The road to Kalembe is rocky. Very rocky. You see there is a chain of active volcanoes that run through eastern Congo. Mount Nyaragongo is the Dante’s Inferno that haunts my friends in the big city, Goma. Her last eruption was 2002, but the hardened lava flow is readily visible throughout the city. Sometimes at night you can see in the sky an orange-red glow above the mountain, which is just a few miles outside the city. Karisimbi is Nyaragongo’s siamese twin, a much more frequently erupting volcano whose lava flows away from the city.
        As we drive out of Goma on the half paved, half volcanic lava roads we are told we have entered the “yellow zone.” Goma is green, safe...ish. The UN has a constantly changing chart of colors representing levels of danger in various areas. Again green is a go, safe, yellow is somewhat unstable, and the Red Zones are areas where there is active war. This road is rocky in so many ways.
        The first big city about an hour outside of Goma is Sake, yes, pronounced like the Japanese rice wine. It is here we pay the “government” a $4 toll and pass into the Red Zone. Pavement ends here. We begin to climb through the eastern Congolese mountains. The jungles are beautiful, but eerily empty. No animals except a few birds and snakes. 20+ years of war has left more than just human casualties. Next we reach the village of Kiroliwe, known for its massive abundance of cheese and milk. Our Congolese friends note that the hills here are usually teaming with cows, but now we see just a few. The rebel warfare was particularly horrific in this village just a few weeks ago. Everyone has paid dearly. We manage to hunt down two precious small wheels of cheese and move on.
        Next we pass through Kitchanga. There are NGO buildings lining the streets, sadly many with little to no operation active. The streets are caked in volcanic dust. It felt like a wild west frontier town. For a second I wonder if I went color blind, the colors of buildings and signs seem to vary only in shades of gray. 
Down the road a couple more hours we pass through Mweso. The organization Doctor’s Without Borders has established a massive health center here, which has been a mainstay for people from 2-3 hours in all directions.
        The road continues to be more rocky and our pace slows. Further up meet the village of Kashuga. Here there are thousands of IDP’s, Internally Displaced Persons, who have fled from the fighting further up the rocky road. It is a place of odd hope for people. Close enough to home not to fully settle in -- peace will surely come soon?!  But also close enough to still experience the skirmishes of the various rebel groups, a reminder that going home may not be a possibility.
        Finally, the rocky road shakes and jostles us to our home, Kalembe! We roll into the sub-Cheif’sproperty  just before dusk and are greeted with shrieks and laughter. Over the past 3 years my companions have been here many times, and we are enfolded instantly as family. We are in a lush, green fertile valley. There is a large river just across the rocky road and then up the side of the hill are two bright lights - the regional UN compound. We are passed by large armored vehicles with massive machine guns fixed on top. The local Mai Mai malitia and the FDLR are still fighting with Congolese government troups about 6 kilometers away. Thats about 3 or so miles.
        As we sat and listened to our family's stories we learn a few weeks ago the fighting was fierce here in Kalembe as well. The villagers made it in time to the safety of the UN compound where they found refuge for a few days until the rebels were pushed back. No one in the village died this go round.  A miracle.  We sat around a lump coal fire making beans and rice, and listening to more stories.  We're the first 'outsiders' they've talked to in a while.  I don't have a grid of personal experience to compare the horror of their stories.  Seriously.  Humanity.  What's going on?
        As we drove along this rocky road the pigment of the UN determined “Red Zone ” changes from a rosy pink in Sake to a Coca-Cola logo red here in Kalembe.  What I'm about to say is cheesy, but I like it, so whoof.  They, whoever they are, say that red is the color of love.  In the time that I've spent here, and in the stories I've heard, it seems love is really the only answer to the chronic choas and war in the region.  Love to transform the hearts of those fighting, love to heal the hearts of those who've born the brunt of the brutality, and love to motivate and sustain anyone desiring to reconcile and restore either of the aforementioned.  So I speak this over you Kalembe, Kashuga, Mweso Kitchanga, Kiroliwe, and Sake: you are a Red Zone, not of death and destruction, but of life and prosperity; not of greed and hatred, but of justice and blood red love. 

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    “The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know---Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.” 
    ― John Adams


    July 2012
    May 2012