Monday, April 21, 2008

The Grand Opening

The Bukavu Women’s Trauma Healing and Care Center is officially open at its new site. It is located on the main street on the way to Panzi Hospital. This is a popular part of town with lots of foot traffic, so the Center is now visible to all.

Driving in rain with almost zero visibility: Priceless!
The day started out sunny, then turned dark and stormy as we set out for the Center. The sky opened and it poured, everything quickly turning to mud. Gratefully, Dr. Florimond had lent me his car with a driver, so when it started to rain we were protected.

Our first stop was to pick up Yves, his wife Cristall, their 2-year old daughter Pepe, and his sister Irene. They brought buttered rolls and warm peanuts for a snack. Then we picked up Morag Hill, my Canadian friend, who wanted to see the place and meet the women. The ride there was slow and wet. The van was splattered with mud up to the windows when we got out.

Cristall holding Pepe.

Flory Zozo was still recovering from malaria, so he and Amina stayed in Bujumbura. They plan to come up in July when the women graduate. We will have another ceremony then to celebrate the first group of sisters.

Yves in front of women lined up along the wall with their machines.

Yves worked the night before painting the walls. Then he and Wilo lined up the sewing machines end to end on a long table along one wall. When we arrived, each woman was sitting in front of a machine, most of them sewing. We were greeted by the Swahili women’s yodel, which I’m sure you have all heard at some time. It was very cool.

I made a speech, and then one of the older women stood and thanked me for giving them something they could really use to improve their lives. I don’t understand Swahili, but I understood every word she said. I was really touched and still am. . . writing this, I well up with tears remembering her eyes.
Woman in red shirt made the speech.
We passed out butter rolls and warm peanuts, then washed them down with Fanta and Coca Cola, the national drinks of Africa.

Pepe still isn't too sure about me.

Natalie was there crocheting doilies, and she gave me the scrubber mitts I had ordered. Kishi came, too, and was smiling as usual.
Natalie crochets while other women sew.

Then the Committee gave me a beautiful libaya as a thank-you gift, along with matching blue necklace, earrings, and bracelet. The one they gave me has a wrap-around skirt with a ruffle running along the edge, and a full blouse. It is so comfortable I wore it on the van ride back to Bujumbura.

Thank you, Committee for my beautiful libaya!
I was wearing a tighter fitting libaya that Yves had gifted me several days earlier, so I put the new one over it . . . I was layered in libaya.

Morag and I both wearing libayas. This one was my thank -you gift from Yves.

Then I tried to name the machines for their donors. I got a positive response naming the Mercedes "Jill". Everyone liked that. She got the honor, because she made the most number of attempts sending the donation (seven at least, what a trooper!).

Wilo with "Jill", the Mercedes of all the machines.
We named the seam-edger "Lisa", after my cousin whose idea it was to name the machines in the first place. For that reason, I thought it only fitting there be one with her name.

Wilo with "Lisa", the electric edger for making men's shirts.

But when we got to the black treadles, the women said they were all already named and would not change their mind. They would not even consider naming them "Cara" and "Carol".
They just sat and grinned at me.

After some prompting and more grinning, they told me: The treadle machines are all named Victor. Yves has always called me Victor, which is the French version of Victoria, and I never corrected him because I like the name. So they named all the treadles Victor after what he calls me, and it is not even my name. I love it-- where else in the world can you find eleven treadle machines named "Victor"?

Sorry Carol and Cara, I lost control. But rest assured that here in the heart of darkness there are a number of black iron sewing machines, all with lovely gold decals from great-grandma's era, carrying your generous spirits, bringing twenty women and their children the promise of a new life.

Wilo standing in front of the new Women's Center on a sunnier day.
Notice treadle heads lying in sun after being oiled.

With love and gratitude,

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