Friday, February 15, 2013

Stronger Together

It was around midnight when I received a text message.  It read
"banataka kutuua."
In English that is
"They want to kill us."

I had been happily selecting cloth for our spring collection.  It had felt so good to finally be getting back to normal.  The SHONA ladies had spent the last 2 months running in circles it seemed.  They fled Goma when rebels invaded the city in November.  After a few long weeks they returned home, but then 2 of the ladies chose to flee again because they still didn't feel safe.  Now finally we had 3 of the ladies home again, feeling comfortable and ready to sew.  Not only that, the 4th lady, Argentine, who had remained in Burundi, had found a good hospital, and after a very anxious month, was finally receiving good healthcare as she waited for her child to be born.  I could finally breathe.  And look at all the pretty cloth. 

And then I got that message.  The one that just falls like a stone to the pit of your stomach.  It didn't help that it was midnight.  Or that I was home alone with Baby Claire, because my husband was in Haiti on a work trip. 

The ladies had been attacked during the night by armed robbers.  The robbers went to each of their houses.  They had targeted the women because of their work, perhaps because they knew the ladies were getting ready to buy cloth.  At any rate, they were convinced there would be money around.  So they went to all 3 houses waving guns and knives.  But the worst was at one of the houses.  They broke down the door, found one of the SHONA women inside along with the children she cares for.  Frustrated when she didn't produce enough money, they put a knife to her and said they might as well go ahead and rape her.  She responded "well, you might as well kill me then."  One of the other SHONA women, who lives next door heard what was happening and started to scream.  That raised the other neighbors who also started to scream.  And the thieves ran, but not before threatening to return the following night. 

I've always hated old Western movies.  But after living in Goma, I understand them a little better.  This is what it feels like when there are no police to call, no system to rely on.  In Goma, at night, everyone stays behind locked doors.  And if you hear thieves outside, the last thing you do is go out there.  But there is a sense from the population that they have to rise up.  Every once in a while a nieghborhood bands together and mobs a group of bandits, often throwing stones and killing them.  But the rest of the nights, the bandits usually win. 

In this case, I cannot state how thankful I am that the SHONA women are safe.  For whatever reason, the shouts of neighbors were enough to scare them away. 

You know what I did after getting that message and talking to the ladies? I was restless at 1 in the morning, and sick with worry about whether we would be able to move the ladies to a safer place.

I prayed.  And I posted a small plea for thoughts and prayers on our facebook page.  This blog entry is no advertisement for Facebook, a format I alternately love and hate.  But you know what? Someone responded right away, and then someone else.  And by the next day I knew, if nothing else, these ladies were a little less alone. 

And I think of the SHONA ladies, one with a knife to her throat and another next door, hearing what is happening, and all she can do is shout.  But somehow, miraculously, that was enough. 

Sometimes I feel like that.  I feel powerless, shouting into the darkness.  But then someone grabs my hand, or my heart.  And I remember that which I have always known to be true.  We are all stronger together.

Thank you to all our SHONA friends for your love and support this past week!