I hesitated to write about this day for a number of reasons: security issues, the privacy of those involved, and the photos that might be upsetting to some. But maybe I just need to write for therapeutic reasons.
Today I was flying for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). It is “Doctors Without Borders” in English, and I was flying a load of medicine up to their hospital in Dungu in the border area of Congo and Sudan. It has been a very “hot” area in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army, (LRA), a rebel militia group that was originally out of Uganda but is all over this swath of Africa from Uganda to CAR. They have some well established bases, or areas of operation, in northern Congo including Garamba National Park. I must say that they are really taking the name of the Lord in vain! It is one of the most brutal groups in all of Africa which is saying something. They specialize in child soldiers and have abducted whole schools of kids for soldiers and sex slaves, often making these children kill their own brothers, sisters, or parent. I will not give them much air time here but will put some blog sites up at the end if you’re interested in reading more.
As I got out of the plane in Dungu, I was met by the MSF team I would take on to our next stop. One of them came up to me with his hand out in greeting and said, “I know you! I have flown with you before.” Now this is not unusual and I can’t remember all the 1000’s of people I have had in my plane, but Claude said, “Yes, it was in Mozambique in 1985-6 during the war there. I remember your red hair!” I did remember flying MSF then and it was good to reminisce about those interesting times. Their pilot had been killed and I was doing some flying for them in the meantime. It was good to see Claude again.Now I was to fly to Ngilima where a medical team would set up their clinic on the veranda of a burned-out hospital. It was the first time for me to land on this little airstrip as it has not been in use for years; being only 22 miles from Dungu people would usually drive. But now with the security risk on the roads it has become a necessity to fly. The strip is about 800 meters, as I found out when I walked it later. I circled overhead to evaluate the situation and decided to land over the tall trees on the far end, away from the village. The bamboo encroaching from the sides left little room for wandering around and I would have to concentrate to keep the plane right on the centerline. With all the rain we have had recently the grass was long and the ground spongy. We taxied up at the far end which stops abruptly at the “main street” of town and a crowd quickly formed around the plane. When I finished unloading the passengers and cargo, I turned around to see the next lot of passengers to ride back with me to the hospital in Dungu. There were 4 women who had been victims of LRA attacks. As is common with these terrorists, they had cut the lips off of the women in the process of their torture, which probably included rape – the kind of torture you can’t visually see. I think maybe the purpose of cutting body parts off is so people will see and remember to be afraid of the terrorists for as long as that person lives. (I had a picture of the ladies with their lips cut off here but in respect for them I have now taken it off.)It was not like they did this cutting surgically with a scalpel but more hacked off a large section with a machete. If terrorizing the community was their purpose, it was not what I was feeling now. Why does this carry on for so many years? There is a long standing African proverb that says, “When Elephants fight it is the grass that gets hurt,” and I have seen this to be true over and over in my long life on the continent. Who will take a stand for the innocents, for the people who can do nothing for you and are powerless to change their own circumstance? “If you stick your head up…it will only be cut off.” I always seem to have more questions than answers here and that is frustrating.
These women would join another 5 at Dungu hospital that also had their lips and ears cut off and awaited some sort of help from the doctor there who has no special training in this specific area of medicine. Now would be the time for some Beverly Hills Doctor 90210 plastic surgeon to stand up and make a significant difference in someone’s life. There is a challenge!I went back to pick up the MSF group in Ngilima and walked around with the ever-present children while I waited for the medical team to finish up their work. But the image of these women continued to monopolize much of my thoughts. How can people be so cruel to each other? I like to pray that I can be a part of the healing that needs to happen here in Congo. All I can do seems only to scratch the surface of a very deep problem, but “just because I can’t do everything is no excuse to do nothing.” God still does miracles and he likes to use people in the process. What is your part?
I flew a BBC reporters that did some the story on the December 2009 massacre by LRA referred to in the Wikipedia website.