Today was my first village visit with COPERMA. Basically going outside of Butembo means that we are entering soldier territory, which is fine during the day if you follow some basic rules.
Rules for the Bush:
- Leave with ample time to get there and back should you have any car problems or get stuck in the mud.
- Your driver should also be a very resourceful mechanic.
- Spare tire.
- Call a head to see what the situation in the village is.
- Try not to interact with any soldiers or police.
- Make if past all roadblocks before dark
- If you do interact with police/soldiers or you are detained be respectful.
As we climbed into the very old Toyota 4 Runner there was not enough room for everyone so two of the COPERMA team members climbed into the back. There were seven of us. As we drove to the village Amy explained where were going and who was there. This was the primary center for “Girl Mothers”, girls who had been raped and had children as a result. The center was a place for school and meetings. Today they were going to train the foster community that had taken them in on counseling techniques and how to help care for the girls.
As we drove I posed several questions to the team. They told me that most girls/women in the Congo who are raped never make it to a hospital. Even if they do make it there is no guarantee they will be tested for STD’s / HIV. Most do not even know that there is something called “The morning after pill”. Many who now have children (and love them) said they would have taken it if they had known about it. Others are given the pill without even telling them what it does. And even if the girls receive treatment there is no guarantee that medical records are closed so a blabbing doctor or nurse could potentially release details and stigmatize a girl/women further.
As we got to a very steep muddy section of the track the car sputtered and slid backwards down the hill. There was no choice everyone had to get out in push. All of the team members including the women in their immaculate dresses and dress shoes stood behind the car in the mud. It was all in a days work for the COPERMA team and we were just getting started.
A few minutes later we arrived at our destination. Asking where the toilet was I lead down a path in the banana grove and was shown to a mud brick outhouse. Amy said, “Don’t look down”. Inside the rugged outhouse is usually a hole in the mud or if it is a deluxe a piece of wood lines the hole. Of course after being told not to I could not resist looking down. At first I though it was just the stench and reflection of liquid, but the liquid was moving. It was millions of maggots. I thought well at least I won’t be hungry for lunch.
Walking back to the two room building I entered the room on the left. Mama Marie was inside with adults from the community giving them a training on how to work as a counselor for the foster children (girl mothers and child soldiers). Shooting and filming as they role played I felt like I was making them nervous about role playing so I went next door.
In the other room were about 6 black sewing machines that looked ancient compared to my grandmothers. The machines were powered by a wide push pedal the girls would rest both feet on. Up, down, up, down the machines chugged along. The girls were taking a sewing class form a tailor. They were making clothes for themselves, their children, and making school uniforms to sell at the market. They were quite accomplished seamstresses and the clothing they were creating quite well sewn.
Everywhere I went there were COPERMA team members interviewing people and taking notes checking on all of their programs in the filed. With nothing else to do I set up to do some filming outside. I was paying with kids and just goofing off when Amy approached me and said, “Are you almost done?”. I said, “ Sure I am just goofing off. Why are we going somewhere else?’. Someone told us there are soldiers in the area and we need to leave now. A bit taken a back they would wait for me to film when they knew there were soldiers close by, I gathered my things as quickly as possible.
We piled into the car and waived our goodbyes to the people at the center. It is strange to me that I have the fortune…the means to insert myself into their lives and leave at will. The soldiers are there and they have to stay, there is no other choice.
As we sputtered along I let Amy know, “Anytime there are soldiers, no matter what I am shooting, I am ready to go!”.