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Eve Ensler's Calls to Congo Lift Cancer's Darkness

Sunday, May 5, 2013

While undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, Eve Ensler keeps her spirit and ties to the Democratic Republic of Congo alive through Mama C, head of the City of Joy women's center, she says in this excerpt from her book "In the Body of the World."




Eve Ensler
Author and playwright Eve Ensler

Credit: Brigitte Lacombe.

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(WOMENSENEWS)-- I call Mama C every single day. It doesn't matter if I am drugged after surgery or in terrible pain or depressed. I sit up straight. I change my voice. I become someone else.

Mama C, besieged by corrupt contractors and dysfunctional UNICEF management, by cement that can't be transported on roads that don't exist, by prices that escalate by the hour, by the lack of water or electricity, by massacres in encroaching villages, by downpours that are so heavy and intense that untended babies get washed away. I call Mama C every single day. People tell me I am too sick for these calls. But honestly, I live for them. For 15 or 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, I push past my own darkness and terror, past my weakness and nausea, and travel. I get to hear stories.

I ask Christine to describe the morning. She tells me about the startling, diverse chorus of birds and how she didn't sleep due to the singing that went on all night and all week from the neighbors' funeral. She describes eating the perfect mango and the just-ripe avocados from her tree, and how Justine and her troupe performed "The Vagina Monologues," causing disruptions and discussions about vaginas and rape in the village churches.

She tells me how there were suddenly cows on Essence Road, which held up traffic for three hours. She tells me how no one will be allowed to take pictures of female survivors at City of Joy when it opens because it is not a zoo. She tells me about Dr. Denis Mukwege's dear friend whose children were macheted on the road, how the wife was stabbed and lost her mind, and no one has any idea who did it or why.

Dreaming of Revolution

She tells me that we will grow a huge vegetable garden, and I ask if we can have goats. We talk about staff and training and funding and opening, and we dream of the revolution that will come after the first thousand women graduate and return home to their communities.

Sometimes Mama C is very depressed and I use my strength to cheer her. Sometimes she lies to me and pretends everything is better than it is. It is almost impossible for me to complain. Cancer is rarely talked about in the Congo. The word is hardly used. When people get it, it is usually too late because there is no CAT scan machine in all of Bukavu and the Kivus.

The women who have fistulas are incontinent and they will leak for life because they are not lucky enough to be given bags. Some are even sent into solitary exile in the forests. Jeanne has had eight operations. Alfonsine is held together with tubes and prayers. Yet both of them spend their lives taking care of other women.

Mama C is Belgian and Congolese. She calls me Ev and worries about Ev in the chemio. Chemio. It sounds like a board game or maybe even something lucky. We do not talk about her fear that I will die and leave her alone with City of Joy. We do not talk about Dr. Mukwege, who is devastated by my cancer.

Unit of Resistance

Several years ago we organized a huge march and demonstration. At least 5,000 women took to the streets of Bukavu to protest the rapes, the war and the torture. We ended up in a huge field. The international community, the elites and the first lady sat under a canopy while the thousands of poor women who had been violated and abandoned stood in the unforgiving sun. There was no platform to give a speech, just a wooden carton.

I looked like a not-so-cool white female Che Guevara. I had been marching all day and was wearing a black cap. The first lady looked like Princess Di on acid, in shocking pink with a hat the size of Kinshasa. Christine was translating for me. But something miraculous happened as we stood on the wobbly carton, our arms around each other's waists in order not to fall. She was exceedingly tall and I looked very tiny. There was one microphone. I must have begun the speech, but honestly I don't know which one of us gave it. She finished my English sentences in French. Our bodies were no longer separate. We were one unit of female resistance exploding on a box in a field in the Congo.

From the book "In the Body of the World: A Memoir" by .

whose works include "The Vagina Monologues," "The Good Body," "Insecure at Last" and "I Am an Emotional Creature," since adapted for the stage as "Emotional Creature." She is the founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, which has raised more than $90 million for local groups and activists, and inspired the global action One Billion Rising..

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