Every night, I retire to my book, and then to my dreams, to escape the day and the dust that swirl around me, here in Goma. Every morning, I awake exhausted, to escape the dreams, vivid dreams, nightly dreams, that extend far beyond the weekly taking of the Larium tablet, dreams that are complicated in the deeds and the decisions of past points in a long life lived, full of missteps and false starts and cul-de-sacs and adventures. These dreams string together like a haunting, a plague, not unlike the narrative in The Arabian Nightmare, a novel by one Robert Irwin (“The Arabian Nightmare is obscene and terrible, monotonous and yet horrific. It comes to its victims every night….”).
I return to Congo, this week, to find the cast of characters that I left last year have changed their paths and changed their minds and have moved their placements and left others in wonder as to why.
The novice, who made for me my crucifix and helped me prepare hamburgers atop the mountain in Masisi, has moved to Kitchanga to live with a woman, and out of marriage, whom he had managed to meet and to court, on the sly, somehow and somewhere, between monastery and the neighboring village. Another novice, whom I remember as energetic, productive, impatient, loud, and in love with the female lead in a Swahili soap opera from Tanzania, is back at his old job in Goma, and happier. The monk who lent me his Ordo and who played the psalms so lovingly the sitar, is also in Goma, unemployed, in search of a job, on a year’s leave, on walkabout, thinking things out, alone, in his world, in the world.
L., the law student, is working less days at the Lycée (just weekends), is living with his extended family, and has changed universities, but with some concern from the sisters as to whether this move was a wise one, and for what outcome. He said once to me his studies were for to become a lawyer, and to bring the law back to the village of his parents. But he too is alone in Goma, in his thoughts, and fears, in a world of the world, and with a religious overbearing counterbalance, plagued with judgment and a willed unwillingness towards understanding the living community outside the walls. The sisters mean well – but even they escape. Sister A. is off to England; she makes no scret her love for the English countryside and calm. And the ex-Mother Superior is in Quebec. One of their novices (‘the beautiful one’) went crazy, literally, without cause, and is now in an asylum.
At the hospital, the directress has died of a cancer. She rests now in the North. And there is much activity, money, construction, and available health care, but for a price.
And the Germans make much media to educate the marginalized locals to a perceived European standard, but with little to show for so much salary and for so much on-the-ground expatriate presence. And they make no bones about their lack of confidence in the hospital, yet they usurp office space, internet, and the equipment bought and brought out by others.
And then, there is ‘Fatuma’ – let us say – who, fueled by the encouragement of others (others, who conveniently are not themselves Congolese, who have much sufficient funds and contacts and foreign passports and instant means of safe passage out of Congo and off the African continent) and impatient from ennui and tired of a governance by yet another ‘emperor with no clothes’, is tired – of writing words and of discussing – and is bent on ‘direct action’ in the streets, in front of the government buildings, and in public places. Fatuma claims nonviolence, but is too impatient to walk slowly and wisely over the lives and successes and failings of a Gandhi or a King or a Fanon or a Guevara. She is impatient. And now is now.
And people here can find themselves the recipient of a bullet for less.
And her expatriate friends give claims of assistance, but go off on holiday at the time of potential conflict. And their contact at human rights organizations are too busy to deal with the personal and the particular in the heat of such moments. They are better prepared for making protests after the fact. And so calls for help, go unreturned.
Against this, the fencing in of the monks by their neighbors’ wall of razor wire and containers lined up together, and marked with U and with N, complete with sandbags and lookout posts, and armed soldiers, and all of this three years after a signed peace. And for: why? And: for how much longer?
And the Chinese have abandoned their road buildings schemes, and because the government did not pay them as promised, and the road are no worse than ever.
And the fighting has moved from Masisi to Rutshuru (in the hills), so some say.
And others say it isn’t safe anywhere.
And all I know is that the road today to Kitchanga is open.
And all I know is that at Mokoto all is calm.
And all I know is that last night in Keshero, outside the monk’s place, despite the Indian peacekeepers on watch next door, there was gunfire from an automatic in the street outside the gate.
And against this all, I step outside the house, to find a rabbit in the driveway, escaped his pen from two years ago, still alive, living freely in the flower beds by the church. Hope.
“A family which knows no ties but those of the blood can easily become a nest of vipers. A community limited to needs and interests bears the seeds of discord within its provisional concord, for contrary to the beliefs of the liberal moralists, merely customary co-operation never leads self-interest out of the egocentric grooves.” – Emmanuel Mounier