Saturday, November 22, 2008


The Shona ladies have decided to rent a small house across the border in Rwanda for three months. Security continues to be a significant concern here in Goma, and they have the good fortune of work that they can pack up and take with them. The house in Rwanda will be only a couple miles from their current home in Congo, but the border provides significant security.

They will have to cover the cost of an extra rent payment, while they continue to pay their monthly rent in Goma (they have a year long lease). This has been a hard decision for them to make, since the extra cost is signficant, but in the end they have concluded that you can replace money and you cannot replace people.

My husband and I will remain in Goma. Our apartment has much greater security than their little house, so we feel ok. We also have the benefit of a car if we need it, to make a quick departure.

Life in Goma seems to require weighing odds that you should never have to weigh. Some residents of Goma have fled to Rwanda or to Kinshasa or other more secure places. However the vast majority have stayed behind. For those who have chosen to make their life in Goma, who are tied to Goma, it is almost impossible to leave. Homes are crowded with relatives of all sorts who have fled other areas. How do you flee with all of them? How do you leave them behind?

I recall hearing that after the volcano errupted in 2002, people were very quick to return home, often walking on hot lava to reach their homes. They returned quickly, despite continuing danger, out of fear that the town would be looted and all their belongings would be gone if they did not return.

It is easy to say that your possessions are not worth risking your life. And health is more important than wealth. But for people living on the edge of poverty, the two are not very far apart. It only takes a glance at the situation in the refugee camps to understand the problem. People are sleeping out in the open or under tarps. With no door to lock, how do you stop drunken soldiers from doing as they please? I read the other day about a child who was killed as she slept by a stray bullet. With no wall to hid behind, no bed to hide under...the vulnerable only become more vulnerable. A home, no matter how humble, provides some sense of security.

So the women of Shona have made an unusual choice in the scheme of things. They have chosen to move to a more secure area. This perhaps demonstates their sense of vulnerability. They are handicapped women living alone. But perhaps it also demonstates their widening sense of choices. For the poor, life often presents very few choices. The women of Shona are far from rich, but through their sewing they have begun to earn enough to be able sustain the added cost of creating a temporary home somewhere else.

As an American I have noticed that this is perhaps one of my greatest luxuries. I always feel that I could go somewhere else. I can make other choices. I could do other work. For many of the people of Goma there is no choice to make. They cannot afford to lose the marginal security that their homes, their possessions, and their work provide. I often struggle under the weight of choices. They are simply so hard to make. But perhaps I should also be more thankful for them.

A few updates:

Still no news of the family in Kiwanja. We continue to pray for them.

No suspects have been identified in the killing of my husband's staff member.

The refugees of Kibati have not been moved off the front lines.

The Security Council has agreed to send a little over 3000 more troops to Congo.

Over twenty men were pulled out of a UN convoy and arrested by Government soldiers who claimed that the UN was transporting Nkunda's soldiers. The UN claims they were not Nkunda's soldiers, rather Mai mai soldiers ( a rebel group that works with the government, not against them)

The UN Convoy was then attacked by stone-throwing civilians.

No comments: