There is a scene in the Movie ‘Mother Teresa’. She is riding through the roads of Calcutta. It’s like she begins to see her surroundings from a different set of eyes as she drives through the streets and looks out the window. The cries of the hurting seem louder. Those who are begging in the streets seem to call her name. The empty. The lonely. The poor. The physically distorted. All begin to call to her heart and she says at one point “I have lived here for many years, but it is like I am seeing it for the first time.” It changed her.
Wrapping up an amazing trauma training for over 100 local leaders at HEAL Africa, the team left for the Rwandan border. Carl. Benson. Robert. Instant brothers. It’s funny how close you can become to those who share your heart cry in only three days. It was me and the driver. Playing a game of charades to explain where I needed him to take me (I’m getting good at that – and it’s quite humorous). I know enough Swahili and French just to get me into trouble, so I try to keep my mouth shut.
Driving in quiet. Window down. Sunset to the left. I soak in the city of Goma. Starting to take a few shots. I was gently reprimanded.
“No photo. Not good. Police and then the jail. It is Congo, you know. It is terrible.”
I put my camera to my side, but knew I would be using it again. I’m stubborn like that. Slowly, I begin seeing that tiny part of Congo like I have never seen it before. Nothing to distract me. Just me. And my Calcutta. The empty seemed to cry to me. The lost looked desperate to be found. The wounded screamed to my heart. Black dirt streets. Black volcanic rock walls. Black lava stained city.
And then I saw him.
At first I couldn’t make out what it was. It looked like an animal crossing the road, but as we approached – I noticed. It was not animal. It was not an animal at all. He was a man. He was a young man in the heat of Goma traffic and he was crossing the road. Crawling. Across. The. Road. Not just any road, mind you. The roads in Goma are ash filled and lava tainted. The volcano erupted in 2002 and wiped our 70% of the city. The after-effects are everywhere. Houses built out of lava rock. Walls built out of lava rock. Roads are… well.. simply just broken lava rock. Driving in the car feels a little like driving up the side of a Rocky Mountain.
As we get closer, I see that his hands have flip flops in them. He is holding them, or rather, using them. As Shoes. On his hands. Two hands down, he lifts up the rest of his distorted body and shuffles it a few feet. Hands down (using them as his feet), he lifts the rest of his body up again. He lifts and scoots. Lifts and scoots. Cars passing him. Motor bikes dodging him. Black dirt covering him. I rarely take pictures that I feel may be disrespectful. I see a lot of things that I simply don’t take pictures of. But somehow, I knew I needed to take his picture. I did so, as far away as I could without making him feel like a spectacle. Immediately feeling guilty. Like I shouldn’t have. Then I met his eyes as we passed him. He was to the right of the car. I was looking out of the window down on the ground at him. Our eyes met. I smiled. He returned one. So brightly. I waved at him. He waved back. And we drove on.
In the middle of the street. Using his hands as his feet. Mangled numbs of legs that must have been bruised and beaten. Covered with the black dirt of Congo. He Smiles.
But that was just the beginning of the drive. Passing person after person who was maimed or handicapped. Children on home-maid crutches. Both men and women riding on make shift wheelchairs that I have only seen in Congo. The petals and gears of the bikes are placed at hand level so they can “petal” the three wheeled contraption with their hands. For those that have no petals, they are simply pushed down the street by a few others.
One man in particular had no legs at all and only one small arm that he was using to steer the three-wheeled chair being pushed by two other people. Stop and go traffic, we kept passing him and catching up to him and passing him again. His head was larger than the rest of his body and he had one limb where two legs were to be. And he was smiling. Laughing, actually, with his friends who were pushing him.
Passing child after child carrying 6 – 7 cans of water. Women carrying 4 times their weight in charcoal and wood. It felt impossible. It felt like we were driving through darkness. A few nights before, I had some very intense and evil nightmares. I could feel it somehow. The heaviness. But what I could feel more than anything was that they didn’t know it was heavy. When you are always surrounded with darkness, you don’t realize how bright pure light can be. And if you ever get a taste of it – you long for it. So if there is little chance you can live in the light, maybe somehow it’s better not to taste it. Maybe. Maybe not. My heart was overwhelmed. My mind was saturated. I kept going back to the young man crawling across the street. What is his name? What is his story? What through the name of God do you do with a city like this? How do you begin to help such a broken country? I drive through neighborhoods in America, and I see houses that engulf those living in it. The food we (I) throw away in one month could feed one country in Africa. Somehow it’s not ok. Somehow there should be an answer. Or at least there should not be a settling that comes with giving up. There is an answer. There has to be.
We finally pulled up to the Catholic Guest House. It felt like we were pulling into heaven from hell. I couldn’t get in my room soon enough. I took the cover off of the bed and immediately laid it down in the floor facing Lake Kivu. The volcano to the right of me. And I sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. Praying that God takes my heart and makes it His. That He would show me my role. My heart began to hurt for the injustice. Those who are suffering here. The women peddling their own make shift wheelchairs. The man crawling in the street……..the man crawling in the street.
And Then I Stopped.
I looked up. I looked out over the lake. I looked up at the sunset. I stopped and stood still. Wait.
He smiled at me. He Smiled At Me! In the middle of the ash road. Covered with remnants of a volcano. With flip flops on his hands that he used as his feet.
He Smiled At Me.
It was one of those moments where you rise above the world and look down on it, surrounded by a new perspective. I saw things quit differently. Maybe. Just maybe – he has more within himself than we will ever be able to hold in our wealth filled hands. Maybe he has found more Joy in life with his limitations in his country of little than we will ever have the slightest opportunity to grasp. Maybe it is us who needs saving. And, maybe, just maybe.. it is he who needs to teach us.
And maybe….. I have found my Calcutta.
Father God, I ask nothing more tonight than to help me to see life through spiritual eyes. That I can love through a spiritual love and learn through a spiritual heart. Teach me. I am your student. You are my Lord. I am