For the Girl in the Purple Dress and Red Sandals
Tonight I was invited to read at a Zonta International Humanitarian event. Proceeds will help strengthen services and programs for UNICEF, Safer Cities for Women and to the Liberia Fistula Program. I was asked to read a poem or spoken word piece that reflected one of the countries, or to share work I have already written about global women's issues. Today I went through an exhibit at the University I attend an exhibit called Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo. I wrote the following piece and wanted to share with World Pulse what I will share tonight because it has only been through my connection to this movement that I have gained more awareness about women everywhere and that my voice has increasingly become louder and louder.
I feel like every time I speak for myself
I am speaking for the women who preceded me
Who didn’t have the voice to pass down my history
When I open my mouth
I am breaking the silence everywhere
And while these may not be my stories
I have been built by them to know my sisters
Are hiding in the bush to avoid soldiers while collecting firewood,
Knowing cities aren’t safe enough for them to bask
In either sun or moonlight,
Knowing they are waiting in shelters, churches,
Camps, forests, hospitals for the counseling, hope,
Nourishment, protection and health we all deserve…
Knowing they are met with resistance when they speak…
Enables me to open my mouth wider, to listen with eyes
Closed so their stories become a part of my internal heart beat,
So I can remember the details
Any time I am asked to explain what is happening in Bolivia,
Liberia, Guatemala, my own city.
From Uganda, the DRC, and Cameroon – I lift my voice to share
These women with you.
For the Purple Dress and Red Sandaled Girl
I took a walk today through the Congo,
For three hours I looked into the faces of women,
Children, men, soldiers – each photo in black and white
Until the center of the exhibit where wall-sized colored photos
Enclosed rows of chairs.
This is what I saw:
A young boy riding his bike to his military base.
It looks like nothing is hidden in the brush
On each side of the road, but he pedals
Fast because war has been his lullaby,
War has made everyone listen differently
To the wind, hoping it is not accompanied
By careful footsteps
I wonder if he knows what ten-years-old
Feels like or if the rifle slung over his shoulder
Has stolen his ability to pretend
Not to be a soldier, a stolen son, a sex slave.
On a dirt road like the ones women
Carry water across, like the ones bikes are ridden down
There is a dead man rotting after a tribal killing – arms still
Bound behind his back, lying face down
So no one can see where he was impaled,
So the community cannot see his face,
So his story his something he collapsed onto.
Catherine, nine-years-old, on a plank of wood
After she was attacked by soldiers who used
A machete to cut off her leg,
She is going to the bush because 14 people
Were just murdered at the hospital.
I saw four-year-olds the size of infants,
From communities that fled into forests
After their villages were attacked,
Hiding where they might be safe
Or where they will starve, parents holding
Their children who are small enough to cradle
As the day they were born.
I see Congolese women surrounded by mosquito netting
With their hands clasped in prayer. One teenager hides her face,
Her fingers are in her eyes and after staring long enough I see
The reflection of a third woman in an opened window.
In a wooden chair Maria sits
Her infant’s mouth around her nipple
His hands holding onto the beads around her neck
And clutching his fingers into her breast
Her daughter stands at the edge of the photograph
Arms criss-crossed over her chest
Her chin dropped into her balled-up fists
Maria’s right arm was cut off and eaten by soldiers
While she fought to defend her children
The way she gazes at her son says:
I will offer my limbs for you, lie across my chest
And I will nourish you, take my beads in your hand
And my life into yours
Looking away in the corner
Is her daughter and I can tell she is listening
To the unspoken promise of Maria’s protection.
Six colored photos stare at me – wet eyes of toddlers,
Praying hands of women, mothers holding children but never
Looking at the camera
Their backs are turned
They are staring out of windows
Or at groups of people – but there is one girl
In a purple dress and red sandals
Staring straight ahead at a wall
And I want her to turn around
So I can know her eyes
I want her to open her mouth
So I can know her story
I want her to believe
Someone is coming to save her,
And if she doesn’t turn around
I will come to her to paint the wall in front of her
With the promise to listen.