It's ten to three in the morning and I am jet-lagged and wired from my trip. Returned to Los Angeles in the early evening. Reunited with my boys (who were back from their father's).
This trip stands alone. It was a singular experience. I am still processing.
I met Dude in D.C. and then we continued to Brussels and then to Burundi in what Dude referred to as "a colonial puddle-jumper." (Congo was colonized by the Belgians, who -- like so many others -- lusted for its woods, its minerals.) We landed at a small, humble airport and started to mingle with the rest of our group, which had gathered from around the world and included celebrities Rosario Dawson, Thandie Newton and Charlize Theron. We were all here to witness the opening ceremonies of the City of Joy, spearheaded by the phenomenal writer-activist Eve Ensler. We were all donors, supporters, and Eve would later say that she wanted us to be "a family".
That night we hung out at Hotel Tanganyika. We sat poolside and ordered off the menu -- pizza, cheeseburgers, chicken kebabs -- and introduced ourselves to each other. A lot of people already seemed to know each other; I watched the warm embraces, happy cries of hello hello, and had that new-kid-in-school kind of feeling. "It's a tribe," Dude said to me. "It's the Vday tribe."
Then Christine Schuler Deschryver came out to greet us. The daughter of a Belgian man and Congolese woman, Christine is a tall striking woman with a magnificent presence. She and Eve had worked together to bring the City to fruition. Eve followed Christine's words with some words of her own, encouraging us to "surrender" to our experience in the Congo, where electricity and running water and Internet access tend to come and go of their own accord (assuming you're one of the lucky ones to have it at all). "It's anarchy," she said, "but it's beautiful anarchy...There's no plan. We told you there's a plan, we sent you that agenda, but that was just to make you feel better. There's no plan." Laughter in the humid, falling dark. Eve also expressed her love for and commitment to the Congolese women, and how moved she was that we had come so far to support them.
The philosophy behind City of Joy is turning pain to power. These are women who have been raped in the most extreme ways possible: gang-raped (sometimes more than once), raped with guns and sticks, their insides shredded, their bodies mutilated. These are women who have lost all of their children, watched them hacked to death by rebels, gunboys.
And yet, Eve said, "they dance."
I first came into contact with Vday when I went to see a staged reading of Eve's play O.P.C., an event that was sponsored by Dude's environmental organization Global Green USA. Still dazed and raw from certain events in my personal life, I found that night to be a turning point and would refer to it in the article I wrote for Marie Claire a full year later. What I didn't mention in the article was that, after the reading -- which was intelligent, knowing, profoundly moving, and hysterically funny (there's a scene involving Prada boots that had me cracking up in the aisle) -- Dude joined Eve onstage for a moderated discussion that drew parallels between the exploitation and commodification of the earth, and the exploitation and commodification of women. They also spoke about the need for men to step up and join the fight to end the violence against women who are, after all, their sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives (and, I would like to think, their friends).
I had no idea that that night would eventually lead me to the Congo. I did sense, at least on some level, that I had discovered -- or rediscovered -- something that I hadn't even known I'd been looking for, or hadn't even realized I'd lost. Sometimes knowledge comes in flashes, images, in felt and nonverbal forms. All you can do is respect it -- know enough not to dismiss it -- and give it space to unfold, to grow.
(This was also the moment when I looked at Dude onstage -- we had been dating casually for several months by this point -- and realized, Wow. I could totally fall in love with that guy. )