some weeks before his death, Lumumba had briefly escaped from house arrest and, with a small group of supporters, tried to flee to the eastern Congo, where a counter-government of his sympathizers had formed. The travelers had to traverse the Sankuru River, after which friendly territory began. Lumumba and several companions crossed the river in a dugout canoe to commandeer a ferry to go back and fetch the rest of the group, including his wife and son.
But by the time they returned to the other bank, government troops pursuing them had arrived. According to one survivor, Lumumba’s famous eloquence almost persuaded the soldiers to let them go. Events like this are often burnished in retrospect, but however the encounter happened, Lumumba seems to have risked his life to try to rescue the others, and the episode has found its way into film and fiction.
His legend has only become deeper because there is painful newsreel footage of him in captivity, soon after this moment, bound tightly with rope and trying to retain his dignity while being roughed up by his guards.
Patrice Lumumba had only a few short months in office and we have no way of knowing what would have happened had he lived. Would he have stuck to his ideals or, like too many African independence leaders, abandoned them for the temptations of wealth and power? In any event, leading his nation to the full economic autonomy he dreamed of would have been an almost impossible task. The Western governments and corporations arrayed against him were too powerful, and the resources in his control too weak: at independence his new country had fewer than three dozen university graduates among a black population of more than 15 million, and only three of some 5,000 senior positions in the civil service were filled by Congolese.
A half-century later, we should surely look back on the death of Lumumba with shame, for we helped install the men who deposed and killed him. In the scholarly journal Intelligence and National Security, Stephen R. Weissman, a former staff director of the House Subcommittee on Africa, recently pointed out that Lumumba’s violent end foreshadowed today’s American practice of “extraordinary rendition.” The Congolese politicians who planned Lumumba’s murder checked all their major moves with their Belgian and American backers, and the local C.I.A. station chief made no objection when they told him they were going to turn Lumumba over — render him, in today’s parlance — to the breakaway government of Katanga, which, everyone knew, could be counted on to kill him.
Still more fateful was what was to come. Four years later, one of Lumumba’s captors, an army officer named Joseph Mobutu, again with enthusiastic American support, staged a coup and began a disastrous, 32-year dictatorship. Just as geopolitics and a thirst for oil have today brought us unsavory allies like Saudi Arabia, so the cold war and a similar lust for natural resources did then. Mobutu was showered with more than $1 billion in American aid and enthusiastically welcomed to the White House by a succession of presidents; George H. W. Bush called him “one of our most valued friends.”
This valued friend bled his country dry, amassed a fortune estimated at $4 billion, jetted the world by rented Concorde and bought himself an array of grand villas in Europe and multiple palaces and a yacht at home. He let public services shrivel to nothing and roads and railways be swallowed by the rain forest. By 1997, when he was overthrown and died, his country was in a state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered.
Since that time the fatal combination of enormous natural riches and the dysfunctional government Mobutu left has ignited a long, multisided war that has killed huge numbers of Congolese or forced them from their homes. Many factors cause a war, of course, especially one as bewilderingly complex as this one. But when visiting eastern Congo some months ago, I could not help but think that one thread leading to the human suffering I saw begins with the assassination of Lumumba.
We will never know the full death toll of the current conflict, but many believe it to be in the millions. Some of that blood is on our hands. Both ordering the murders of apparent enemies and then embracing their enemies as “valued friends” come with profound, long-term consequences — a lesson worth pondering on this anniversary.
Adam Hochschild is the author of “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa” and the forthcoming “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.”