Today was our second to last day in Kabalo (we have only tomorrow left before we depart) and while the “pace” of the schedule is not as rigourous, the emotional drain is more so. I think I said before, Kabalo was occupied by soldiers and rebels for 8 years, meaning that much of the city was destroyed. The most notable thing from Kabalo that I want to spend my time writing about was the foyer (women’s school) we visited this afternoon. This small town on the outskirts of Kabalo was essentially an entire town made up of father-less children and husband-less women. None of the men (very few) that are living there now lived there during the war, because all (and I mean ALL) the men were either killed or forced to join the soldiers. I would guess that more than half of the children in this village are a product of rape. Many of the women are prostitutes, because they have no other way to support their children (the very children that were conceived through rape). Because the town was destroyed, there is literally NO industry, NO opportunity for employment. They are thrust backward in time to an era of hunter-gatherers, except that resultant from the war, there is nothing left to hunt or gather.
So as I listened to woman after woman tell me their stories of rape, destruction, and hopelessness, I felt buoyed only by the fact that my being there was providing some comfort to them. I’m only one person, and I cannot do all things. But their shame is so great that merely to alleviate a small portion of that seems “helpful”, I suppose. Mainly it has caused me to think rather vaguely, wistfully, of what I might wish to do on my “next trip” to the Congo, if there is such a next trip! It’s funny because life is really hard here—no disguising that. It is hard. And often unpleasant. And yet, every author I’ve read and many people I’ve talked to describe the Congo this way—as a siren song. She sucks you in, and against all odds that great river is there, mysteriously calling you back against all your best judgment and logic. It’s strange how that happens, and I certainly didn’t bank on it happening to me, but here I am, thinking about what I might like to do the “next time” I’m in Kabalo….
After being here only a month, there is not much that surprises me about the Congo anymore, except the very fact that I am rarely surprised. Indeed, this is far from being an “ordinary” country, and I have found so many things here that are more than a little challenging to my mental schemas. Initially, whenever I expressed any sort of surprise or disbelief in spite of myself (usually about how expensive something was or how difficult it was to get some place), Mary offered a sort of nonchalant shrug and would say, “This is Congo.” in a rather resigned tone. A fait accomplit, if you will. But now, I find that even I am hard to “rattle”, neither by the alarming size of insects (there is an unidentifiable THING above my bed right now that’s easily the size of my entire hand, though I honestly have no clue what it is), nor the abject wealth and poverty, nor the seemingly-bizarre statements sometimes made by its inhabitants (one man in Lubumbashi told me that the current president was “very good” because “he doesn’t steal from the people, he only steals from the government” and that due to that, this man predicted the president’s re-election in November. Note that I have no way of confirming or disconfirming the accuracy of his statements, I’m just repeating what I heard).
My adaptation to the day-to-day (and sometimes deeply perplexing) life here was much easier than I ever expected.. It has me wondering a bit about how I will “reverse-adapt” to “This American Life” (also the name of my favourite radio program. Someone please send Ira Glass my blog; it’s my life-long dream to be on his show. Not kidding.) when I get home. I don’t know. As I said, the most surprising thing about this trip is me, and I suspect it shall be the same when I get home….