Posts Tagged ‘girls’

Sara and Baraka

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


Nothing has even come close to lifting my spirits as the sight of 15-year-old Sara and her 1-year-old daughter Baraka did today in Bukavu. I wrote about them last March when I did the piece on children born of rape for the Christian Science Monitor. Sara was abducted and raped and had a child when she was 14. She has no family. If I remember correctly, her parents were killed. I am not sure what happened to her one sibling.

She lives now in a group transition home for women who had been patients at Panzi Hospital. She remains there, but is set to move soon, I believe, to another of the hospital’s homes.

My interview with Sara many months ago, really moved me, as most of those I conducted with young rape victims did. But her face and her child stayed with me better than the others. First because of her deep love and affection for her daughter, even after what she had been through, and second because her daughter is such a happy, lively child. None of that has changed. Baraka continues to giggle and gurgle and smile constantly. She was afraid of me, unfortunately, perhaps because I look so odd to her. But she is a gaggle of happy energy for others. And Sara is still a profoundly kind and big-hearted young girl. She laughed at her daughter’s frightened reaction through her own slightly bewildered eyes.

My heart swelled when I saw her. The minute she saw me, and the instant of recognition passed between us, her smile opened and she ran to me, Baraka on her back, and we hugged. She was so excited and surprised to see me. It was instantaneous joy and totally sincere and unscripted and real and again, Sara managed to move me, nearly to tears. I am sure after our interview she never did expect to see me again. And I was so thrilled to see her. I never forgot her and there seemed something very important to both of us in knowing that.

It’s often so difficult as a journalist here for me to hear about such horror and then simply walk away. I know all I can promise is a story and I believe deeply in the power and potential of journalism to change lives; to change the world. But that does not often translate for a girl whose lost her whole family, her childhood and any real semblance of security. So to be able to come back, and to see how much my doing so meant to her, and to realize how much it meant to me as well, was a profoundly important experience. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who felt some tie, some connection. Sara felt it to.

Sara is now in school, fourth form, something she wanted desperately. I’m ecstatic. She is healthy, Baraka is healthy; Sara has friends in school, she is learning French and Swahili, and math and she seems happy. We were able to communicate in French a bit, she knows some basic phrases, and after much prodding, she shared with me her new English too: “Good morning! How are you?” She was so shy and sweet and could barely look at me and keep from giggling as she said it. But I know she was happy to share. She also showed me her school notebooks, paging through slowly, so I could see as her writing in French had improved since September and how she has gone from measurement conversions to simple geometry in math.

Before parting I left her with some money for school uniforms, notebooks and pens, and little extra to get her hair braided. It costs $1 and she likes to do it twice a month. I am more than happy to support such vanity. She’s a beautiful girl, thoroughly, in her core. I can’t wait to see her again. In fact, I’m sad to leave her.

sometimes it is tough here

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

This is from yesterday, March 5:

Congo is breaking my heart a little bit today. I think I’m extra tired – Roger and I were running around all day, being quite productive, but tiring ourselves all the same. And the interviews were not – as they never really are – on easy topics. But on this trip, I guess my stories are bringing me even closer to the suffering so many women and girls have endured here.

At this point, I’ve met all too many girls aged 14 or 16 or 18 who were kidnapped, raped, beaten savagely, used as slaves, and impregnated – many of them when they were only 12 or 13. They’ve seen their parents and siblings murdered and their homes burned, they’ve been rejected by remaining family members and tell me their dreams of finishing school, marrying, just living, have been shattered.  It’s devastating because there is nothing I can say to make any of it better. And while merely taking care of themselves can feel like an insurmountable challenge, they’ve got the added dimension of another life in their hands, their children.

Today we encountered in one of these young women the depths to which this society’s entrenched stigma is piled upon and internalized by rape survivors and their children. She had a story like so many others – abducted by the Interahamwe at age 14, raped repeatedly, beaten so terribly she is now handicapped and impregnated. But unlike so many other mothers we’ve met, she’s not been able to get past her trauma to love and accept her child, an adorable, dimpled 4-year-old who can’t contain her smiles. To hear her express such anger and disdain for the child made it by far among the most difficult interviews I’ve ever had. I empathize with every cell in my body for her suffering. But to know it will be passed on inevitably is incredibly painful.

