2006.11.25: November 25, 2006: Headlines: COS - Congo Kinshasa: Journalism: Return to our Country of Service - Congo Kinshasa: ABC News: RPCV Beth Duff-Brown Returns to Congo Village That Suffers From Ravages of War, Disease

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Congo - Kinshasa (Zaire): Special Report: Journalist and Congo Kinshasa RPCV Beth Duff-Brown: 2006.11.25: November 25, 2006: Headlines: COS - Congo Kinshasa: Journalism: Return to our Country of Service - Congo Kinshasa: ABC News: RPCV Beth Duff-Brown Returns to Congo Village That Suffers From Ravages of War, Disease

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-250-74-101.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - on Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 9:39 am: Edit Post

RPCV Beth Duff-Brown Returns to Congo Village That Suffers From Ravages of War, Disease

RPCV Beth Duff-Brown Returns to Congo Village That Suffers From Ravages of War, Disease

"I first arrived on their mud-hut doorsteps in 1979, a freckle-faced Peace Corps volunteer come to teach their children English. It was here in Kamponde that I first felt the heady rushes of teaching a class and of dancing around a fire. It was here that I prayed for rain so I could wash my long hair. I discovered the simple pleasure of sitting alone, and walked behind mothers carrying babies to their graves. In 1981, when my two-year tour was over, the Peace Corps shut down the post in Kamponde because of spreading corruption and chaos. The Peace Corps never came back, but in 1996 I did, renewing ties with the people who'd looked after me when I was just a girl. "

RPCV Beth Duff-Brown Returns to Congo Village That Suffers From Ravages of War, Disease

One Woman's Return to Ravaged Congo

Former Peace Corps Worker Returns to Congo Village That Suffers From Ravages of War, Disease


Caption: Beth Duff-Brown and her former Peace Corps cook, Tshinyama Mwananzoi, left, share lunch with other family members and friends in Kamponde, Congo in this Sept.

KAMPONDE, Congo Nov 25, 2006 (AP) Stiff and weary from 100 miles down a rutted dirt road, I was grateful when signs of the village finally appeared: the sour smell of manioc root, smoke from brush fires set to scatter the snakes, thatched roofs backlit by the setting salmon sun.

I waved at barefoot children; some of their faces froze in fear at seeing their first white woman. Women in soiled sarongs, buckets of water or bundles of sweet-potato leaves on their heads, bolted into the bush when the grinding gears of the 4x4 frightened them.

I saw no familiar faces. I was not surprised. The average life span here is 50 years, and I had been gone a long time. Would anyone know that I had kept my promise to return?

Since my last visit, civil war had devastated the Congo. It wasn't a war over ideology or religion or tribal hatreds. It was a war over which warlord would get to exploit the country's vast mineral wealth. It was about power and greed.

Kamponde had escaped the fighting, but there was no escaping the disease and privation that it caused. Nearly 4 million had died, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.

Even today, 1,200 Congolese die daily from the indirect effects of the war. How many, I wondered, have been from this village of 5,000 from my village?

I first arrived on their mud-hut doorsteps in 1979, a freckle-faced Peace Corps volunteer come to teach their children English. It was here in Kamponde that I first felt the heady rushes of teaching a class and of dancing around a fire. It was here that I prayed for rain so I could wash my long hair. I discovered the simple pleasure of sitting alone, and walked behind mothers carrying babies to their graves.

In 1981, when my two-year tour was over, the Peace Corps shut down the post in Kamponde because of spreading corruption and chaos.

The Peace Corps never came back, but in 1996 I did, renewing ties with the people who'd looked after me when I was just a girl.

They were amazed to see me then, but sad to learn I had no children of my own. Children are a symbol of hope and the measure of prosperity here. As we said our goodbyes, the people of Kamponde promised to call on their gods to bless me with child.

Now I was back again, fearing the worst but hoping to find a few familiar faces. Hoping there was someone who once knew me left to look at pictures of Caitlin, my blue-eyed little girl. Someone I could thank for the prayers.

The face I most longed for was that of Tshinyama Mwananzoi, the sweet man who cooked for the Peace Corps volunteers. I could still picture him wiping his hands on an apron fashioned from an old flour sack, his amber eyes red-rimmed from the hot coals that boiled his pili-pili pepper sauce and baked his sweet banana bread. But he would have been well past the average life span by now.

