This is the story of Neema and Ziada, Mapendo's nieces. They are currently missing.
This video shows Mapendo making a purse. The girl with the gorgeous smile in the background is Ziada.
Here is how the girls got lost. It is kind of a long story, but gives a clear picture not only of this individual catastrophe, but also of what it means to live on the edge.
Last week Mapendo returned to Congo in order to visit her mother who was very sick in the hospital. Unfortunately last week, the fighting also escalated in Congo again. Mortars and rockets hit the city of Goma and also the bordering town in Rwanda, leaving at least 13 dead and many more wounded. Mapendo was in the center of town with her 2 nieces, Neema and Ziada, when fighting seemed to escalate, the population fled to their homes and the road back to the girls home on the outskirts of town was unsafe.
Mapendo decided to board a boat right away from the center of town and leave with both girls. In fact both girls had been begging her to take them with her, but she had previously been unable to take the older niece because she didn't have the correct paperwork for crossing the border. But then bombs hit, people were scared, and Mapendo decided that the best thing to do was to get out of town with the girls.
They crossed the lake in a boat, and arrived at the town of Bukavu. But then Mapendo found herself in an impossible position. Her son, 16 months old, became quite sick. She wanted to get him back to Burundi as quickly as possible. But her young nieces didn't have the correct paperwork to travel with her on the most direct bus route (through a neighboring country). She knew they needed to go the long way around in to avoid problems at the border crossing. So she decided to send the 2 girls on the longer bus route while she and her son took the shorter bus. Meeting at the other end. The girls are 9 and 14. They never made it to the other end.
Mapendo returned to where the bus had left from, and it turns out that the bus never left, because it didn't have enough passengers. The company decided to cancel the trip. They said they had returned the ticket money to the girls and told them to come back the next day. That was Monday, and Mapendo has now been searching for them for 4 days.
Perhaps in the US, this wouldn't have happened. Children of this age would be able to call home. But in Congo, where there is no home phone and cell phone connections come and go, it is not clear whether they would have known a number to call, or whether it would have gone through. The girls are in a different city, and telling someone their home address isn't so easy. Houses on streets aren't numbered, and in poor areas streets don't even have names. Announcements have been made on the radio, Mapendo's husband left Burundi and traveled back to Congo to help Mapendo with the search, and they have used every ounce of their resources, and borrowed what they didn't have, to try and find the girls.
These are Mapendo's nieces, both of whom have lived with Mapendo on and off for the past few years. Their father died a few years ago and since then Mapendo has taken them under her wing and they have been helping with her son.
When we, as Westerners, hear about people living in poverty and war, it is sometimes hard to imagine what that looks like. The first thing that pops into my head is often those infomercials that show starving children with bloated bellies and flies swarming. But, even though that does exist, that has never quite matched up the worlds I saw. I have always been struck by the vibrancy in the midst of poverty and war, people somehow go on living.
The thing is, they go on living, but they live on the edge. They live without back-up systems. They live without a thousand little protections, all those small resources, that help us recover from disaster here. For Neema and Ziada there is no investigation and there is no amber alert.
But what the people of Congo have, is what we all have. Faith and love. For Mapendo and her family they are praying for the kindness of strangers to bring those girls home. The kindness of others. And to tell the truth, sometimes that is all any of us has. Thank you to all our friends for keeping these young girls in your thoughts and prayers.