Tuesday morning started with an extra long drive to the City of Joy. It took me about 20 minutes to realize that we were going a different route, and unfortunately had no one to inquire the reason. Our drivers speak Swahili and, if we are lucky, French. We always change up whom we ride with, as it's a great mix of people. Sometimes we are without any French-speaking passengers. I keep telling myself I should learn French, but my hearing is so bad I would be a disgrace to the beautiful language it is. So we sat back and took in the new scenery.
It was particularly bumpy and slow, like what I would imagine a competitive mountain bike course would be. Except we have no helmets in the car. So again you sort of hang your arms from the handles above and beside the windows and don’t take your gaze off the life along the road. We saw a funeral procession today as we drove the new route. It must be how most people in the world are laid to rest. It was a simple wooden stretcher with a thin worn sheet covering. You could make out that it was an adult of little weight. Four men carried the stretcher with ease, and three people walked in front, one carrying a modest but beautiful handful of wildflowers in white and pale yellow. No line or mourners behind, just the seven I could count.
After about an hour and a half we finally pulled into the City of Joy. Today wasn't the usual greeting, as all 90 students are back in classrooms and we are here to observe. I haven't ever been to City of Joy when classes were in session, so this was a wonderful time. Christine divided us into three groups. One went to watch beading class, which takes place outside in the sun, much easier to thread those very tiny beads. I observed a math class in one room and a justice class being taught in another. I think City of Joy is a class of girls all of whom want to sit in the front row. We rotated through each. The girls were proud to show us how much they have learned, and my they have great penmanship - must be because they don't grow up typing.
Yesterday, when I was at the farm I found my friend from the lunch on Saturday. Her real name is Georgette. The 30-year-old girl that I gave the name “Muree.” I decided it was okay to use her real name, and somehow it doesn't feel right to use anything else. On the farm after the hike I went looking for Georgette, as I had not seen her before the hike. I finally spotted her sitting on the ground with her head lowered. She had a couple of staff sitting near her and several of the girls. I got down on the ground and looked at her face and asked her if she was ok? She said, "I am suffering." And she took her two hands and put them on her forehead. So I went to my bag and came back with a big bottle of Advil (a travel must). I asked if she wanted two and she said yes. I then offered her a third (I am always over-medicating) and she shook her head and said "no, two is good." I then handed the bottle to the staff who were with her. They thanked me and then gave the bottle to Georgette to put in her pocket. I knew she could have it, but wasn't sure if I should be handing out bottles of medicine.
Today when we arrive at the City of Joy I look for Georgette in every room. I don't see her. So I ask a group of about 15 girls beading if they know "where is Georgette?" And almost in unison they reply, "Georgette is suffering." So I walk towards the nine houses where the girls all live, ten to a house, and I see a student coming toward me. I ask her, "Georgette?" And she takes me to her house and we tap on the door and go in, but the beds are empty. We go back out and a staff member who knows I am trying to find Georgette comes for me. She tells me Georgette is in with the nurse and to come with her.
We wander quietly through the reception of the nurses’ office and then tap on the interior door. A voice responds and inside we go. Inside is a nurse sitting at a desk and a single bed against the wall. Lying on the bed, suffering, is Georgette. She has an IV in her arm, and when I sit down next to her and put my hand on her head it is so hot. I take her hand with the IV and just gently slide my hand underneath it, and with my other hand I stroke her head. I ask her how she feels. She just shakes her head. I don't know when I started to cry, but I did and couldn't hold back my emotions. I only wanted to give her comfort, and hopefully it gave her a laugh that I had to pull my tee shirt up to my face to soak the tears. You will never find a tissue here unless you have it in your purse. And she speaks in her beautifully newly-learned English, "Don't cry. I am not dead yet. I am here. Don't cry." And she is right. And I try very hard to stop the tears.
My friend Marsha came in and saw what was happening and went out to the cars and brought in her iPod and Jawbone and put us in a place of beautiful music. (We all want Marsha's playlist - it somehow always plays the right music for the moment.) I had pulled out my iPhone to show Georgette photos of my children. I first showed her some pretty pictures of flowers floating in a bowl of water and some photos of fruits from my garden. She smiled. She has the most beautiful smile, elegant and perfect and it lightens the room. I then found a picture of me with Ahna and said this is my daughter. Before I could stroke my finger to the next photo I asked her if she had any children, any babies? She held up three fingers. I asked her how many years old? She said, "all dead." I put my phone down and we listened to music. And my tears began to come and so did Georgette's.
Christine came in shortly thereafter and spoke to the nurse. The test for malaria had been administered and come back positive as I was sitting with her. I asked if they had any Malarone and Christine said no. I went out and found our group knowing someone had their Malarone on them. Thank you Belinda for your ten pills. One was given to Georgette immediately and she will soon feel better, although with her HIV it is always serious when she is sick. I stayed with Georgette until we had to leave. We will collect all the spare Malarone from our group and take it with us tomorrow. I offered Belinda to give her ten from mine back at the hotel, as I don't usually take it and bring it only to leave behind with everything else. Belinda is selfless to the core and simply replied, "I don't need if it will save someone's life."
There is so much good in the people of the DRC. That is the reason we come. We come and we learn about what is important in life. How important it is to take care of another and the answers to the most serious problems can be solved through dialogue and love.
Tuesday is not over. We had an incredibly rich afternoon and I will let you know now that I spent many tears through the afternoon, but that story must come tomorrow as it is midnight here. I just felt I needed to share Georgette with you. Her story of her life in another post. I hope you will think of her and hold her in your thoughts so she might feel much better soon. I will also try to post a beautiful photo of her tomorrow.
Lastly, I am getting so many lovely notes from so many people, and it just gives me energy and more to give when I’m here. Thank you for that. I'm not ignoring anyone in not replying; I'm just saving my keyboard time to try to share with you these stories.
The RISING is getting closer, and I hope that you will all find it in your hearts to RISE on the 14th. I think a man joining in a Rising means so much more than a dozen roses. They are happening everywhere. Please go to the Vday.org website and click on One Billion Rising. You need only enter your zip code to find your options. There is no doubt that what is about to happen on the 14th is unprecedented and will be the most attended global event of all time. For the women and girls of the Congo, please RISE with me. And for my dear Georgette, who exudes such dignity, I will RISE.