Moments after I arrived, the village priest gazed into the darkening sky and said the cook who had worked for the foreigners had passed.

Then where was his grave, I demanded to know, with a bitterness that caught both of us by surprise.

"Miss Elizabeth?" villagers murmured wonderingly. They were gathering about me by the wooden doors of the red brick church as the moon rose above the mango trees. There is no electricity here and few can afford kerosene for their lamps, so the stars shone brighter than any I had seen in many years.

Joseph, barefoot and trembling in his threadbare white shirt, was the first familiar face to emerge from the shadows. And there was Joseph's neighbor, Placide, and their elderly wives, too.

"I thank God for inspiring you to come back, remembering the place where you once taught our children," Joseph said.

Years ago, Joseph's and Placide's children had peppered me with questions, letting me practice my Tshiluba, the Bantu dialect spoken here: How does the sun stay up in the sky? Is it true Americans have magic boxes that carry them from one floor to the next? Was your president really just a peanut farmer like ours?

Those children were grown men and women now those who had survived. One in five children here die before age 5.

Ten years ago, people had too much dignity to ask me flat out for money, for food, for the shoes on my feet. Now, such demands exhausted me by the end of each day.

Nearby, the classrooms where I once taught were a deathly quiet. Later, I sat at one of the wooden desks, where someone had carved sweetheart initials slashed by an arrow. A gentle breeze came off the savanna through windows that had not seen glass in years.

The school's electrical power and running water are now just a memory. The cafeteria had burned down and the dormitories had been boarded up. But when I closed my eyes, I could still hear the wolfish laughter of my first class of rowdy 12th graders.

They had frightened and infuriated me by making smooching sounds when I turned to the board, but won me back by respectfully averting their eyes when a gust blew open my wraparound skirt.

Now, most of the students were out in the fields, their backs bent as they planted peanuts, corn, manioc and beans before the rainy season set in. The teachers, who had not been paid in two months, were on strike.

Yes, it was unfair, the headmaster shrugged, but sacks of government currency needed to pay them had not arrived. It couldn't come by train because the railroad was on strike. It wasn't coming by road because few commercial vehicles are moving now. Not with the country's infrastructure in shambles after the long war. Not with the price of gasoline fluctuating as high as $15 a gallon. When the payroll comes, it probably will be by bicycle.

Marceline Kanyi Mushimbi, 43, and Kamulombo Mutongo, 46, lamented their status as unpaid teachers. Once, they had been among my favorite students. She was shy but determined to graduate as one of a handful of girls alongside hundreds of boys. He would jump off his bench with a radiant grin to pick the pronoun or fill in the verb. A married couple now, they work the fields to feed their eight children.

"We are intellectuals, but our hands are all torn up from machetes, hoes and working under the sun," Kanyi said. "The villagers mock us: `Look at you, the smart ones who went to school.'"

Ten years ago, Marie Kabuanga Mutanga was a beautiful young woman who charmed me into giving her some clothes and lipstick.

Now 28, she lay on a rattan mat on the dirt floor of her hut, a tin cup with plastic rosary beads and a twig of bougainvillea beside her balding head. She was too weak to speak, but her hands plucked at the mat. Her bones poked painfully into the hard ground.

A parasite, insisted her mother, one of the village prostitutes; but Sister Kapinga Clementine, the Catholic nun who works in the village maternity clinic, said Marie was dying from the "four-letter word."

It's a word no one here likes to say out loud. And yet, AIDS is not Kamponde's greatest killer. More die of malaria, of parasites, of tuberculosis, of colds that turn into pneumonia for lack of medicine.

With little moving by road or rail, there's no way to hitch a ride to the nearest hospital, 100 miles away. "Sometimes we try to take them by bicycle," Sister Clementine said, "and some of them just die on the way."

Some medicines find their way here, but few can afford them. At the village's small pharmacy, I saw a man pay 58 cents for a five-day supply of quinine for his malaria-infected 8-year-old daughter. That's double the daily income for the average Congolese.

Marie's eyes, made larger by her hollowed cheeks, pleaded silently. There was little I could do for her. It brought back the helplessness I have often experienced here the feeling of being useless, of raising hopes that will not be met.

At the village's one small shop, I order a foam pad to make her last days a bit more comfortable. The shopkeeper dispatched a kid on a two-day bicycle journey to fetch it from another village 45 miles away.

Later, before I left Kamponde, another pretty young woman who cooks and cleans at the Catholic mission sweetly asked me for some lipstick.

