Sunday, February 1, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
As for why I haven't sent any email updates - laziness, tunnel vision at work and a lovely vacation in Nicaragua! Forgive and I promise to do better...
Monday, November 3, 2008
The sunset is gorgeous. Soft palette of blues & lilacs touched by pale pinks cast a shimmer over the lake, abnormally calm. I see the hills of
These half days, split by the equator with equal day and night, share no lingering evenings, late mornings or other evidence of movement in the universe. Things here remain the same no matter how we wish they would change and that we could change them.
It is hard to believe that this was the scene of chaos a few days ago. Hard to acknowledge that the hills beyond are full of armed fighters, that the still waters are haunted by the bodies of many many dead; that the roads away from my own are full of people walking, waiting and wanting. Somehow, in these moments of quiet I am the most affected, the most saddened and the most overwhelmed by the great human tragedy playing out around me.
I can’t comprehend the situation, it alludes me while haunting me. All my dreams are the same; you might be surprised at how many of you are in them. Those I love, loved, lost and re-found, you have been there, whenever I have found a troubled sleep. You are slipping away from me, being ripped out of my arms, never strong enough to hold you – again and again these visions of being powerless to save the people I care about. I know it is a manifestation of my anxiety, images representing my powerlessness and fear. But still I dream…
At first my story came out all in broken and disjointed pieces, the burning accusations, the shocking revelations, the unimagined horrors. I needed others to know I had suffered that I have been to the bottom of fear and am climbing my way back up. It was an indirect way of asking that they be gentle with me, understanding and accommodate my fragility. I made detailed reports, kept working working working busy busy busy to occupy my mind and control the memories. However, simultaneously, I can’t stand to be hugged too long, to be comforted too much. The slightest bit of self-pity could lead to my slipping out of control; out of the disciplined space I’ve constructed to protect myself and that has allowed me to protect others. The well of tears could be too deep and I am afraid to drown. I can imagine the gasping, the closing of my throat, the burning and so I stay away from the edge, unable to look down.
I will tell my story, but not yet. I will tell of the horror, disappointments and cowardice. I need to tell them, to put them away so that they stop poisoning me with their anger, pushing me to blame and condemn. I need to stop hiding behind the anger so I release the despair. The anger burns and the despair creeps, I don't know which is more dangerous. Then, hopefully, I will be free to leave part of this behind me. To only take away the lessons learned, the strength discovered and the compassion cultivated. I want to remember... smiling little ones, acts of kindness and sacrifice, hard working mothers, brave friends and most of all, the protective power of love.
I know that many of you have been worried about me as North Kivu has fallen into anarchy. The rebel groups expanded taking over a great deal of new territory in North Kivu. This caused panic among the rag tag militias and dangerously undisciplined government troops. As they fled their posts they went on a rampage, killing, raping and looting innocent civilians along their roads. I wanted to write just to let people know I have made it to relative safety.
Trouble in Congo
I checked my email this morning and that was the first news feed.
I am not sure what to say. I am not sure I can explain what has happened to us here. I want to say we are ok but I think it is a bit too early. The good news is that my entire team will have been evacuated to Goma by 3pm today. Goma is calm for the moment and we are trying to pull it together.
Anarchy descended upon us Tuesday. Tensions were high and I posted an entry on my blog that morning then went to work as usual. I arrived at the office without incident and then tried to leave again on an errand. A drunk government soldier began yelling at my driver and waving his gun at us, forcing us back into our office compound. That was the beginning of the end. The rest is a chaotic nightmare of attacks, tanks, abandonment, gunfire, assaults, fear, rationing, helicopters, and anger. Our convoy was attacked and I was slightly injured when our windows were blown out of the car. Our offices were violently raided by armed militias and everything was looted. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say we barely escaped with our lives.
A complete failure of humanity and coordination contributed to the disastrous attempts to rescue us. I don't think I, who has always had a critical point of view, has ever been so disappointed by so many. At the same time, I was blessed to be supported by a handful of people who were brave and strong, who kept me encouraged, laughing and hoping against all odds.
Now the de-briefing and hopefully, healing, begin. Then we will see what happens next... and where. We are trying to mobilize our emergency response teams while constantly assessing the security situation.
I feel very loved and supported and in all the madness; I have never ever felt alone. Thank you so much for all your love and support. I hope to publish more soon.
As a favor to me, please go hug all the people you love right now - as I am still awaiting the opportunity to do so...
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
7:16 AM Tuesday, October 28, 2008
This is the text message I received:
Explosions have been constant since 6:30 AM. Info from hcr (rcvd from monuc) is fighting in Rubare (11km). Monuc, “not to panic”
[HCR= UNHCR, UN High Commission for Refugees/MONUC = UN mission in Congo]
The sounds of artillery have been consistent for two days now and began this morning before 6:30am. I know because I can here them from my abnormally large and uncomfortable bed. I hear the rattle of gunfire, the light blasts of bigger arms just as often as not, both at night and some mornings. Military bases are near by and the sound carries well with no real buildings or structures to capture the waves.
