Letter From Eve From Bukavu
First thank you for your wonderful reactions to the last update. I feel you all here with me and that gives me hope and strength. It is Sunday morning. The birds are out and I am in the green green world of Bukavu. I am trying to find words to describe this week and the ongoing war and madness that is eastern Congo.
The morning after I arrived here, Panzi Hospital was attacked by a gang of bandits. The hospital staff were literally fighting off attackers with sticks. Ambulances and important transport vehicles were vandalized. Windows of the hospital were smashed. Many people were injured, patients and staff. I saw the bruised face of a woman who had made it to Panzi after being raped only to find the place that was meant to be secure, completely insecure. It is hard to tell what caused this outbreak of violence. There was a violent incident in the community which touched it off, but the province of South Kivu is essentially a state of violence. The entire population is traumatized from ten years of genocide and femicide. It is estimated that in this time over 5 million have died in the Congo and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. In the first six months of this year there were 3500 reported cases of rape in North and South Kivu, What this has done to the psyche of the people is so vast and so deep. The attack on the hospital heightened how things can change here on a dime. How there is no real security and no real government. It took the police over 4 hours to react.
After the hospital was attacked, the whole staff marched spontaneously to the Governors office. We were able to march with them for a while, but then it turned violent. They were forced to turn back, some were beaten by the police. The hospital has been closed for almost a week. Dr. Mukwege said that it is impossible to work to try to save the lives of women who are raped and destroyed while they are fighting off violence. There were already at least 40 to 60 women waiting for surgery when the hospital reopened Monday. Unfortunately this terrible incident at Panzi is one of many terrible incidents going on here. There is so much fighting right now in Northern Kivu and so many people dying. It is almost impossible to know where to focus or who to help first.
But again, in spite of all the madness, I have so much faith in the campaign, in the women and men who long for peace, who are fighting day and night to nurture and support and protect each other. As always, I worked with some of the bravest, smartest and most generous women and men (there are quite a few in the movement here) who organized the event, who do ongoing daily work to provide services and skills to women in recovery. As in Goma, I spent the week working with survivors, preparing for the public declarations to Break The Silence. Their stories are below and you will see the level of madness and cruelty they have suffered. It was a very moving and difficult week and I am just now beginning even to process all that I have hear over these weeks because the mind can hardly take in this level of horror.
The event was in a very intimate hall. It was beautifully decorated by activists in pinks and mauves. There were banners and signs everywhere. There were hundreds of people. Every person from police officers to public officials seemed to be wearing our buttons. The activists and local groups had stands selling their goods and offering services and legal counseling to survivors. The Governor arrived with many local authorities. UNICEF staff did an excellent job with the local preparations. Christine Schuler Deschryver did a beautiful job of translating the stories. The women survivors were so brave and so expressive and so true. So much so that after the Governor spoke, while he presented them with the pink scarves, he cried. I think this breaking allowed everyone to cry and to feel that maybe even for a moment the government was in the struggle to stop the madness. This time after the testimonies, the women reported they felt joy. Joy and freedom from breaking the silence. There was a press conference after and hundreds stayed for it and asked questions. There was a great deal of press, local stations, BBC and the New York Times. Afterwards there was a wonderful meal and great sense of victory and solidarity.
This may all seem like a small thing in the face of such devastation. At times it feels like it is impossible here. But then I think of the women who came up to say that the day had empowered them, they were stronger and they were going to break the silence and then they started to tell their own stories. I trust in time and the process of movement building.
Ten years ago V-Day was in one city and no one could say the word vagina. Now it is in 120 countries and we have raised 60 million and it continues to grow. It was one woman saying the word, breaking the silence, another woman and another woman and this is how it will happen in the Congo. This movement to end sexual violence gets stronger and stronger. Each time I am here I see how many more woman and men are engaged and how much bolder they have become. Eventually there will be thousands. And they will have the power.
After the event there was a briefing with the activists. There is a three -step plan that is being enacted here and in North Kivu. First all the groups will come up with five demands that must be met within a reasonable time period that will be presented to provincial authorities. They will give the authorities six months to meet these demands. If they have been met, it will be cause for celebration. If not, women and men will occupy local parliaments. Then there will be another offering and timeline. If this is not met there will be national demonstrations. Then there will be one more offering. If this is not met there will be a national strike of women.
