Monday, January 15, 2007

Africa: Part One

(I'm leaving out names and places since I did not ask permission to write about this)

A few weeks ago I went to hear a woman speak about her trip to Africa. I wasn't sure if I should write about it, but after thinking about it for a while I decided I should. But I warn you it might be a little depressing, as some eye opening experiences are.

As I sat down in a small intimate room with about 20 other people I was expecting a typical travelogue with a few tidbits of interesting information. I brought my notebook with me in case inspiration struck and I needed to sketch an idea. Up at the front of the room was a small table with a podium on it and around it were several hand woven baskets that seemed to be of African origin.

After a few minutes of milling around we all took our seats and a tall, thin but strong looking woman went up to the front. She appeared to be in her late 40's or early 50's, her hair was losing its color but still had a general light blond-brown color.

She introduced herself as Mrs. R and started to speak and I forgot about my notebook and everything else for the next hour.

It turned out that she went to the Congo area of Africa once or twice a year. She went over there at the insistence of a friend who volunteered at an orphanage.

She went through a complete culture shock when she got into the city. Most of the city is what we'd call a shanty town. The worst part of an American city is better than the best part of the city she showed us.

As she walked through the streets children would surround her and she would crouch down to be on their eye level. They would touch her hair and laugh and touch her face and make a sound like "tht". At first she thought that they were fascinated by her white skin compared to their midnight black skin because she was pretty to them, but later on she learned that the sound "tht" actually meant grub. They were comparing her white skin, slick with sweat with the larva of bugs they found in rotting wood. Since they are adapted to the climate they don't sweat in the general heat of the day.

She went on to talk about the culture. She explained how she met three girls who were sisters the oldest was eleven. At night they would hide in a doorway with a piece of tin to cover them.

The women in that part of the world have next to no rights. At night a woman will gather her children inside their hut and use whatever wood they can find to barricade the entrance. The windows in the hut are made deliberately small so only someone's head can get through. They do this to prevent men from coming in at night and raping and killing them.

At night the worst thing in the world for a female to do is be outside. If a female is out at night she will be raped or killed and if she is raped she becomes the woman of the man who raped her.

Women in that area rarely if ever have husbands, since it costs $50 to buy a marriage license. That $50 can feed a person for a whole year. Because of this, women are often taken property of "The Man". "The Man" is any male who has claimed a woman for himself. If a woman's man dies or goes away a new man will become "The Man". This is usually a frightening thing for a woman since any of her children by the previous man now have to leave. If they don't leave, no matter how young they are, one day the new man will take them for a walk into the jungle. Later on "The Man" will come back, but the child will never be seen again. The new man usually kills the previous man's children. Because of this, there are thousands and thousands of orphans.

One story she told was of a mother who only had a little food left. Their culture says that "The Man" eats first, then his children, and if anything is left over the woman eats last. But one day this woman fed her children while "The Man" was away, since there was so little food and they were starving. When "The Man" came home he was not happy, so he barricaded her and the children in the hut and set it on fire. They all died except the woman who barely survived. She had third degree burns over 96% of her body, and only a doctor's special care at the hospital was able to save her life.

(to be continued.)

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