Am I panicked? No. Is it because I am brave? No. I have just become accustomed to this heightened tension. It's like a jacket that is a bit too warm, but I don’t want to take it off because I know I would be cold and exposed without. I don’t want to fall into the rumors, naïve analysis and unfounded speculation that many have already succumbed to. All the discussion focuses on which armed group is where, the movements of fighting and where they might be next.
The truth is this is not war. This is not real fighting. There are almost no casualties, there has probably rarely been such an extended ‘war’ with so few combatants dead. These are probably the least committed ‘soldiers’ in the world, it’s a game of capture the flag. Push the lines, make a lot of noise but don’t hurt people because them you might actually get hurt! They are only strong against the unarmed weak, can only kill the spirits of already broken people. The victims are primarily women, mothers traveling to farms to take food for their families – raped and beaten going and coming. Families’ little mud houses are raided, their meager belongings taken and their food eaten. The death is slow, it steals children in the night from malaria, after they are forced to sleep in fields to escape the militias. Sickness, like the soldiers, targets the sick and weak, the young and old.
I want to be angry but I just can’t muster up the emotions. Who can we blame? Not the soldiers, who are mostly forcibly recruited in their young teens – little boys with big guns. I saw a skinny band of them Saturday, their smiles an eerie contrast to their oversized weapons. There are no other jobs and the military provides clothes, occasional pay and a measure of power, all things in short supply here. Should I blame the government? They are a world away in
I could blame
Who buys the raw materials? Who supports the corrupt regimes, gives most favored nation status to China, builds, sells and reaps the profits of all the rocket launchers, machine guns, tanks and grenades I see every day, the tools of terror that haunt my neighbors? The big men who run this mess, who profit from this disaster live in the
The explosions have quieted in the last hour and now the predominant sounds are babies crying and children laughing. So I will pack up now and head for work. I’ll get into my big land cruiser and drive the bumpy road to my office. I will wave at the children who run too close to the car, with special smiles for my favorite girls next door – Tantine, Alice and Sylvie. I am knitting their little brother
I am safe for now and I will not panic. I will write and I will hope for relative peace, the only kind of peace this battered land has known for so many years.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Colleagues in our program in Afghanistan were killed in mid-August. Two of the women were my age and they all worked in my sector. Given the lack of adequate security measures in North Kivu, recent plane crashes and the flare-up of hostilities I asked Mike how to know when the risks are too great...
Here is an excerpt of what he wrote -
I was driven by emotion- joy, love. Two
emotions that spawn miracles, one by it self can move mountains. Yes I
had fear, but fear only worked as a reminder to why I was afraid in
the first place. I need to fear to overcome my fear. Fear doesn't only
claim us when we feel weak, injured or defeated. It grabs us when
we're confident, relaxed or happy. When I was in
old. I feared my leaders more than I did the enemy. I had very little
to live for, so I thought. When I enlisted I locked and forgot
everything I did before I joined. I was the token soldier for the
army, listened, learned and executed. I bleed green. Fear wasn't a
factor my first 2 years in the service. I wasn't living, I was
30 days of leave. And it wasn't til about a month at bragg when I
really started thinking about how much freakin' danger I was in when
of - I got something to live for. I had something Wonderful to return
too. Now I had a cause, it was a good cause. Good enough to live for,
survive for, fight for. I didn't know what to expect but I knew if
there were going to be any fulfillment from my cause I would have to
deal with fear. Fear in cunning, powerful, baffling. Who is to say how
someone's to act in a traumatic situation, can one control themselves
at the height of their own fear as they understood it. Can knowledge
and understanding prove hostile to your thinking mind, do your
thoughts wager dangers to protect or maybe cower.
from your thoughts like sweat of the brow. Does your fear dance because of
similarity to your fellow employees. If so would the same be said if
all your minds as one captured positive thoughts sharing joy for one
another. Acknowledging fear and sharing the feeling with others can
lighten the load for a human mind. Anxiety attacks quickly and can
easily engulf your mind with worries beyond imagine. When something is
out of my power, when danger lingers, I would immediately acknowledge
my current state of feeling. Can I change it or will this ride out.
The cunning part of fear is; the more fear one has experienced or the
unexpected fear to come will never determine how one is to feel when
fear presents itself. Yes you can numb yourself or scream yourself,
it'll catch up to you, fear is powerful.
Lisa all around you is
danger. I know this mostly for what you have told me. When are the
risks too great you ask? I believe a risk is too great when it is too
late. Meaning, believing in something greater than yourself, living
for the cause, surrounded by obstacles without measure a risk is
merely a fly in the house, no great concern because your concern is
not of yourself but of the greater cause that makes you.
Ms Bender acknowledge your fears, remember your choices, be ready to
share them and already fear will weaken its power over you. I am but
just one person sharing to another. I would be lying if I said I don't
think and pray for you each night. Being afraid all the time is not
fun, but knowing a friend that is afraid I can help by praying for
safety and sharing my heart for your comfort.
Miss you Lisa, the cause is greater than you are but the cause
wouldn't be as great without you.
I am grateful you made it home to us safely. I am praying for all of those still serving...