On the surface, the villages look peaceful and I’m greeted by big Jambo’s wherever I go. Children are always waving and yelling “Mazungu! Mazungu!” as we drive by with big smiles on their faces. Poverty is widespread and people are living well below the dollar-a-day poverty line...but fields have been planted and markets are starting up again. New water pumps are in use and schools have been rebuilt. Things are getting better and it all seems so normal.
However, as I start to look a bit deeper, I’m getting a better picture. Here are a few incidents that have shed light on this issue.
…our mental health program is still finding new cases of people who, even after 2 years of peace, are still suffering from the effects of war. These are people who have witnessed or experienced brutality or rape, people who have had family members killed, people who fled because of fighting and people who have watched as their house and all of their possessions go up in flame.
…I met the family of my water and sanitation assistant. They used to have a big brick house and you can still see the old foundation in their yard. They now live in grass huts. They fled the first time in 1999 in the face of advancing rebel groups as part of the bigger international war that eventually overthrew the government. They returned in 2002 only to flee again in 2004 during the regional instability of the Congolese Army vs. Mai-Mai battles. They returned again in 2006 and are starting to rebuild. Bricks were made during the past dry season for a new house and they will start building once the current rainy season is over. For now, they are tending their fields and surviving in their straw huts.
...my construction assistant pointed out a few spots in one of the Ministry of Health clinics where he had patched bullet holes.
...I can still see the charred marks on some brick buildings where the thatch roofs were torched. The people have moved back in but the doors and windows are largely boarded over and the cracks have been filled.