I thought of Victor and Andre (whom we always called Ndangi) on Sunday when I watched Sixty Minutes and its report on how rape is being used as a tactic of war in Congo. It showed the faces of the women, victims of rape, taken to shelters. Story after story of tales of atrocities, of gang rapes, of being kidnapped and gang raped on a daily basis, of one woman whose brother refused to rape his sister and was killed before her eyes.
So much anguish. It's amazing to me how you go on after experiencing something so horrific. I also can't wrap my head around a culture where women are held to blame for their rapes and shunned by their villages.
As I watched the show, I wondered whatever happened to the families that our exchange students from the area had left behind when they came to the United States.
Ndangi was one of our first foreign students. Congo was then Zaire and he came on a 3-week homestay over Christmas. Chieko from Japan was here at the same time and they became like brother and sister and for the next two years, both came back from wherever in the world they were to be with us at Christmas. Ndangi, who lived a couple of hours away, continued to come back at Christmas and one year brought his fiancee and her cousin. We attended their wedding at City Hall in San Francisco. They continued to be with us at Christmas for the next couple of years until Rosalind was pregnant with their twins, who are now 13.
At one point Ndangi asked if we would give a home to his cousin, Victor. Victor spoke not a word of English, but lived with us for several months and began to become conversant, if not fluent, in English. He was a lovely man who worked hard around here to earn his keep, though we never demanded anything of him.
We got only brief glimpses of his life in Zaire. One night he and Walt were working on building a set in our carport. Davis has a strict noise ordinance law (remember, we are the town where a woman in her own bed sleeping was given a ticket for violating the noise ordinance when her neighbor called the cops about her snoring!)
According to the ordinance, you can't make noise after 10 p.m. This night Walt had one more piece of wood to saw and he cut it at about 10:05. At 10:10, a police car pulled into our driveway (showing: (a) how anal our neighbors are, (b) how rapid the response of the local police is, and (c) how little crime there must be in this town!)
Victor began running when he saw the police car. He was terrified. He later told us that if the police showed up at your home in Zaire, it was to kill you.
Another time he and Ndangi got together to make a videotape to mail back to Victor's family, explaining to them how to come to the country, what to expect, etc.
I was unaware at the time of the political situation in Zaire--and neither Ndangi nor Victor had enough English to tell us what was going on, and I suspect that because of their families still living there were hesitant to share a lot of what was going on with an outsider.
Victor hasn't lived with us in a very long time. The last time we saw him was when he showed up at the door, tears streaming down his face, to come to David's funeral. I had let Ndangi know of David's death and he passed the word on to Victor. Victor and David had a very special relationship when he lived here (see the video of the day, which is a rerun of something I posted a long time ago)
Well, yesterday morning the doorbell rang and there stood Victor, with a young man whom he introduced as his son's friend. Victor still lives in California, now as a citizen and he was able to get his family out of Congo before things got even worse than they were before, so his wife and four (or is it five?) children all live here. He had earned enough money here to buy his mother a house in Congo, where she lived comfortably until her death a few years ago.
Victor speaks English fluently now and we were able to share in a way that we could not when he lived here. Life has not been kind to him in this country, but he is an honorable man, a hard worker who now does in-home health care, after being hassled throughout his career with SBC.
It was so incredibly delightful to see Victor again. I always love it when one of our old foreign students shows up unexpectedly or when they somehow find me on the Internet and make contact again!
When I watch things such as the 60 Minutes report I feel so helpless to do anything, but when I see people like Victor again, I realize that maybe we had a tiny impact on at least one life. And that's not such a bad thing.