The next morning after some Wheatabix and coffee we head off on foot to go meet with a group of rape survivors. Unsure what to expect, I was very worried that we were clear I was only there to photograph if they wanted. As we walked to the traffic circle in the middle of the village to “the monument” we were greeted by a jubilantly plump African woman draped in a colorful pagne, her name is Mama Marceline. After Amy established that I am an American who does not speak French we walked further down the road to a mud brick hut. She showed inside the thatched roof hut.
I ducked as I entered the wooden doorway. Inside there was a small sitting area with a mud floor, directly to the right half the space was taking for a fire and cooking. And to the left and elevated shelf covered in thin sticks for firewood with a sleeping area below. The air inside was heavy with the sent of damp earth and smell of the black soot from cooking fires that covered the walls. We crouched on four wooden stools as our eyes adjusted from the daylight to the dark of the hut. I could just make out the outline Amy and Mama Marceline faces from the bright daylight that poured through the small doorway. After some time, Amy explained that we were going to be meeting with 18 survivors and their children who were born as a result of the rape. Without asking I pondered how 18 people were going to fit inside the space already filled by six of us. But after seeing how many people they could fit into a Dalla-Dalla (refer to older post) I knew anything was possible.
As the women arrived Amy and Mama Marceline went outside the hut to greet them and give then an overview of what was going to happen. Essentially, they said we are here today to meet with you to hear your story and we cannot guarantee help, but we will try. Then for a reason lost on Mama Marie, we let them know that it was their choice to be photographed and that it was in no way related to them receiving assistance. Mama Marie told them that I was a journalist (well kind of) from the United States and that I was here to learn about what was going on in the Congo. She asked the women if they agreed to be photographed and a chorus of voices firmly agreed. They wanted to be photographed and taped. Then Mama Marie turned to me and Amy translated, “Please you must promise to return home and do something with these photos so that people know the problems we have in Congo”.
A bit surprised by the unanimous consent, but I was happy to offer a tool the women of DRC to make sure thier voice is heard by those around the world. Overwhelmed with the responsibility that had just been placed on me the interviews began. For four hours one woman after another entered the small hut in groups of three with their children. As Amy interviewed each survivor and Mama Marie translated I snapped photos, recorded audio, and collected video. After a few hours instead of the line of women and children crowding the doorway appeared to be growing not shrinking. In and our of the hut taping and shooting stills. I could not keep up with the train of women. They all wanted to be photographed and waited insistently until I had taken their photo after the interview. If I stayed inside to tape the women all would clarify with Mama Marie please I want her to come outside and take my photo too. When I would finally emerge from taping testimony inside, there was one woman who pointed out all of the women waiting to be photographed. I think it was their chance to finally tell someone they felt may be able to make a difference. Two Muzugus from America. As I met the women some of them posed defiantly, some of them offered a shy smile, and some of them still had a vacant look in their eyes as if it was less painful to just check out from reality for a time. But all of them smiled and laughed when they saw their image on the review screen of my camera. I was proud that I could offer them some kind of voice and only hope that I can help do them justice when I return to the states.
Since the interview was conducted in French and translated into Kinande (the local language) Amy debriefed me afterwards. The oldest survivor was 75, one young woman had been raped by 10 soldiers, another had TB, and the ones who had been married no longer had husbands because they had abandoned them after the rape. While many of them did not know their rapist they could easily guess which military they were from because they remembered the language the rapist had been speaking. The stories of tragedy went on and on, but what I cannot forget was the joy, friendship, and laughter I witnessed amongst the women. After all they had been through it is readily apparent they still have a joy for the future.
Unfortunately, the future does not look so bright. There is no end in sight for their problems or their daughters. Every time they go to the fields they risk being raped, but they must feed their children. Any man (civilian or soldier) can escape the consequences of being a rapist if he just pays the mayor a few dollars. Until the women of the DR Congo are heard and supported by the rest of the world this will go on.
It is so important for the world to take note of what is happening to the women of Congo, to collect evidence for these crimes against humanity, but as of now NO ONE is listening.