Monday, February 12, 2007


Goma is a town which used to be a lake. There is a live volcano just outside the town, and apparently over hundreds of years of eruptions, the lake filled in and became populated to become the city of Goma. Just 5 years ago, the volcano erupted again and lava submerged half the town. Close to the Rwandan border the town is normal, but halfway through the town, the roads give way to scraped over hardened lava. The old roads are about 6 meters under, and there is a lot of construction activity throughout the town to rebuild. Due to the recent elections and rebel generals in the mountains nearby combined with rebuilding efforts post-volcanic eruption, there is also much UN activity. Every 3rd vehicle is a UN vehicle of some form, and we drove by buildings or signs for probably every single UN agency which exists, from UNHCR, UNICEF, UNDP, just UN, etc.

We were hosted for lunch by a lovely family who own a house situated on Lake Kivu. They have a beautiful house, and we sat out on the terrace overlooking the lake while chatting. Jacques invited many MP's, journalists, and other persons of importance to join us for lunch. I was unable to meet with them, I was extremely grateful to the family for offering me a bed to lie down on so I didn't stare at them all like a wet, moldy, blanket since I felt pretty sick. Ann and Winnie said the lunch went well, and the conversation was an interesting mix of French, English and Swahili as people tried to communicate however they could.

Jacques had organised a conference for us nearby along with a number of other organisations. I sat at the front with a representative from UNA, someone who worked with the pygmies in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and a member of another NGO. We also had some local artists. One poet, Theophile, came and presented a poem about peace and solidarity, while a singer, Tonton Sambo, and rapper also presented some songs along the same theme. Winnie gave a brief introduction to the WYA, and then Ann presented her work as chair of the WYA board and why she travelled to Africa, then I spoke about some of the ideas of the Alliance. I tried to give a 5 minute introduction to human dignity, freedom, responsible stewardship and solidarity and how they lead to peace. Jacques translated for all of us. Poor fellow, a couple minutes into my speech he stopped, turned to me and said in a little voice "cette philosophie..." I was very impressed and grateful for his translation. Without him, the only message I could have conveyed would have been "je ne pas parle francaise..."

After our seminar Jacques and the WYA members there presented us with T-shirts produced for the recent elections encouraging young people to vote. One member also came up to me and handed me a portrait he'd sketched of me during my talk. It is actually very good, he even captured my hair flying away in the heat :) which of course I would have preferred that he left out. We then went to a local restaurant for drinks with the members and other speakers. It was great to be able to meet with them, they're all very excited about WYA and ready to take a lot of initiative. This was the first time I really wished I spoke french since I was only able to communicate with a few of them.

The next morning we attended a local Church in Gisenyi which was all in Kinyarwanda, I didn't understand a word of course, but I enjoyed the singing and clapping. Ann loves the children here, and halfway through Church a little girl left her family towards the front, walked all the way to the back and plunked herself on Ann's lap, she didn't leave her place until Church was over. Speaking of Ann, she is quite a celebrity here everywhere we travel. They are all grateful that she has travelled to Africa to be with them, but once she mentions she has 10 children it's over. From that point on she is their mother, and they love her, and they introduce her to everyone and say "and how many children do you think she has?" small pause for effect "10!!!!" gasps of disbelief from the listeners who then look to Ann for confirmation. Ann only has to give a slight nod and smile and they crowd up to her and tell her she is African like them, and how wonderful to have 10, they are so excited to meet a westerner with more than 2 children!

1 comment:

Simon said...

Hi Mary...just letting you know I'm enjoying your blog entries. Keep em coming!