The Hutu woman was stick-thin, with wild hair. She and her husband had fled into the bush when I first arrived in the village.

They were refugees from the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis had slaughtered one another in vast numbers in the mid 1990s. Thousands of Hutus had fled to the Congo, pursued by Tutsis and a Congolese warlord allied with them. Many were killed along the way. This couple, somehow, had made it to Kamponde.

She ran from me, Anatazi Mukaluzita now told me, because she feared I had come to drag her back to Rwanda. Her husband was still hiding, she said, but "I told him, 'We are already dead, so I might as well just talk to her.'"

She wept with relief when, through a Swahili-speaking interpreter, I told her I only wanted to hear her story. She wasn't sure how she and her husband made it this far, she said. She didn't know the fate of her six children. But she was grateful that the village had taken them in, allowing them to work the fields in exchange for food.

Later, some villagers told me the Hutu couple was forced to work like slaves.

Late one night, a man bicycled by moonlight for miles to catch me before bed.

I could not see him in the dark, but heard others greet him as he approached. I tried not to cry as I listened to the elders asking him about his hunts, his grandchildren, the village where he now lives.

He came toward me from the shadows; we embraced awkwardly, a middle-aged American woman and an old African hunter with a dark beard two people who never thought they would see each other again.

"Ahh-ahh-ahh, Miss Elizabeth, I can't believe it, you kept your promise," Tshinyama said in his singsongy voice.

The village priest had confused him with another cook who had died several years ago. That made Tshinyama furious. It was bad luck, he said, to talk of his death.

After I left Kamponde in 1981, I had arranged for Tshinyama to move to Kananga and cook at the regional Peace Corps house there. The job lasted until 1991, when the Peace Corps abandoned the country altogether because of the rioting and violence.

Tshinyama walked home and intended to go back to his fields. But, he explained, other family members had taken over his crops. So he packed up his brood and, at age 45, moved to Mfuamba Kabang, some four miles southeast of Kamponde, to start a new life. By now, his Marie had given birth to 12 children, but had lost at least five.

Later, someone would tell me Tshinyama left Kamponde because he feared a spell had been cast against his family, causing their babies to die.

We asked each other many questions about friends and family, joked about who had put on the most weight, grown the most gray hair.

"Maybe you can never forget me," Tshinyama said, "because your belly was always full."

Men returned from the forest balancing jugs of palm wine on sticks across their shoulders. Cooks boiled manioc and corn flower to make hot mounds of sticky bread known as fou-fou. A fat black goat was led toward the big black cauldrons behind the church.

My party for the village cost $100 double what I spent on a similar affair 10 years ago. Everything costs more now, and people have less money. The per capita income in the Congo is lower today than it was when the country broke from Belgium colonialism 46 years ago.

As bamboo xylophones and goatskin drums warmed up the crowd, the men laughed and guzzled wine and corn whiskey. The women danced, and I got up to join them, provoking pursed smiles from the nuns and cheers from others.

The men are mostly uneducated farmers, but well-informed from hours of pressing their ears to transistor radios. They had just voted in the country's first multiparty elections in 40 years, but were unconvinced that either candidate could rise above warlord status and bring the stability they all craved.

As the night wore on, I stood before the crowd a few hundred by now and thanked them for all they had given me. I told them I would return again, if I could, and bring Caitlin with me.

The women sashayed to the words of a new song: An Elizabeth tree grew deep roots in their village. Its seed, little Caitlin, had fallen far from this ground but remains the fruit of Kamponde.

On my last day, I set off on foot through the savanna to the village of a few dozen square huts that Tshinyama now called home. I was apparently the first foreigner ever to visit there.

Tshinyama's home was decorated with antelope antlers. A few yellowing magazine ads of Western food on gleaming plates were tacked to his whitewashed mud walls.

We sat inside, eating with our hands, as he showed off his homemade rifle. I gave Marie some Indian cloth. I didn't know if she could see the bright paisley patterns through her glaucoma-clouded eyes. I left Tshinyama enough cash for a new bicycle and a cellular phone. There's now a weak signal in Kamponde, and some clever types were making money selling phone calls.

We both knew that even if I make it back to Kamponde someday, it is unlikely we will ever meet again.

"Washala bimpe, tatu," I choked, as we grasped hands to say goodbye. "Stay well, father."

