Friday, November 13, 2009


A week ago today, I was sitting in Mungote IDP camp near Kitchanga, with M. As M and I were wrapping up our interview questions to an informal group who had gathered, we asked if anyone had anything in general to say to us. One woman said that we should just look around us – we saw the situation – it was awful – they had to get out of there – they had to leave – but they didn’t know where was safe to go. M translated this for me and I stared back at him, certainly having absolutely no clue what to respond.

Luckily, I didn’t have to speak, because M did. He spoke seriously in Swahili for a while. And then he stopped, and we stood up to leave. Everyone then shook our hands, and the same woman who had spoken up before squeezed mine and told me and M that we had to come back to visit. Later, in the car, I asked M what on earth he had said.

“I was displaced once myself, and that’s what I told them.” M then told me the same story. During his time at university in Bukavu (in 1996) the town had become unsafe. He, along with fellow students and soldiers (“who were just shooting, randomly, at anything”), had to walk 700 kilometers on foot to an IDP camp that was housed in an old hospital. They had managed an average of 45 kilometers per day. And then for five months, they had lived in the camp (M described it as “doing nothing but eating and sleeping”) before the situation stabilized enough. First M went home to his family, and then, finally, back to complete his studies.

I thought I knew, but I wanted to hear it from him, so I asked M to explain why he had told the displaced persons that story.

“To comfort them,” he responded.

“They were saying that they were unable to understand what was happening to them. But when you have experienced displacement like I have, you know that it is something that can happen to anybody. I don’t know when they will be able to leave, but for me, one day it happened that I got to go home, and now life is continuing. And so, for them, too, the day will come when they can go back to their villages. But in the meantime, I understand how they are feeling.”

And there you go. Case-in-point, why I am glad to work for the organization that I work for: Because I have colleagues like this.