Day 9

I am drowning in my own sweat.

I am in Congo, walking through fields and fields of tall, biting and cutting tough grass, making my way to see a corn field belonging to one of our beneficiary families.  In front of me, Mambo and Ndanda lead the way while behind me, Karina and Fred follow.  We walk for a long time and I feel my neck burning, soaking in the Congolese sun, sensing it seeping into me.  My legs are getting scratched as the grass reaches around and under my skirt, grabbing at my skin and letting go at my next step, just in time for another blade to grab on.

We round a bend and a 50 x 50 plot of land dotted with corn greets us, along with a woman who is working the land with a mean looking machete in hand.  She walks towards us without a smile in sight and is introduced to us as the sister of the guardian who looks out for the child who was selected as a beneficiary.  The guardian, a widow, has 6 children of her own and took in an AIDS orphan – our child. Because of this child, the family has received corn and cassava seeds/cuttings, as well as garlic, onion, kale, 2 types of cabbage, okra, peanuts, and red beans.  The family is also going to receive goats as part of this program.

I ask Sogea how long it takes her or her sister to come to their plot of land to work and she said it is a two-hour trip, each way.  Two hours under this sun which I know has turned my neck and arms red, followed by hard work on a piece of land that is sprouting all over the place with corn, using only a machete and her strength. Then, two hours back to her home.  I try not to show my surprise at the long, long walk she endures and ask her if this is a good project. She says, “it is a good project because this plot will produce food to feed the family.  We will save seed for next year and won’t be hungry. It is a good project.”

Karina takes Sogea’s photo and shows it to her.  The tough face crumbles into a wide smile of pure joy – there she, looking at herself, not believing what she sees.  There she is, a hard-working woman who is helping her sister and her family so they can all eat.  There she is, a woman who has seen so much suffering and who, I am sure, has experienced her own grief in this hard country.  There she is, a grown woman who giggles at her photo and becomes a young girl again, even for a few moments.  There she is, a mom, sister, friend, daughter.

There she is, in Karina’s camera for all posterity.