Friday, February 20, 2009

Turning Pain to Power Tour stops in Redwood City

On Wednesday, February 18, Paradise's birthday, I traveled to Redwood City for one of a few Bay Area stops on the Turning Pain to Power Tour with Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the focus rape in the Congo. I felt so honored to be in this man's presence. I was literally awe struck...I couldn't imagine how men could turn something inherently beautiful and life-giving into such a horrendous weapon of terror. The doctor said the war is economic and the rebels go into towns and on GP rape all the women and girls, some infants, many captured and used as sex slaves. The idea is to completely humiliate the population and strike fear into all hearts --male and female as the rape is carried out in public spaces.

Eve Ensler, a woman warrior who work The Vagina Monologues gave voice to women in a way previously unheard. The idea of asking vaginas to speak and then providing a place for listening, was and continues to be phenomenal. Dr. Mukwege spoke about his inability to find people interested in what he was learning about women in his second clinic in Eastern Congo, the first one burned down. Stories have only recently been written. He also spoke of Eve Ensler's introduction to these women who have suffered so much physically from the multiple rapes--they have no vaginas, rectums or urinary tracks. Many are unable to be reconstructed, the damage is so great.

He had no allies and now he has one, a woman who has an audience who is interested in women in we were interested in women in Afghanistan. She was careful to note that the men who are raping women are not the majority in Congo, just as they are not the majority anywhere, but silence is tacit complicity when others like you are committing such atrocities. This is what is so honorable about what Dr. Denis is doing. The work has taken over his practice for the past 13 years. Prior to his first few cases, he hadn't know about rape as a weapon of war.

Guy Patrice Lumumba is another man, a young man, son of the first Prime Minister of the DRC, whose name he bears. He is raising his voice to protest what is happening to the women in Congo. Here in Northern California last week, he has shown Lisa F. Jackson's wonderful film, "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo," at every stop along the way. (Listen to an interview on http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork,org (2/11/2009). He and Lisa are joined by Muadi Mukenge, Regional Director of Sub-Saharan Africa Global Fund for Women, the Turning Pain to Power" Bay Area sponsor.

Eve Ensler said that what happens in Congo to women affects all of us, because if we let it continue to grow unchecked then it shifts the world's tolerance for atrocity into a place humanity should fear treading.

Humanity...the quality of being human is not an inalienable right like justice and freedom. If one doesn't participate in those acts which reinforce our human spirit, we lose it.

Dr.Denis said, "They didn't want to talk about vaginas." I just loved hearing him save the V-word with respect and honor and love. I could see right then how he and Eve would find such comrodery within each other's souls.

The doctor then spoke about his invitation to Eve and her first visit to the clinic, how she sat with women who had no control of their body functions, colostomy bags connected to internal organs, many of the women suffering from fistula, a condition where one leaks feces and urine because those organs have been destroyed. (This is what happens during a brutal rape, it also happens when children are married off to adults or women are malnourished.)

The doctor told the story of a young woman who was raped and then shot in her vagina. It reminds one of Emmit Till and how he was hung and then shot and the courage of his mother Mamie.

These women were the ones who found their way to Dr. Denis' clinic, he one of few doctors who are repairing this damage and embarking on a new project, building a city--the City of Joy for those women who cannot return home because of stigma and also because they are permanently disabled.

The Panzi Hospital repairs the women physically, 10 a day, as well as, addresses their patients' psycho-spiritual scars and the economic effects of the rape. The women are also supported in their desire for justice, even though the DRC government does not address rape as a war tactic, because many of those in office were once a part of a rebel force, doing the same thing.

The doctor said the politicians' guilt makes them immobile, yet he is not throwing stones at glass houses, he just wants the problem addressed.

Eve Ensler opened the forum with a new theatre piece,"This journey began with art, theatre," she said. The piece she performed was part of a larger work gleaned from the stories she gathered while with the women on her visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the past two years. In the story, the girl-woman is raped and then stolen and kept as a sex slave for two years until she escapes. It was moving, one could hear the fear and survival instincts kicking in as the girl-child and at the end of the ordeal girl-mother shares with us the rules of the game.

"Number 1," she says, "Do not call him by his name. Call him 'you,' 'him,' but not by his name. Never forget his does not love you. Do not care about his problems, Remember is not your friend."

I'd planned to attend the Eva Patterson and Tim Wise event the next day, and then I changed my mind and planned to attend instead, the Yuri Kochiyama Benefit at the Humanist Hall, but ended up missing both, because I was physically tired. I guess after four days of a 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. schedule, something gives--and it did.

But I was glad I made it to Redwood City. If anyone missed the tour, its stops at Hastings Law School in San Francisco 2/18 also, or and then a day later at the Herbst Theatre at the City Arts and Lectures, Thursday, Feb. 19, the City Arts lecture will air on KQED 88.5 FM and the World Affairs Council also broadcasts on KQED and also from their website (hosts of the Redwood City Event--it was hosted by the Global Philanthropy Forum. You can also visit (They were there filming.)


At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Sande said...

Dear Wanda, thank you so much for sharing this. I wasn't able to get to the events, but am so moved to know more about the work and spirit of Dr. Mukwege.


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