Tomorrow I’ll be back on the activism story and will hopefully close the day with a more promising outlook…

Home now

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Or, really, for almost two weeks…! Strangely, though I should have posted this days ago, there hasn’t been a chance. Between Thanksgiving, jet lag, and jury duty it’s been busy…

Thankfully, I do think my jet lag is finally starting to recede (though at a play earlier this week I couldn’t help but doze a couple of times – and it was a really good production!). It was iffy there for a while. My first three or four days home I felt distinctly like a 3-year-old who really needs a regular afternoon nap…

It’s been a nice return home, however, with Thanksgiving and all the over-eating accompanying the annual feast. Seeing my family and friends and sharing some of the experiences from my journey has been a treat.

Now that everyone has headed home, however, I am forced to come to terms with the return to my normal New York life. Already, I miss the constant distractions of travel; of having all of my senses on high alert for strange new smells, sounds, tastes and views; for eager conversations with people whose stories are variously inspiring, harrowing, and moving. I love waking up not quite knowing what the day will be, though knowing all the same it will be exactly and utterly what I make of it.

Yet coming home has also given me some time to reflect on this trip. The Congo is that rare place that on some levels is totally depressing. The horrifying effects of protracted conflict are visible in every rut of the road and crumbling shack; in each ragged tear of a child’s clothes and tall wall topped with barbed wire. The desperate state of so many people and institutions there is often hard to see.

Yet on other levels, Congo is filled with daily examples of hope and promise and strength and survival. I am thrilled to have found a couple of those in my stories and to have met some of the people that embody them. It is a uniquely personal and gratifying experience. So far I’ve heard from several people about whom I wrote who are pleased with the results, which is the best feedback possible. And I’ve had at least two emails from others wanting to do something – in these cases donate money or mobilize humanitarian organizations to respond to some of the situations I explored in my pieces. To say this is more than I expected and that I am thrilled is an understatement.

Nepal, obviously, was a very different place and left me with very different feelings than did the Congo. But being there was equally invigorating. What I surely enjoyed most was the experience of being so far away while trekking – no cell phones, no computers or Internet, no T.V., no radios, no running water and only a single, spare light bulb in our rooms after sunset (if we were lucky). It’s so rare these days to feel really remote and I loved it.

Other elements of the visit were special too. In particular, the general warmth of the Nepali people, the vibrant colors of their clothes and jewelry, and the physical scenery, which was stunning. It’s quite a humbling experience to look up to Mountain peaks of 7,000-plus meters and consider one’s place on the planet. Yes, we are small. Quite another experience when told that for Nepal, these peaks are small! To me, they (being several summits in the Annapurna range) looked and felt like they were floating in the sky – it couldn’t actually be possible that they were connected to the ground and rose so precipitously, I thought. But, of course, it was and it was amazing to see. Out west, the mountains were not as close to where I walked and loomed overhead somewhat less powerfully. But they still outlined and underscored the vastness, emptiness and utter quiet that was so often all around.

Khatmandu was beautiful, though it is more crowded than many places I’ve ever been. I actually got stuck in a human traffic jam one afternoon while walking in the old part of town! Luckily I was directed through a series of snaking side streets and small tunnel-like passageways that helped me circumvent the crowd. And the shopping there … what’s a girl to say? It was endless and some of it was really beautiful. I did bring a couple of treasures home.

So now it’s time to get back into a routine here in New York, finish several more stories and start planning the next trip. Even I’m curious to see where that might be!


Monday, November 30th, 2009

I’ve gotten some feedback on my piece about the witchcraft accusations in the Congo. Helen Jonsen wrote about it on her blog at Working Mother. Have a read…

Another story from the Congo is up

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

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