Moving Into the Land of Giants
We mentioned just the other day that the Maman Shujaa had stepped into our vision by finally opening our very own Women’s Media Training Center. Well, yesterday was a day of experientially navigating all the highs and lows of having entered.
Things began with a call from Emilie that somehow our center had become flooded and power strips and laptop cords were under water. I discovered when arriving that out of the four organizations sharing the partitioned space in the building, ours was the only one with water. Curious as the bathroom that was supposedly the culprit is outside our space in the free area shared by all the office spaces. Well, soon we had things under control with new power strips and replacement power cords from laptops in storage while these dried out, and used the flood as an opportunity to do some serious house cleaning.
All of that was behind us as the NGO of handicapped seamstresses came for their second training. They were catching on well as a group, especially since some of them had come to the Center on their own a couple of days last week.
Things continued strong as 13 widows from the High Plateau region of our province - of AVOC (Christian Association of Widows and Orphans) - came to see our new office and put in their request for a Center; they’re about 300 kilometers from Bukavu. While they were here they wanted to brainstorm about some issues they were dealing with so I took them into my office so as not to disturb the training going on. We’d gotten through those things and were now strategizing and making plans, having a wonderful time considering possible expansion to one day include these precious sisters in our program, when all of a sudden, ECC Director, Theodore ASSUMANI, showed up unannounced and interrupted our meeting to serve us an eviction notice.
I guess this moment had been building, but still I wasn’t expecting it. Our space is in an office building owned by ECC - Eglise du Christ au Congo, or Church of Christ in Congo; an umbrella organization for 62 Protestant denominations in Congo. A couple days after signing the lease with their building manager, Furaha, the President of ECC East Congo, Mr. Kuye Ndondo of Kinshasa, came walking through. I know him from my days working in our nation's capital and so we greeted each other. Two days later when we were up and running, Furaha came and told me that we needed to move because they had a situation where one of their departments was being evicted from their space and so needed to move into their organization’s building; specifically, into our space.
I was able to fend them off for awhile thinking that after they saw the internet connection and all the tables and laptops, they really only wanted more money. Every day or two Furaha would find her way back downstairs to our Center saying she’d been sent again to tell us to leave. Well, on Friday when Furaha came she said she had our rent deposit in an envelope. I said: “Is this our program everyday now? If you guys are serious then have the chief come and tell me in person.” So since East Congo President Ndondo had gone back to Kinshasa, there stood before me and the AVOC widows this Monday afternoon, Theodore Assumane Kilembwe, the Director of Mr. Ndondo's Cabinet, to tell me in person. I was astounded.
How do I react? I have a three month lease. We have rights. And I have connections to exercise those rights decisively, even aggressively if I want. But everyone knows how these things work. You may have been given space in their Diakonia Development Services office – which according to Sweden's Diakonia was founded to “ help change unjust political, social and economic structures that are preventing many people in the world from living a dignified life” – but when the male patriarchy representing all Protestant Christianity in Congo interrupts a meeting with widows to throw them and their disabled female sponsor out on their ear, and that on the heels of this unspoken warning: ‘Today it was just a hose under the door; tomorrow it could be a break-in and all of your laptops are gone,’ they are willing to do whatever it takes to have their way. So I needed to determine if this was a battle worth fighting at our stage of things? What on earth are they so afraid of?
I needed time to think. The envelope Cabinet Director Kilembwe handed me only had two month’s rent in it because we’d already been in for most of a month. I told him about the internet installation expense that would be lost and proposed being reimbursed for that. And I wanted all three month’s rent deposit back. He left saying he’d think about it and get back with me later.
I went home and tried to sleep on it myself. In the morning I thought: these are the things that wars are made of here – truly; making these aggressive moves that provoke an in-kind response. I knew I held a fuse in my hand and I was afraid that if I took a stand, not everyone who would come alongside me would know how to fight this fight. And I’m not talking about my sisters.
I decided to defuse the situation and determined we would just move. I would negotiate the best terms I could get and then move on. They are looking for a fight. I’ll not give it to them. They think we can’t find another place. They think their tactics can break us down or break us up. They don’t know the destiny that’s over us. They don’t know the energizing power of New Life already beating within us.
I went this morning and signed their release. They gave all three month’s rent deposit back and then said we had until the end of March to get out. But then our building was the only building on the block without electricity today. I called Cabinet Director Kilembwe to talk to him about it and he said he could see I was becoming problematic. Hmmm. I thought to myself: “You have no idea.”