I spent the morning watching City of Joy, a documentary set in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about a centre of the same name, that is opened in Bukavu, to work with female victims of the war that have suffered an almost unbearable amount. I wrote this on Twitter directly afterwards:
I don’t know the last time I was so moved by a documentary. Yesterday, I talked about the beauty of DRC and this documentary highlighted it with every shot. Christine Schuler Deschryver, a women’s rights activist, speaks simply about how she cannot leave because DRC is her home, surgeon Dr Denis Mukwege’s is brave in returning to the centre after being shot and Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, helps inspire the women in the centre to feel joy (there is a scene where the women are laying in a circle laughing and it was difficult for me not to cry…ok I’m lying, I totally teared up).
The most beautiful thing in this film, though, by far, are the women in the centre. The first woman we hear is Jane, talking about her life before the war. Her story is told throughout and her strength, courage, beauty and joy shine through. It would have been easy for this documentary to show the women solely as victims, but it quite deliberately eschews this, instead showing us their ability to use their experiences to help empower others.
When we first see Jane, she is wearing a traditional dress and headscarf, both of which are an electric blue that are made to stand out. The clothes are a metaphor for Jane and the other women: they refuse to let the things that happened to them put their light out, choosing instead to shine brighter.
The documentary also highlighted the amazing music of the DRC. It is the kind of music that resonates in your bones, the vocals and percussion arranged in a mellifluous way. Music plays an important role in the documentary. At one point Dr Mukwege talks about the importance of dancing to him and how it inspired him at one of his darkest moments. Music is supposed to be listened to, not described, so enjoy this soundtrack of music inspired by the film.
Thinking about DRC has really made me consider what is beautiful. My thoughts led me back to Inside Out, the Disney film.
The idea that sadness and happiness are intrinsically linked is one that is best explained by Edmund Ventura from Vanilla Sky, when he says:
The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
Listen to the music. What emotion does it bring? For me it is happiness and joy. Perhaps it is sweet because the artists have known sour. DRC knows suffering and its music is joyous. It challenges me to consider how I choose to react to events.
There is a scene where cassava leaves are being pulped in what looks like a giant pestle and mortar, whilst the cassava is being cut, ready for cooking. The scene made me dribble, because cassava is delicious and made me think of the food of DRC which, as you would expect, is as rich as the land from which it is taken. If you’ve been lucky enough to have had plantains, bananas, peanuts, fufu, chikwanga, pili pili or palm wine, you know how delicious the cuisine is. Food has a way of bringing people together in a way that few other things can and Congolese food is special.
I could never hope to capture all of the things that intrigue me about DRC in 2 posts, nor was it my intent. As I said in the title, I wanted to talk about it. I have spoken to my Congolese friends about the country so often and they all say the same thing: it is the most beautiful place in the world. When I ask them what they think needs to happen to fix the problems it has, they choose to focus on what they can do. It’s cliché, but by focusing on changing the world around them, they fervently believe change will come. It is a lesson that I hope to internalise. Have a great weekend.