Heart of Darkness: Women of Shabunda

Despite the horrors they have experienced, many women in Shabunda are willing to speak out frankly in order to bring attention and humanitarian aid to their community. As one said: "We have had hardships, and we want to let everyone know what we've gone through. We want them to know what is in our hearts and what happened. You can't keep a secret like this."

(Interviews conducted through a translator)

Ted Koppel: I would like any one of them to tell me what has happened to the women here. First woman: We really had some serious hardships, all of the women of Shabunda.

TK : What kind of difficulties? First woman: All the women from Shabunda were attacked by the Mai-Mais, they plundered our homes, they beat us, they raped us, and they hurt women.

TK: What happened to each of them?

Second woman: I was the commander's woman and 30 men violated me, as young as I am. At my young age, I don't have the strength to go with 30 men. It's very difficult.

TK: Is her husband still alive? Second woman: I wasn't married. I am still a student.

TK: So he was not her husband, he took her? Second woman: He took me by force.

TK: But why if he took her to be his wife, did he allow all those other men to rape her? Second woman: This is their system. They take one woman and share her among themselves.

TK: Is this done in the open or do they do go somewhere private? Second woman: In the open.

TK: Please tell her to forgive me, I know these are painful questions, but each time did she have to be forced to have sexual relations with him, or after a while did she just give in? Second woman: They forced me, I never gave in. I was with my husband when they came to get me. They took me, they raped me to the point of tearing my genitals.

TK: Do you know why they did that? Third woman: They just raped me, just to have sex. As they raped me, they tore me all the way to the back.

TK: How many men had relations with her? Third woman: Seven big men.

TK: Her husband, is he still alive? Third woman: He was alive when they took him. I have no idea where he is.

TK: Will it ever be possible for her to have a normal family again? Third woman: I don't think so. Who would want me again?

TK: What about this woman in the center, is she married? First woman: For me, the Mai-Mai people took me, they raped me, they even took a banana and raped me with it.

TK: Why are they so cruel, why do they take such pleasure in hurting these women? First woman: They just enjoyed raping me, and then after that my husband left me because he thought I brought home microbes.

TK: So he is afraid she is carrying a disease now? First woman: Yes, he is scared I brought home a disease. That's why we're asking you as fathers, as white men, please help us. Without peace there is nothing, with such chaos we need peace. Please help us, all women of Shabunda, we're asking you to help us, you're our fathers. We're crying to you, all our clothes, medicine, everything, all the material stuff was plundered, please help us. Even if it's with building material. A lot of our children are still in the forest, we are in hardship. Even though my husband took me home, I'm just there. He's already taken another wife. So I'm just there. I don't know what to do, should I go, should I stay, what if the disease is spreading?

TK: Is she still able to live in the same home with him? And the other wife? First woman: Yes we're in the same house.

TK: How does the other woman treat her? First woman: We're just there. (She laughs) The other woman looks at me.

TK: Is it the same for these other two women? Third woman:My husband's family took me back. They don't really like me, though, with this disease spreading. So I just stay there in the compound.

TK: What about this woman? Second woman: I'm not married, I'm studying still.

TK: How old is she? Second woman: Seventeen years old.

TK: How old were you when Mai-Mai took you? Second woman: I was 16.

TK: Will any man ever marry here in this area ... Will she ever be able to have a husband, a family? Second woman: No one will ever want me.

TK: Are there very many women here whose stories are similar to theirs? First woman: There's a lot of them. Anyone who's a woman in Shabunda has had problems. All women. They started raping little girls from the age of 11 and up. If you look around all the children here will never be married because of all the diseases they've been infected with.

TK: We have only spoken about the physical problems, but psychologically for these young girls, it must be very terrible. Perhaps they can talk about that. First woman: Psychologically we are affected, but at this point we just need some help. We don't have any medication in hospitals, we have nothing to do. Please send us some kind of help so we can start healing.

TK: Many of the supplies, many of the medicines, food, sometimes when money is sent it gets stolen before it gets to the people who need it. Is she sure that everything would get to them? First woman: It will get here, it will not get lost. Just send it.

TK: How many children are orphans, how many have lost their parents? First woman: There are so many, we can't even count them.

TK: How many of the children, babies died because of lack of food and medicine? Second and third women (answering together): A lot of them. A lot of them are in the forest. There are so many graveyards in the forest. So many of them have died and rotted. Our children have turned into dust.

TK: I hear there are so many people who are dying in eastern Congo, I hear that there are so many people who are sick, I hear there are so many people who are hungry. But sometimes it is difficult to show that to the world because we don't see the dead people. Where are they all? First woman: They died in the forest. All over the place. They died for different reasons. Hunger, and then Mai-Mai killed people, they just slaughtered them alike goats. They'll come into your home, take you out and slaughter you.

TK: Is there any thing they want to tell me they haven't said? First woman: This is all we have to say. Just help us. Send us medicine, clothing. Look, this is all we have on us. Send food. We have to go to our neighbors to borrow food, which is not even enough for them. I cannot say any more but that, but just know that we are suffering. So just help us.

TK: They have been very candid, honest, about telling me these very personal stories. Usually women would not want to speak about such things in public in front of so many people. Why do they speak so plainly about it? First woman: You can have secrecy if you haven't had hardships. But for us, we have had hardships and we want to let everyone know what we've gone through. We want them to know what is in our hearts and what happened. You can't keep a secret like this because this was something where we were openly violated, we were raped in front of our children. If someone tells our children, while they were raping us, this is where you came from, and now I'm raping your mother, what should you say in front of these people? That's why we're using all our breath to explain to white people what really happened. I will not hide anything. I will not be ashamed or keep a secret of how they raped me and ripped my genitals all the way to the back. I'm not healed, I'm hurting. I'm not going to hide it.