The more I learn…

So I had a really lovely evening last night. Roger, my translator, Dobs, our driver, and I went out to dinner in Goma. I’ve blanked on the name of the restaurant, but it was a nice place with outdoor and indoor seating, a thatched-roof bar and pretty good food.

A view of Goma from a rooftop restaurant

A view of Goma from a rooftop restaurant

But the two things that I liked most was the diversity among customers there and the conversation with Roger and Dobs.

Roger mentioned it first, saying that the restaurant looked like “South Africa” because of the co-mingling among foreigners and Congolese. And it’s true that the customers were a more mixed group than I normally see in Bukavu. Roger thought it might be because there are more foreign aid organizations in Goma and thus more of their staff. So the city inevitably sees more mixing. Whatever the reason, it was a welcome change. It is one of the things I don’t like about traveling sometimes, is how conspicuously separated foreigners can be from the local populations.

Also fascinating was the conversation. Nearly every time I ask Roger a question I learn something from him. The same held true last night. But with the addition of Dobs my head was swimming as I try to learn more about the conflict here and why it is so deeply entrenched and complicated. It’s taken mental acrobatics for me to keep straight the different allegiances of all the armed groups. Add to that now my growing understanding of how ethnicities impact those allegiances and how different that can be from North to South Kivu — only separated by a lake, but often the experience of war is so dramatically opposed.

For example, we had an engaging debate about whether the war has affected North or South Kivu more — somewhat macabre, I know, but interesting. Roger says the south because it is such a small province and thus the proportion of victims is far greater. Dobs felt it was the north because of its close ties to Rwanda (geographic and ethnic) and the ongoing instability in so much of its rural areas.

Further, it seems that the victimization of women, in particular, takes on significantly different face depending on where they live and who attacks them. When the attacker shares fewer ethnic ties to the victim, the stigma for the woman, and her child if she becomes pregnant as a result, is that much greater. When the perpetrator is a civilian, the community response is quite different, and it seems the need for secrecy is greater. Sometimes, an aid worker told me, in the case of civilian rape, families will still try for their own mediation — a marriage between the perpetrator and victim or paid reparations to the victim. This is, however, illegal in Congo.

I’m digesting all of this and trying to understand it in context, knowing all the while that there are millions of layers still to unravel…

And, by the way, this is all simplified way way down from the depths of knowledge Roger and Dobs have about all of these issues. So don’t quote me, I’m still learning!

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