Thursday, June 5, 2008

Into the Deep End

Today we are in Solwezi to send off the former Project Managers under whom we’ve been training for the past three weeks. They’ve been an invaluable resource to us, and have walked us to the precipice of a journey that will tomorrow become ours.

From where we stand now, the depth of the plunge we are about to take is uncertain. The dimensions of the rabbit hole we will face tomorrow are two fold:
1) Darkness
Some levels of gloom are visible to us from the surface. Hunger is an obvious shadow cast over Meheba. We have staff members who do not eat before 5pm, men who are 5’10 and weigh less than 125 pounds, in fact most men never grow to their full height because they were malnourished as children, and one has casually mentioned feeling drunk because he must spend his salary on medicine and so can not afford to also buy the food that it should be eaten with to avoid lightheadedness (though obviously this is preferable to potential blindness, for which he is being treated).

A snapshot of just one day out of 365: On Monday, one of our Women’s Center staff members had a miscarriage and begged us to use our vehicle to take her to the clinic. Waiting for the only ambulance in the camp can take hours. Two hours later, we found out our house lady’s brother and father were killed in Angola.

The dimness of these situations I suspect will only darken as time passes and we plummet into the underbelly of humanitarian work. The stories of those refugees who we have interviewed for resettlement are necessarily fraught with cases of repeated rape, arson, torture, unjust imprisonment, kidnapping, and murder. In essence, blackness of the deepest intensity imaginable.

2) Deepness
The darkness though is by no means opaque. As cavernous as our work may be in breadth, it bears a fractal quality of multidimensionality in depth: the more we unravel one issue, the more new, and equally thorny, problems appear in its stead. Dilemmas here are deeply composite, and rebellious to our attempts to disentangle them. The complexity underlying seemingly solvable predicaments is deeper than I could have ever predicted.

Understanding both of these qualities of my work together—the depth of darkness— is not easy. The only solution I can anticipate is to harness the light that still remains. And it is abundant, even if hidden. The talents of our refugee staff are innumerable and inspiring. Our Peace Education instructors hold master’s degrees in conflict resolution, if their seminars were held in the U.S. they could be celebrities of the Angelina Jolie (humanitarian-cum-Hollywood) variety (the fact that much of our staff have gorgeous, statuesque, dignified features, i.e. the highest cheekbones you’ve ever seen, adds to the Hollywood potential). Our new preschool has over 180 students, and the Ministry run Basic School in the area subsequently had their largest class of 1st graders ever (increased enrollment in that grade by almost 50%) last year, setting the students on a lifelong path of education to freedom. Our health services project is run by a man who was a nurse in the Congo and who spent seven years working for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) before they left Meheba, and the project last month (only its second in operation) reached 404 people under his leadership.

The thought of amplifying and multiplying these successes is the parachute that controls the free fall that starts tomorrow; it is my motivation, and it transforms my fear and thrill into deliberation and action. It is scary, it is exciting, but altogether we are ready to make the jump, and tomorrow we will! Wish me luck :)