Walter James

Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

Down in Fizi

13 Feb

On Februry 7th, Amisi, Marceline, and myself made our first official field visit down into Fizi Territory, visiting the SOS FED center in Mboko and visiting with the managers of the SOS FED Kikonde center. We had to meet Sangho and Mimmy, the Kikonde center managers, in the town of Baraka, as the road to Kikonde was too close to some recent battles between Amani Leo troops and opposing elements of the Mai Mai.

In order to get us all down there, we hired a motorcycle and driver to carry Marceline. Our driver was named Hali, which in Swahili means “The Situation”. I explained to Amisi and Hali that there was a famous American TV star that went by the same name. When they inquired what the American “Situation” did on television (actor? musician?), I had a really difficult time explaining to them that he was not a talented individual, but just famous for being stupid. Alas, the cultural gap.

The road into Fizi can only be described as bone-crunching, but scenic. Most of the way it follows Lake Tanganyika’s shoreline, and as one goes further and further into Fizi it feels as if the jungle is swallowing you whole. All the towns kind of look the same, with the same signs (bearing the painted logos of various international NGOs) proclaiming some development project (clinic, school, etc.) that has since fallen into dilapidation. We passed by small markets where women sat by vegetables, oil, and piles of ndagala (fry-sized fish) swarming with flies. We also passed many women hiking back from their fields, shouldering heavy loads of produce or firewood. Most of the men we passed were leisurely sitting in the shade, chatting and glaring at us when we passed by.

I first visited the SOS FED center in Mboko in the summer of 2009. This time around, there is a new lupongo (fence) built around the center to shield it, and the outdoor kitchen finally has a roof. I was very glad to see Mariamu Bashishibe, the center manager, and her assistant Chamulungo. We met for an hour or so, talking about plans for 2011, and got an update on how many women had come to the center in the past month, how many therapy sessions they held, etc.

We left Mboko after a while to get to Baraka before dark. Once in Baraka, we checked into the Hotel Pili-Pili (“Chili-Pepper Hotel”), and then we hustled off to meet Sangho Laliya, the director of the Kikonde center, and her assistant Mimmy.

Sangho and Mimmy reported that the Kikonde center had already received 14 women in the month of January. Two of these women reported that they had been violated by Amani Leo troops in Fizi town during the infamous mass rape of January 1st. Through word of mouth, these women had heard that “SOS FED is there to help you”, and had trekked to Kikonde. It was encouraging to hear that SOS FED has such a reputation all over Fizi Territory, even if I find it extremely sad that in this time of unprecedented “peace”, SOS FED’s services are still in very high demand.

On our way back, we stopped at Mboko again to visit a hectare where beneficiaries were cultivated miyogo (manioc). The field was surrounded by squat palm trees, the air buzzing with the calls of exotic birds and the harsh whine of insects. It was hot and humid, and you could almost feel things germinating on your skin. As the women tilled the green-brown earth, they talked to each other in loud voices, joking and gossiping. Indeed, it was clear that the therapy aspect of SOS FED’s services extended beyond group therapy sessions at the centers. Here in the fields, I saw women working together, talking together, healing together.

We showed women photos of the completed Ahadi Quilts, assembled by quilting societies in East Lansing, Michigan and Columbia, Maryland. The women were very pleased to see the results, happy that someone abroad was taking interest in the expression of their experiences.

The manioc and bean harvest is supposed to be sometime in March. Stay tuned for more.

Posted By Walter James

Posted Feb 13th, 2011

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