TRANSLATION: JESSICA YEVICS (THANK YOU!!)
(Text Published by the magazine Gente Grande, which belongs to the organization Bilaketa, in May of 2009)
A little over a month ago I returned from the D. R. Congo. A country which, to be clear from the start, I never would have been able to visit without the unconditional support that I received from Bilaketa. That said, I can only recall and try to explain to you what I brought back. These facts ruminate in my mind day after day without end. Perhaps to teach me more about life, to offer meaning to all that I saw and don’t understand; to the abundance of Spain and the Western World compared to the misery, the atrocities, and the destruction in the Congo.
The D. R. Congo is a very extensive country, too extensive. The distance from north to south is the same as the distance between Berlin and Lisbon. The economic situation is dreadful in the entire territory. Nevertheless, the war, the killings between different ethnic groups for the control of the gold, diamond and coltan fields is restricted to the northeast part of the country; the regions of North Kivu, South Kivu and the Oriental Province. During the month that I stayed in the Congo I strictly traveled through the North Kivu Province, overall through the outskirts of the capital, Goma. A city dominated by a powerless volcano that buried many of the neighborhoods under lava in 2002. Goma, a dirty, chaotic city comprised of small houses and shacks, streets made of sand and asphalt that are full of holes, mountains of residue pilled up everywhere, and overwhelming traffic due to the lack of circulation law enforcement.
And then there are the people. One listens, and tries to get them to tell their stories. And when they do, when you assimilate what they have told you, nothing will be the same again. Nothing. “Did I kill anyone? Of course I killed someone. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve killed with my rifle. When I would do it with my knife, my superiors would tell me that I should taste the blood of the victim to protect myself.” With this lack of emotion, Sadiki, a young 16 year old soldier that had been in the army since he was twelve, told me of his experience. “They found Asha next to her dead mother, hanging from her chest. Some neighbors found her while they were escaping the rebel attacks and they brought her here.” This testimony comes from one of the caretakers at the Don Bosco orphanage, headed by a Venezuelan missionary. Asha is now two years old. “We had to run. The rebels began to assassinate people, burn houses, rape the women. The majority of my family was killed: my husband, aunts and uncles, and cousins. In my town I worked in the fields, here I don’t know what to do.” The word ‘here’ refers to a refugee camp in the outskirts of Goma, where hundreds of tents made of plastic and wood are crowded together on soil that turns to mud every time it rains. This woman, aged with rotten teeth, has been left with only her 5 year old daughter.
And one may ask himself what these people do in order to keep living and not give up; in order to, step by step, keep going. Women that work like wheel horses in exchange for a few cents for their children, street children that dream about studying and getting a job; idealistic university students that believe that the corruption and the war will disappear from the Congo and that when this occurs, they will be there to give the definitive boost towards prosperity. Prosperity that, within this region, means counting on a free education, a bite to eat, and the ability to work in peace.