Despite my exhaustion after traveling some 48 hours, I head straight to the HEAL office where my meetings begin. Freddy, the guardian at the front gate greets me in his wife-beater from behind his mirrored sunglasses. At first glimpse of his shaved head and building muscles, one wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley, but then he breaks out in a smile, or maybe a handstand on his crutches and he remains forever seared in one’s memory. HEAL Africa is beginning to feel more like home than either New York or LA. Many of the HEAL staff are now friends, greeting me with surprised smiles, kisses and “when did you return?” or more telling, “were you traveling?”
Mama Virginie is the matriarch of HEAL Africa and my ally in contacting my invitees, ensuring their attendance and the proper protocol for the workshop. Not only does she hold a full time job at HEAL, but she is a widow, an active participant in her church, cares for five children, and created AMAVESA, an organization to help widows in Goma. Such are the women of the Congo.
Mama Virgine at the “Voices of Peace” Goma workshop.