July 29, 2008  


The Center, only built around five years ago, was funded by local parishioners and some Quaker churches in the US.  I have a private room with a bathroom, flush toilet, and a standup wash area.  They keep bringing new things into the room for me.  First was a chair, then a table, and then a case of bottled water which I need to survive.  The meals are generous, with rice, beans, a piece of beef , braized, potatoes, cooked bananas, cooked greens, and a soda.  We also have an am and pm tea break each day.

First thing Tuesday morning , we had to go back downtown to register with an office responsible for knowing who is there from outside the region.  Not sure of the name of the office as there was no sign on it.  So another moto ride downtown, and of course a return trip.   My passport was inspected and I had to fill out a rather detailed account of my personal history including my life’s goals in ten words or less.   I think there may have been some payoff expected , and if so, that was taken care of by one of my hosts.  Leon had come with me for help with the matter. The bureaucrat asked what I was doing and where and seemed interested and commented that the country needed to have mediation.  Later the same day he showed up at the Peace Center to have a look see and then joined the class and participated rather actively.  He stayed for lunch and before leaving went aside with one of my hosts  to talk.  I’m still here to report on events, so I guess we got the seal of approval.

After my apologies to the students, I got things under way and added something to the syllabus which I had not taught elsewhere.  That was ‘traditional methods of conflict resolution’.    I was quite surprised by the outcome.  I realized that there were at least 4 distinct tribes in the class.  I asked if they would work within their ethnic groups and describe a custom and how a conflict is handled in their society.  We decided that marriage and divorce would be the topics to cover.  They jumped on this and spent almost an hour preparing posters and outlines.  Then a spokesperson for each group made their presentations.  These were people of peace  but for the vast majority, they were telling and listening to each other’s customs for the first time.  There was great enthusiasm in the presenters and great listening and questioning from the other groups.  At the end of the exercise, we had enough info to publish a small book on marital customs of South Kivu.  Even M. le bureaucrat got really involved in the presentation from his tribal group.  I explained to the class that they had just experienced empowerment and recognition, the building blocks of transformative mediation. 

The class selected a timekeeper, Moussa, a muslim, and he reminded us at 4:05 pm that we had exceeded our agreed upon time limit for the afternoon.  After most of the participants had left, I walked up the mountain or escarpment behind the Center with Guillaume, one of the participants.  Leon, the Center Director, must have learned we were doing this and he followed us up as well.  People are very concerned for my safety and whereabouts. When he joined us he said he had never gone up above the Center.  The Center is the highest building on our ridge, but once a water pipe is extended upward, then higher construction will begin.   

While walking up the escarpment, I witnessed forms of personal enterprise.  A man was collecting building stone, some of which he probably broken by hand, although there is also a lot of loose rock to be found.  He had a pile of rocks on the ridge which he picked up and rolled or threw down the ridge in stages of about 50 or 60 feet at a time.  There rocks were not well rounded enough to roll all the way down.  He apparently would keep up this work until the rocks were gathered at an assembly point down near the Peace Center.  He moved these rocks about a half mile down the ridge  At the assembly point the rocks were put into a standardized pile and sold to people who would take them further down to the highway and re-sell  them or use them for their own building projects. I met a woman and her son who were carrying the rocks further down by means of a basket on their back and a carrying strap over their foreheads.  In addition to this, another rock was balanced on the top of their heads and they proceeded to their destination. 

The neighbourhood down to the highway is linked by narrow dirt paths still navigable in most places by a small car.  Children,goats, chickens, guinea fowl and some free range hogs are to be seen everywhere.  Little faces light up when they see a white person and they try an English or French greeting.  “Good morning”, no matter the time of day.  “How are you?”   I wave, they wave.  The next phrase comes quickly, in Swahili, “Nipe faranga.” Give me some money.  To them it’s worth a shot.  I’m not offended and neither are they if I say that I haven’t any small change.

The Peace Center is linked with a Quaker meeting house and consists of a meeting hall, dormitories for thirty people, offices, kitchen, lavatory block, and an open dining area with a canopy awning extending from the roof of a dorm.  It is a comfortable place to work and I don’t have to struggle with transport each morning and evening. 

We work in French and Swahili.  I can understand the gist of much of the Swahili conversations between the participants and only ask for a translation into French if a Swahili question is posed directly to me, which is rare.  It usually comes in French.

The female participants are very outgoing and love to be given attention.  Rebekkah is a beautiful little woman with lively spirit and eyes.  She led the singing of several songs very spontaneously.  She is quite comical and she clearly enjoys the response of the group.  She is also a war widow.    Angelique is tall and also a good singer and dancer and poses her questions and comments in Swahili.    I think she is president of a women’s association in Uvira.  There is Rachel the wife of Mannesah on of my special hosts.  He co-facilitates with me.  He teaches theology in a college.  He is forty and they have two daughters.
Last night someone told me there was a man who came from up on the high plateau, a Banyamulenge who wanted to talk to me about having some seminars up there.  His name is Gladness.  The Banyamulenge are ethnic Tutsi’s who have lived  many generations in the Congo, but they are treated as somewhat less than Congolese by the Congolese.  Probably in some circles it is thought that they should all go back to Rwanda.  Gladness recognizes that the Banyamulenge are in a difficult place and their major enemies the Bembe are on their frontier.  He is pleading that seminars be presented on the high plateau.  That they could help make peace.  I don’t have time to go on this trip, but perhaps next year.  Someone may go sooner if locals that are currently being trained are willing to go there.  We have a very meaningful talk interpreted by a man who is Bembe, his enemy. 

It is extremely quiet at night up here on the hill, but the day begins early, about 4:15am when I hear a clanging of metal on metal followed soon by the call to prayer of the local mullah.   Next I hear the sound of someone sweeping the dirt floor outside my room and in the courtyard, an act that is universal in Africa.  Others begin to stir, but I go back to sleep until 6:15 when I can comfortably rise, wash, shave in the dark and dress.  Breakfast is ready by 7am, omelette, thick slices of bread, margarine, honey and tea.


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