"Wayi bimpe, mamu" "Go well, mother."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: November, 2006; COS - Congo Kinshasa; Journalism; Return to our Country of Service - Congo Kinshasa

When this story was posted in November 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Contact PCOLBulletin BoardRegisterSearch PCOLWhat's New?

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Ron Tschetter in Morocco and Jordan Date: November 18 2006 No: 1038 Ron Tschetter in Morocco and Jordan
On his first official trip since being confirmed as Peace Corps Director, Ron Tschetter (shown at left with PCV Tia Tucker) is on a ten day trip to Morocco and Jordan. Traveling with his wife (Both are RPCVs.), Tschetter met with volunteers in Morocco working in environment, youth development, health, and small business development. He began his trip to Jordan by meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah and discussed expanding the program there in the near future.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

November 12, 2006: This Month's Top Stories Date: November 12 2006 No: 1030 November 12, 2006: This Month's Top Stories
Michael O'Hanlon writes: The New Congress and Iraq 9 Nov
Amanda Host named new PC Press Director 12 Nov
Shays will reach across the aisle for answers in Iraq 8 Nov
Petri loses chance to become committee chairman 8 Nov
Doyle gets a mandate to improve education 8 Nov
Eunice Shriver spends election night with Schwarzenegger 8 Nov
Donna Shalala writes: Eliminating gender bias in universities 7 Nov
Robert Paul upheld peace amid Afghan war 6 Nov
Carol Bellamy receives humanitarian award 6 Nov
Joseph Opala studies Black Seminoles 6 Nov
David C. Liner named PC Chief of Staff 3 Nov
PCV Matthew Costa remembered 2 Nov
Ethiopian-American community rallied for Garamendi 2 Nov
Christopher Poulos named Teacher of the Year 1 Nov
Peace Corps Writers and the Lost Generation 1 Nov
James Rupert writes: A deadly attack in Pakistan 31 Oct
Hill meets secretly with North Korea to restart talks 31 Oct
Jimmy Carter remembers mother in Peace Corps 30 Oct
Leigh Emery travels world for science 27 Oct
IFAW breaks ground for new headquarters 25 Oct
RPCVs Podcast Around the Globe 23 Oct

Election 2006: Results of RPCV Races Date: November 8 2006 No: 1024 Election 2006: Results of RPCV Races
Chris Shays claims victory in closely watched race
Jim Walsh wins re-election to Congress in close race
Tom Petri unopposed for re-election to Congress
Sam Farr wins re-election to Congress
Mike Honda wins re-election to Congress
Jim Doyle wins re-election to Wisconsin Governorship
Kinky Friedman loses in long shot bid for Texas Governor
John Garamendi elected Lt. Governor of California

October 22, 2006: This Month's Top Stories Date: October 22 2006 No: 1005 October 22, 2006: This Month's Top Stories
The crisis over North Korea's nuclear bomb test 14 Oct
Hill faced strong opposition for denuclearization agreement 8 Oct
John Coyne writes: The first Peace Corps book 20 Oct
Thomas Tighe moderates discussion with President Clinton 17 Oct
PC announces Community College degree program 18 Oct
Donna Shalala expresses dismay over football brawl 16 Oct
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley defends Lebanon policy 16 Oct
Jan Guifarro elected Chair of NPCA Board 15 Oct
Carl Pope writes: From the pump to the polls 13 Oct
Ambassador Gaddi Vasquez Says Africa a Priority 12 Oct
Chris Dodd opposes Bush terrorism bill 10 Oct
Isaac Edvalson is founder of Africa's Tomorrow 9 Oct
The Man who turned down Shriver 8 Oct
Mae Jemison tells girls to reach for the stars 6 Oct
Loren Finnell receives Shriver Award 4 Oct
Matt Sesow paints onstage during opera 2 Oct
Film examines anti-malaria drug lariam 29 Sep
Blackwill dismisses Musharraf's claims 27 Sep
Ron Tschetter sworn in as 17th Peace Corps Director 26 Sep
Rape Victim Student Gets $1 Million From City College 26 Sep
Ricardo Chavira narrates Public Service Announcements 25 Sep

The Peace Corps Library Date: July 11 2006 No: 923 The Peace Corps Library
The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory or leave a message on our Bulletin Board. New: Sign up to receive our free Monthly Magazine by email, research the History of the Peace Corps, or sign up for a daily news summary of Peace Corps stories. FAQ: Visit our FAQ for more information about PCOL.