Our work goes on. We meet this week to begin building City of Joy. We have the plan and the budget. Next will be the bidding then the building. There will also be Joy Centers in the villages where women are being hardest hit. These will be centers for recovery and community building.
I am here another few weeks. I will get to really work on the ground plan for City of Joy and hopefully get out to the villages to see what is needed.
Below are the stories of the survivors. Warning--they are horrible. What is remarkable is to see how each woman rose to the occasion and each woman has become an activist leader as a result of breaking the silence.
Snapshots of the Stories of Survivors Who Broke the Silence
Following are snapshots of survivors stories from the Bukavu event on September 19, 2008.
My aim is to denounce rape. I am 52 years old. I have nine children. We are suffering a lot even if they say we have peace. We do not. I will tell you what happened. I was selling beer in the market. We met some Interhamwe. They stopped us. They were talking Kinyarawnda. There were 12 of us. They said. “Today you will see. Today you will have other husbands.” They told us to lie down. They started beating us with sticks. They all started raping us. They took us into the forests. They beat us more. They raped us again. They walked us again to another camp until one in the morning. Then they tied us to trees. They tied us so tight. There were six women then and two husbands. They raped us in front of them. All the misery of the world was in our heads. We woke up so hungry. They said we had to wait for guests. New sex slaves. They came with a pregnant woman. They told me to cut her open with a knife. I couldn’t do it. My hands were trembling. They opened the belly of the woman and threw the baby on the ground. The woman died. Then they chopped up the baby and cooked it. Everyone peed on it with urine and put feces in it. Then they said we had to eat it. They bought bananas. They made us eat it. They said. “You fucking Congolese. You are eating your own sisters.” Then the husband of the woman who had been pregnant came looking for his wife. They took him to show where his wife gave birth. He gave them his small dollars. Then another soldier came and hit him and then they killed him. They kept us for two months. They said now soon you are going to die. Oh God, we said. They said, we don’t know God. In the morning we heard Congolese soldiers. They screamed for us to lie on the ground. There was lots of shooting. Then they told us to stand and we went to Panzi hospital. We were treated. We were not HIV. After a few days at home, the Interhamwe came again. They killed my uncle, my son, the wife of my brother. I could hear them cutting their heads.
I am 36. I was coming from the market. I was with an older woman. I came to a road block. They asked me for money. They put me on the side and told me to take off my clothes. I refused. One slapped me and hit my eyes. He smelled like alcohol. They started raping me. One was doing security on the road while the other raped me. Then they traded places. The older woman started screaming. They tested me. I was HIV positive and pregnant. My husband sent a note to push me out of the house. He left me with nothing and the children. Some Christians started helping me. An organization helped me to accept myself. I am here to testify. Even if we have been raped and are HIV positive, life goes on. I want to break the silence so that others who are HIV positive can get help.
I am 31. I have 4 children. I am standing here because I want to tell you, all the authorities, what happened to me. In the middle of the night, people knocked on our door. They woke us. I thought they were my husband’s friends. My husband said to go tell them he was tired, that he would see them tomorrow.” As we talked we saw flashlights in the house. One said. “Whose the one who says he will see us tomorrow.” I said, “I am alone. “ They searched with their flashlights and found my husband under the bed. They put my children in a sheet and rolled them under the bed. They made my husband and I take off our clothes. They asked my husband for a 100 dollars. He said he didn’t have that, but he had a pig. He said, you can take it. They said they wanted to 100 dollars. He said. What else can I give you? They told him to give them his wife. We will rape her. My husband told me to do it and then they would leave us alone. They started raping me. When the first one had sex with me he told the others I was good. He said it was the best he had ever had. All the other men wanted me then. I was pregnant and sick. My husband then got worried that I would have Aids. He begged them to stop and they shot him. I saw his insides and I screamed. They shot me in the leg and left me thinking I was dead. After the people came and took me to the hospital. Most of my leg was gone. I didn’t know where my children were. A doctor went to find them and they were begging on a street. He brought them to me.
Every time I see my leg I remember the misery. It is so hard to take care of my children and stay alive. All of you need to stop rape here in the Congo and end this war. A lot of women are hiding. There is nothing to hide. Break the silence.
