JWW in the Congo: Humanity Gives Us No Choice

by Janice Kamenir-Reznik

Ten days ago we arrived in Kigali with trepidation and expectation.  It seems like a day or two ago in some ways; yet in other ways it seems like lifetime ago.

Today we drove across the entire country of Rwanda—from Bukavu at the Congo-Rwanda border to Kigali.  It took almost 8 hours.  The countryside is completely gorgeous.  But I was struck by how different Rwanda looked to me today than it did when we stopped here en route to Congo.  Once you have seen girls and women brutalized by repeated gang rapes, or children with swollen bellies and infected watering eyes, men full of shame for having failed to protect their wives and daughters,  widows carrying hundreds of pounds of charcoal or produce in massive bundles on their backs, strapped around their foreheads, bent over as they climb up and down the mountainous terrain to sell just enough to put a totally inadequate amount of food into the mouths of her children – once you have seen those things everything looks different.

The other day we were at the famous Panzi hospital in Bukavu; Panzi is the hospital which treats the massive majority of the most brutally raped rape victims in Eastern Congo.  Panzi receives an average of 300 rape victims each month. We had the honor of meeting with Dr. Mukwege, the surgeon who runs the hospital and who, with love, sensitivity and enormous skill, does everything that is humanly possible to put the women’s bodies back together.  Dr. Mukwege told us, with tears in his eyes, about the destruction and devastation he sees every day.  It is almost impossible for me to write about what he sees…what we saw…it is unfathomable…it is unspeakable.

But, we have no options.  We must fathom the unfathomable and speak the unspeakable.  If the women of the Congo must endure the brutality, and if Dr. Mukwege must confront these ravaged women each and every day and reassemble bodies which have been so hatefully and brutally destroyed, then how can we not speak?  How could any person with even a small modicum of humanity not be outraged and stirred to action to learn that men threw acid into a woman’s body, destroying that very part of a woman that was intended to bring forth life?  How could anyone with a conscience not be impelled to act when he hears about a woman whose insides were decimated by sticks and prods?

We don’t want to speak these things.  We don’t want to hear these things.  It’s too terrible and too sad and too distracting to our lives.  But, how can we pretend we do not know when we know?

What John, Diana, Naama and I experienced over the last ten days has been life changing.  None of us will ever forget the women we met.  We will remember the faces of the children and we will remember the incredible humanity we found as well.  We return to Los Angeles in 24 hours.  We do not return depressed by these images.  We do not return in despair.  We do not return with lost faith in humanity.  No, we return to you.  We return to the warm embrace of our families and loved ones.  And, we return to our incredible community of people of conscience who know that we must mobilize into action.  We know this because lives depend upon our actions, and our humanity gives us no choice.