Chris Dodd's Vision for the Peace Corps Date: September 23 2006 No: 996 Chris Dodd's Vision for the Peace Corps
Senator Chris Dodd (RPCV Dominican Republic) spoke at the ceremony for this year's Shriver Award and elaborated on issues he raised at Ron Tschetter's hearings. Dodd plans to introduce legislation that may include: setting aside a portion of Peace Corps' budget as seed money for demonstration projects and third goal activities (after adjusting the annual budget upward to accommodate the added expense), more volunteer input into Peace Corps operations, removing medical, healthcare and tax impediments that discourage older volunteers, providing more transparency in the medical screening and appeals process, a more comprehensive health safety net for recently-returned volunteers, and authorizing volunteers to accept, under certain circumstances, private donations to support their development projects. He plans to circulate draft legislation for review to members of the Peace Corps community and welcomes RPCV comments.

He served with honor Date: September 12 2006 No: 983 He served with honor
One year ago, Staff Sgt. Robert J. Paul (RPCV Kenya) carried on an ongoing dialog on this website on the military and the peace corps and his role as a member of a Civil Affairs Team in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have just received a report that Sargeant Paul has been killed by a car bomb in Kabul. Words cannot express our feeling of loss for this tremendous injury to the entire RPCV community. Most of us didn't know him personally but we knew him from his words. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends. He was one of ours and he served with honor.

Meet Ron Tschetter - Our Next Director Date: September 6 2006 No: 978 Meet Ron Tschetter - Our Next Director
Read our story about Ron Tschetter's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was carried on C-Span. It was very different from the Vasquez hearings in 2001, very cut and dried with low attendance by the public. Among the highlights, Tschetter intends to make recruitment of baby boomers a priority, there are 20 countries under consideration for future programs, Senator Dodd intends to re-introduce his third goal Peace Corps legislation this session, Tschetter is a great admirer of Senator Coleman's quest for accountability, Dodd thinks management at PC may not put volunteers first, Dodd wants Tschetter to look into problems in medical selection, and Tschetter is not a blogger and knows little about the internet or guidelines for volunteer blogs. Read our recap of the hearings as well as Senator Coleman's statement and Tschetter's statement.

Peace Corps' Screening and Medical Clearance Date: August 19 2006 No: 964 Peace Corps' Screening and Medical Clearance
The purpose of Peace Corps' screening and medical clearance process is to ensure safe accommodation for applicants and minimize undue risk exposure for volunteers to allow PCVS to complete their service without compromising their entry health status. To further these goals, PCOL has obtained a copy of the Peace Corps Screening Guidelines Manual through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and has posted it in the "Peace Corps Library." Applicants and Medical Professionals (especially those who have already served as volunteers) are urged to review the guidelines and leave their comments and suggestions. Then read the story of one RPCV's journey through medical screening and his suggestions for changes to the process.

The Peace Corps is "fashionable" again Date: July 31 2006 No: 947 The Peace Corps is "fashionable" again
The LA Times says that "the Peace Corps is booming again and "It's hard to know exactly what's behind the resurgence." PCOL Comment: Since the founding of the Peace Corps 45 years ago, Americans have answered Kennedy's call: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man." Over 182,000 have served. Another 200,000 have applied and been unable to serve because of lack of Congressional funding. The Peace Corps has never gone out of fashion. It's Congress that hasn't been keeping pace.

PCOL readership increases 100% Date: April 3 2006 No: 853 PCOL readership increases 100%
Monthly readership on "Peace Corps Online" has increased in the past twelve months to 350,000 visitors - over eleven thousand every day - a 100% increase since this time last year. Thanks again, RPCVs and Friends of the Peace Corps, for making PCOL your source of information for the Peace Corps community. And thanks for supporting the Peace Corps Library and History of the Peace Corps. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

History of the Peace Corps Date: March 18 2006 No: 834 History of the Peace Corps
PCOL is proud to announce that Phase One of the "History of the Peace Corps" is now available online. This installment includes over 5,000 pages of primary source documents from the archives of the Peace Corps including every issue of "Peace Corps News," "Peace Corps Times," "Peace Corps Volunteer," "Action Update," and every annual report of the Peace Corps to Congress since 1961. "Ask Not" is an ongoing project. Read how you can help.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: ABC News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Congo Kinshasa; Journalism; Return to our Country of Service - Congo Kinshasa


Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.