I’m 39. I thank God I have the opportunity to tell authorities what happened. We were in a home with my family at night. We heard people were forcing the gate. We saw a flashlight. We realized they had already gotten into the house. They spoke Kinyarawnda. Some were dressed as civilians, some military. They asked me to stand up. We were all trembling. They took my husband and started beating him. We looked at each other. What’s wrong? What did we do? There were many of them outside and inside. They took my mother-in-law, my husband, my brother. They asked me to lie on the floor. They asked my father in law who he was. Then they told him to sleep with me. He refused. They forced him. He said you can kill me, but I will not sleep with her. They killed him right there. I lost consciousness. They took my brother in law to sleep with me and his mother. He refused. They killed him. They started beating me and my children. They took my husband. There were seven military who stayed. The others left with my husband. One after the other started raping me. I was raped and raped. When I came back to myself I found my womb was out of my body. My insides were all outsides. They took me in a vehicle. They brought me to Panzi in Bukavu. They kept me there and they provided everything. I had counselors taking care of me. I stayed at Panzi three months. I got better. They decided to do a surgery. Afterwards, I went back to the village. No husband. No father. I went to find my children. After a year, there was an attack on our village. I heard them at the door. I went under our bed. Another flashlight. I said I already suffered. Why do you want to do this to me again? The three of them raped me again. I was bought to Panzi again.
What I can’t forget. Every time I am hurting inside with any handicap. It hurts when I lift things. When I walk. I’m here to tell authorities there are many suffering and others are not telling. We don’t want to stay silent. Come and break the silence.
My name is Honorata. I choose to give my testimony in French as most people think it is only the villagers, only those who are uneducated who are exposed to rape and violence. Wherever you are, whoever you are, they can rape you. I am 56, a mother, married for years. I worked for 25 years as a teacher. Most teachers do not get paid so I looked for other jobs. I used to sell food, sugar, for the mining on the weekends. On Sunday night I was working at the mine and there was an attack. They took about 10 women and walked us around the forest and turned us around and around. They wanted to make us think we were far away. They walked us for a long time. Until one am. We were hungry. They said they wanted to share dinner. I was dinner. Five men were kicking and raping me. They spread me and were raping me. They smashed my eyes and now I have trouble reading without huge glasses. They broke my teeth. They cut my wedding ring off my finger. They said you are the wife of nobody now. You belong to all of us. They kept me the whole year of 2002. It was misery. I was the sexual slave of everyone and no one. They took us from one forest to another. I was leaving myself. I couldn’t stand it. They called me the Queen. At first I thought this was a good thing. Then I realized the Queen was the one they publicly raped. They would put me, the queen, on a cross, my head near the ground. They would rape me one after the other in this position. On the top of their rifles, they would put some kind of bacterial and they would put it inside me after each man raped me so I would be clean. Whenever I hear the word Food and Queen I become crazy.
One day there was fighting. They didn’t pay attention to us and I ran away. I walked 300 kilometers and got to Bukavu by January 2003. No one in my family wanted me. They said I was violated by Hutus. I had to leave. I found other women in the same situation. We lived together in a house. Few months later there was an attack of Tutsis. That day they came in our house. They all raped us again. It was two in the afternoon. I even wanted to kill myself then. I bled for two weeks. A nun was looking for survivors. She gave me clothes and money. I wasn’t doing well I took tests and had 6 STD’s. I worked at Women for Women for a year. Then I was sent by GTZ for training. I help women now. I empower then. My children study. One will graduate as an engineer.
I want to break the silence because many still think rape doesn’t exist. I want to give a message to the authorities and Internationals, when you don’t break the silence you become an accomplice. Authorities should stop treating rape as a simple ordinary thing. Rape and murder are the same. I want the Judiciary to stop being corrupt. I want all the rapists in prison and want them never seeing the light of day. Tomorrow it will be your mother, your daughter. That’s why I am breaking the silence.
One thing I can’t forget. I had a wedding ring. It was simple and gold. I was married since April 3 1977. My husband disappeared in 2001. I was a young teacher when I got married. I was a singer. It was a big joy. I was leading a choir during my wedding in a Catholic church. In that period, many men were taking 2 or 3 wives, My husband and I decided to do monogamy. We were Christians. Besides the man who raped me I never knew another man.