It is 8AM as we enter the men’s prison in Goma, a massive concrete
structure towering over the stone and cardboard huts that make up the
city. The stench is overpowering as we cross the threshold. We are
ushered into the courtyard and led to a row of seats in the middle of
1200 prisoners. The scene is virtually indescribable. We are surrounded
by men, many of whom perpetrate the sexual violence about which we have heard so much. There are almost no guards to be seen. And then it starts. Loud, passionate drumming. A group of prisoners drum and sing and sway to the music in front of us. This is the prison choir. It is such a feeling of disconnect for me. I am not certain how to respond. The drumming is amazing, the beat engaging and uplifting but should I be smiling and grooving with these men? We have cried with women in Congo as they described unspeakable pain and loss. Just two days ago, we spoke with a young woman who had been raped at age14 and had spent the last 6 years in Heal Africa Hospital recovering from her wounds. And now here are some of the men who have done those very things. But then I realize that these men are praying with their music and I realize that music is part of the process used in Congo to affect change and heal the soul.
Music is everywhere in Congo and it is used as a tool for healing, for uplifting spirits, and calming the soul. And there is such joy and hope in the sounds and songs. Before we left the Safe Motherhood Project, Janice, Stephanie, and I joined the women in what Janice called their version of the Hora. We formed a circle dancing and singing “caribou, caribou” (welcome). It was a joyful moment of giving thanks for the land Jewish World Watch had helped them buy, their harvest of delicious eggplant, and new friends.
Today we were invited to the Sunday Church service at Heal Africa Hospital where we support several projects. The first half hour is filled with Congolese Gospel Music and the voices of the choir filled the chapel with joy and ecstasy. We watched as people we had seen in the hospital wards seem transformed — laughing, singing, swaying to the music. Their bodies seemed liberated from whatever had brought them to this hospital.
Music and dancing have always been cathartic for me. And while I am in no way comparing my life circumstances with the experiences of the people in Congo, in a small way, I understand the power of music to transcend circumstances. I was reminded again last night when our team went searching for somewhere to hear Congolese music. We ended up in a club with Congolese disco music — not what we had intended. Again a disconnect — we had spent the day interviewing a former child soldier who described in great detail how he was captured by one of the militia groups at age 11 and forced for six years to kill as a soldier on their
behalf. Now, here I was with Congolese people dressed up and dancing. I join in feeling a little disingenuous and guilty. And then I look around and realize how important it is to be able to forget even for a few moments. It is what gives us the strength to carry on. Shakespeare said, “if music be the food of life, play on!” Here in Congo, the music plays and the people drink it in as they try to heal.