Sunday, October 7, 2007


The sci-fi horror of the rape rampage happening in Congo right now is unbelievable.

According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.

United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.

I had in my class this summer a 24-year-old woman from Congo, an amazing writer with shoulder-length braids and a mellifluous African-French accent, quiet in class (self-conscious about her English) but driven and outspoken outside of it. I learned at least as much from the essays she wrote as she did from anything I assigned. She managed to get out of her engagement at 15 to a much older man by stalling with education: she said she did not want to marry until she had finished her education, then proceeded to earn more and more scholarships and degrees until finally six years later the man gave up in exasperation. Now she has married for love, emigrated to Portland, and added English to her roster of fluency (five languages now).

I know she is not from this part of Congo, but I think of her immediately whenever I read about it. Knowing someone from another part of the world instantly makes you care about it in a different way. I thought about that a lot in Norway last summer.

This image haunts me:
Recently, [United Nations peacekeepers] initiated what they call “night flashes,” in which three truckloads of peacekeepers drive into the bush and keep their headlights on all night as a signal to both civilians and armed groups that the peacekeepers are there. Sometimes, when morning comes, 3,000 villagers are curled up on the ground around them.
Read it all. It's not long.

We talked about the word "rape" in my writing class on Thursday and the students told me that in [some enormously popular interactive video game--maybe Halo?] people casually use the word "rape" all the time; it's become vernacular. You'll see it come up multiple times in an hour. I wish I could invent a computer virus for this game where every time someone types in the word rape, the game would freeze and this article would fill the screen. Then a different article or image every time, until the geniuses finally get it and choose another word among the quarter million English has to offer.

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