I HAVE NO RIGHT (Imagining Life as a Congolese Woman)

by Lorraine, NeoVox Project Director, April 26, 2010

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He will not look at me. Me, his wife. Nor her, his daughter. 

Me, I understand, for I have brought great shame on his honor, his household, his manhood. I know that he will never touch me again even if he chooses to stay. But each day, his visage will fade, the way the blood drained from his face when he walked into the house and saw what the Lord's Resistance Army had wrought. Soon, my husband will be a ghost in this house. And then, one day, I know he will be gone. His shame will drive him away.

His son--our son--is already gone. The men who burst into this house yesterday took him away. They will feed him drugs, teach him to use a gun, turn him into a soldier. He is a gentle boy, good with his hands and quick of mind. I had great hopes that we could send him to university. Now his will be another empty seat at the school. Many of the boys have scattered. Those families who could sent their boys into hiding, but where could I send my son? I have no family that is far enough away from the armies that have fought over this land for years now. 

They fight over our mines. Our gold. Our coltan. Useless stupid rocks in the ground. And what they leave behind are the dead and the near-dead.

My husband had gone into the city to try to make a business deal with some men. I do not ask him what his business is. It is not my place to know. 

I have my own woman's secrets. I know that he loves me, but he does not know the things that I am capable of. 

I did not know the things I was capable of until yesterday. 

There were six of them. Filthy, stinking men with machetes and guns. Outside, in the village, we could hear the screams coming from other houses. Next door, they made the husband watch them as they raped his wife, and then they made her watch as they hacked him with their knives. 

They killed all the men eventually. Some of them, they tortured and raped. We could hear them screaming and begging for mercy. I do not judge them. I know that I, too, cried out as those men took their turns with me. 

They marched all the boys off. Threw them in the back of the their trucks. We will not see them again, and if we do, would they recognize their own mothers? Will these monsters turn our babies into monsters, too? 

I am bleeding from the place where my babies emerged. It was not enough for them to stick their stinking cocks inside me, to slap me, to beat me with the butt of the rifle.

They used that rifle butt as a cock, and now I am torn up inside. It hurts. It hurts to pee. 

There was a woman who lived in our village who had a terrible childbirth. The child was too large, and the midwife was young, inexperienced. The old midwife had just died, and she had no one to ask for help when the birth proved more than she could control. The woman who gave birth suffered a terrible injury. Something happened to her bladder, and she leaked pee all the time. She smelled of urine constantly, and she isolated herself from us. Embarrassed. Ashamed. One day, when her child was a toddler, she went down to the river and she drowned herself and the child. 

I am afraid. I am afraid that the soldiers have hurt me so that this, too, is my fate. 
I cannot talk about my daughter. I cannot talk about what they did to her. I have lain her on the bed, covered her with blankets, even though it is hot outside. The stench of death is everywhere. The women need to bury their dead, but many of them stare, zombie-like, from the doors of their houses. They, too, are bleeding. 

My daughter. It is breaking my heart. They made me watch. She was a virgin, and they held her down while they took their turns with me. While they were raping me, they kept telling me that they were saving themselves for the young beauty in the house. That I was old and loose, but that she would be a tight young thing, and that they would show her what real men could do. 

And so, two of them held me down as I watched what they did to her. I will not tell you. I cannot. If I repeat what I saw, I shall go mad. And if I go mad, I cannot help her. For they were not content to simply hurt her once with the rifle. I believe that they have destroyed parts of her insides. I fear that they have made it impossible for her to ever have children. 

I must get help for her. I will ask my husband, but I do not know if he is man enough to do this for me. 

There is a doctor. He is in Bukavu, the city where my husband went to make his deal. He runs a hospital for women like us, women whose bodies have been destroyed by rape. I have heard of this place because one of my neighbor's sisters is a nurse there. I have even heard they are building a city there, a city filled with women like us.

Women who are the dirt you sling at one another in your war. We are not your weapons. We are not the holes that you can rape, again and again, to prove that you are men. 

And this war can most certainly be stopped.
Tomorrow, I will wrap my precious child in blankets and I will fashion a travois for her. Bukavu is 20 miles away, but I have walked those distances before. I will tie a rope around my waist, and I will, just as I carried her within me, bear her with me to find this man, this place, where we can be healed. 

It will take us days, I anticipate, for us to make this journey. But we will do it. 

I just wish there was someone--anyone--out there who would hear our stories and make it possible for this all to stop. 

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