Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chapter 4:

Around the same time, Medecin sans Frontieres, a volunteer organization, which means Doctors without Borders, was providing emergency medical aid and performing near miraculous operations. They were acting under the most arduous conditions in their clinic in Kinshasa. MSF as it is sometimes called had come to Kinshasa since nineteen eighty-five, at least five years before Kariya was born.

"We must be in the deadliest city on the planet. No one needs us more than the people of the Congo."

Immediately, the doctors were inundated with the wounded, the mutilated, and the diseases that were an inevitable consequence of constant war. The most horrifying thing about these savage wars was the fact that children, hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtering other children without a pang of mercy and remorse. Leprosy returned with a vengeance, as did the tsetse fly, which gave them the deadly sleeping sickness. Tuberculosis ravaged lungs in a few months. Malaria killed them like flies, so did dengue fever, another virulent disease brought by mosquitoes who, unlike the malaria/anopheles which only sucked its victims blood at night, feasted on humans at all hours of the day and night. HIV/AIDS was particularly deadly. The Ebola virus for which there was no cure and no medicine lurked close by.

"We need help now. We need doctors and nurses. Mon Dieu, we need more volunteers," declared Doctor Bernard Kouchner, one of its founders. In a short time, he would become a legend.

God must have listened, for Cuba, France, Italy and India sent doctors and nurses to the Congo.

Like war, death and disease: the music went on relentlessly. So too did the drums. In the rain forests pregnant with orchids, in their boats as they sailed down the great Congo River, in the jungles, tracking down an enemy militia, or ferreting the white mercenaries.

Even the rat- AZ – tat of the Kalashnikov rifles came with strangely pitched ululations "Ayiiii…yu… yi…ya…yay."

They sang in the wards of the clinics, on the streets, by the burial pits, the cemeteries, and by their infant’s cradles. They chanted laments while massaging special oils on the corpses of their loved ones so that they would not become "konono" a poetic way of describing rigor mortis. They danced and rejoiced during Christmas, the New Year, and a victory of one rebel guerilla group over another.

The Congo did not need the Associated Press or any other news group. What did they know? The Congo understood what interested the people and they sang it throughout the two million square miles that was their Congo. Fifty–eight million and perhaps sixty million souls employed their voices for pain and suffering. Tears? The music told them everything they wished to know. Friend and foe alike listened and understood.

In the jungles, forests and rivers, two of Kariya’s brothers were killed, quickly and thankfully. One-stepped on a black mamba, as they moved noiselessly in the jungle night. He was dead within seconds. A land mine blew five years old Akua to bits. There was nothing left of him, except pieces of his little fingers as they floated past a stunned Kariya and her band of brothers, on the mighty Congo River.

They had been inside the horror for so long tears or cries of sorrow would not ensue from their lips.

Once we were nine in the family, now we are five, mourned the girl deep in her heart, she who had once been Kariya.

Kono, the minstrel composed a song about the valor of Black Amazon and her small brave brothers, scantily clad and barefoot in the jungle.

"That is something to be thankful for, one brother dead in a few seconds, after meeting up with Black Mamba. I suppose he never realized what happened to him. Little Akua reduced to a few fingers. I am grateful to the Congo River for showing me that he did not suffer at all.”

The explosion, which killed her youngest brother Akua, marked the beginning of an ambush by Belgian and South African mercenaries. It would be several days of ferocious fighting before Black Amazon found the time to recite the Lord’s Prayer silently for her brothers.

“No more tristesse for today,” decided Diamanthe. "The past and the present live in an uneasy symbiosis inside my body. That’s the way I want it, high drama just a hairbreadth away from tragedy or comedy. Everything in life could always go either way. You must be prepared to change, modify and adapt. I will never forget the past, even if all I have is the Now to attempt to build a future where many odds are against me,” she ruminated. Her memories traveled very far.

If I ever forget where I came from, I will never know where I am going.

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