Postcards from the Edge
In 1996, when the first war in DR Congo broke out, we fled our house in Bukavu to return to my hometown village, Mulamba, Walungu. In the early stages of the ongoing eight-year conflict in DR Congo, the villages were more secure than the cities. By 1998, the conflict had reached the villages that were once safe.
In February of 1998, rebels invaded our village and killed my husband. We did not find his body until three days later. Despite his death, I did not leave because I didn't have the means to do so. For a while there was complete silence and security. Life had resumed to some degree of normality. Schools had reopened and the population resumed their lives.
One day in 2003, at around eleven at night, we heard footsteps around the house. I was in bed with my three girls. My boy was in another room with my mother-in-law. The military knocked on the main door, so I went to back door, intending to flee. I had no idea where I would go. The militaries had already come through the front door, and when I opened the back door, the commander of the operation stood in front of me. They had encircled the house. When he saw me, he said, "Here is a beautiful woman." He knew that I was a widow. Not too far from my house was a camp of Rwandan refugees of the Hutu ethnic group who had fled Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. I believe they told him that my husband had passed away.
He told me that he loved me and he wanted me to be his wife. I refused and resisted his advance. He grabbed me by the hand and took me to the kitchen, which was in a separate annex. He ordered the other men with him to lock my mother-in law and the kids in the house. He told me that he was not going to leave me, that he was in love with me and wanted to make me his wife. He tied my hands in the back and pushed me on the floor. He took off his clothes, then ripped off mine. He got on top of me and ordered me to make love to him in the same manner I made love to my husband. He said for me to do what it takes to please him. He finished what he had to do. I was on the floor with my hands tied behind my back. After he rested a bit, he got on top of me a second time. The third time, he untied me. I asked him to forgive me and to let me go, but he refused and said that he loved me. He asked me where I hurt. I told him that I was hurt all over. He placed me on my stomach and raped me again from the back. He said he wanted the whole village to know that I had become his woman. I begged him not to tell anyone, knowing the shame and scandal that would follow. He insisted that he wanted the whole village to know because he loved me. I was saved because the local resistance group in our village, Mundundu 40, had come. Upon hearing the news of the arrival of the Mundundu 40, he fled with his men. He promised he would come back for me.
My mother in-law and children thought that I had been killed, so they were happy to see me alive. I told my mother-in-law that we needed to leave this village; I was afraid they would come back. I could not tell her what had happened. We traveled to another village, Lubona, about 40 kilometers away. After three days in that village, I fell gravely ill.
I went to a hospital in Lubona. When I arrived, the doctors said they could not care for me. I needed to go to the Hospital Panzi in Bukavu. There I learned that my urinary tract was destroyed. I have no control when I pee. Imagine such a life. I live in constant fear--fear of the unknown, fear that at any time they could come for me again. I relive that dreadful experience every night.
I thank God for bringing [Women for Women International] here in DR Congo. In the [Women for Women International] program, particularly training, it's like a new door has opened for me to rebuild my life. Despite what has happened to me, I think being in this program will help to regain my dignity. It's like you have brought a light to those of us who have been marginalized and excluded; who had lost hope and a purpose to live. But since I have been welcomed here by this office and the people here have expressed an interest in me, me who thought that I had no value, and here you were interested in me. I didn't understand why. For this reason, I encourage Women for Women to be interested in other women who suffer; to give them hope to live.