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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 #10 - Mitochondrial Eve

Mitochondria is an endosymbiont organelle within the cell and is passed down via the female genetic code.  Almost all people on Earth, except for the "bushman," can be linked back to one original woman from eastern Africa, and she has been dubbed "Mitochondrial Eve."  (I did not go to Wikipedia; I'm traveling with people so much smarter than me.  Thank you Brock for this one!)
It is my next-to-last day in the Congo.  It's the 13th of February, and we will soon load back into our cars and head to dinner with the Governor of South Kivu tonight at his home.  Somewhat akin to dining with the Governor of California, I suppose.
I could not tell you at this point what day has been the best, because as we drove back this afternoon from a visit at Panzi Hospital and an unforgettable meeting with Dr. Mukwege, my dear friend Wendy said what she has said every day in the car on the way back to the Orchid: "What a day!"  Today I just laughed and said, "You say that everyday."  But today was full of those moments no one in the room will ever forget....  But first things first.
Today will be a quick stop to buy Congolese fabrics (I’m coming back with plenty; it was the first real shopping moment of this trip, and I can say this whole group can power through a market in 15 minutes and walk out with arms full.)  Next stop is City of Joy.  As soon as we arrived I went to the nurses’ office and the door was locked.  Luckily, I know which home is Georgette's, and I found her soon upon arrival.  She is feeling better and indeed on the mend.  Her suffering headache was gone and she barely felt warm.  She is still very tired but sat up in her bed.  We were so happy to see each other.  I was joined by a group of the women traveling with me, and we had a delightful visit with her.  The collective relief we all felt to see her better.  I handed her a big bag of Malarone, so she will have it when she needs more; she'll have to take it for at least ten more days.  My heart is light.
We are briefly at City of Joy, as Dr. Mukwege has asked to see us at 1pm.  It was a long drive again today to City of Joy due to roadwork in preparation for One Billion Rising tomorrow.  You wouldn't believe the roads we have been on in place of Essence Road.  I think I said yesterday that the roads are like a professional mountain bike course.  Wrong.  No one in their right mind would try a bike on these roads.  It's truly funny.  You literally have to lean from one side to the other while holding on to stay up right.  I don't know if it is the world erupting, here and now, or what, but I long for the better-graded dirt of Essence.
We arrive at Panzi and all our cars pass through the tall gates.  Once out of the cars, we follow Eve and Christine and immediately are greeted by Dr. Mukwege.  We have brought about 4,000 lbs. of medical supplies that came from a combination of donors:  Americares, the Mayo Clinic, Kaiser, UCSF, and MedShare.  I have never seen an institution so grateful.  We are ushered to a modest meeting room, concrete floors and windows on one side.  It is lined with folding chairs, and about 28 of us file in and take a seat.  At the front of the room is a table with three chairs, and Christine, Eve and Dr. Mukwege speak with us once assembled.
Eve opens by telling the story of how she came to the Congo.  It was back in 2007, when Dr. Mukwege was addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, and Eve was asked to interview him.  His story is SO amazing that she was instantly taken.  Or as she tells it, she had spoiled on men until she met Dr. Mukwege and he completely changed her view.  Here was a man whose entire life has been dedicated to saving the lives of women in one of the worst places in the world for women.  After the New York interview, he invited her to come to Panzi Hospital, a hospital he founded in his hometown of Bukavu, DRC.  So she came.  And here she met Christine, and when she went to Panzi, Dr. Mukwege tells us that she would hug women who had fistula and she would sit with them in the hospital room and listen to their stories and not leave until they had finished.  She would hold them close, and those who couldn't walk she would put on her lap.  He was so worried that she would contract something from the conditions, and she just didn't care.  He thought she was crazy.  And if she is, so are the rest of us.  But he couldn't believe how Eve would sit through every woman's story and the love she held for each one.
As she tells it, that trip broke her.  It cracked her into pieces.  She knew she would never be the same.  She would have to do something and that something turned into the City of Joy.
Dr. Mukwege tells of how he became a doctor here to help women give birth.  That is what he thought his life would be.  But in 1998 a woman came from 300 km away, and she was ripped apart through her midsection, her vagina torn.  Bullets had been discharged in her.  It was a horror he thought he would never see....  And then he began to see it over and over and the cases got worse and worse.  It was beyond anyone's comprehension.  And this was the beginnings of Panzi Hospital, a hospital treating some of the worst violence in the world on a horrific scale in a war-torn country with complex problems.  Panzi, like the City of Joy, rises out of the mud, not a five-minute drive from one another.
When Eve finished, she credited Dr. Mukwege for being the person that has made all we have seen at City of Joy possible.  If it weren't for that interview and how extraordinary a human being he is....  He was standing next to her as she was saying all this, and then his head fell forward and the tears began.  He is the humblest of men, and a hero, like Eve and Christine, who has made an enormous difference here for thousands.  I can't even remember the number of women they have treated since 1998, but it is in the tens of thousands.  He then spoke and turned to Christine, whose leadership at City of Joy and the tireless woman she is has made the City of Joy successful.  She received a standing ovation from the room.  She really is the mother of this movement here.  And Eve thanked both Christine and Dr. Mukwege for living here, for staying here - Dr. Mukwege returning after an assassination attempt on his life only a couple of months ago.  They exist to make the world better.  I don't think our group has ever shed so many tears.  Moving.  Powerful.  Positive.  This small group of people that think they can change the world.  Indeed, that is the only way it has ever happened, said Margaret Mead.
Eve then shared with us some huge news today.  The Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, sent out the most powerful statement he has made in his tenure as head of the UN.  He called for all UN staff in every country around the world to join for the first time a civil protest to act to end violence against women and to all walk out of their offices at 12:30 pm on February 14th as part of One Billion Rising.  It is an unprecedented act by the UN and a tremendous endorsement of the dire need to end the greatest problem facing the planet.  We are all speechless.  It takes our breath away.
I have much more to write about Panzi, but I want to get this out to you today with one last story.  After we filed into our cars and started our slow bumpy ride back to the Orchid, we passed through the heart of Bukavu, a city of a million people, and I swear they are all out on the streets....  All of a sudden, we hear a lot of honking, and as we look out at the road a caravan of hundreds of motorbikes (popular transit here) are passing us, all being driven by men wearing V-Day OBR tee shirts in bright yellow and fuchsia.  They are all holding up their index finger to the sky in honor of the women and One Billion Rising.  It's a sight.  It takes them several minutes to pass our cars, heading in the opposite direction.  Speechless.  Chills.  We have our windows down and it's a sea of people and everyone has either the two-finger V for V-Day or their index finger pointing to the sky.  We can hear OBR news blaring on speakers.  Wendy is in the car with Frannie and me and says, “I have never been part of a political movement, but I am now! “
The world is Rising from Mitochondrial Eve.

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