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June 12, 2007
“I want to make a difference”. I never would have thought that those six words would affect my life as much as they have. When I said those words, I was young, stupid and wanted to rebel against my parents. Now I am young, stupid, and still rebelling against my parents. Except now, I am in the Congo, or to be politically correct, the Republic of the Congo.
Yes, you read right, the Congo. I, Isabel Berkley, the spoiled little brat, am in a third world country, where civil wars happen every other week. I’m twenty-one, fresh out of college and I had to go and open my big mouth. Part of it was to shock my hoity, snobbish parents. The other was I really wanted to help the people in the Congo. My parents wanted me to be a finance/business major. That way I could take over the family company, which just happens to be the second largest insurance company in the world. Let us just say, I had other plans and those plans had nothing to do with cheating some old people out of their Medicare.
My parents, being the control freaks that they are, decided my future for me by the time I was three. Did they even talk to me about it? No, they did not. I was going to Princeton, just like every other person in my family. Then I would go work for the company and eventually become the first woman CEO or President, or whatever they want to call it. Oh, and of course I was an only child so I had no one to dump this little title onto to get out of it. My father was an only child as well, so there were no cousins to take over the business either. I was the inevitable heir to this company and I didn’t want it. I know, this is classic. The little rich brat has a great opportunity and she just wants to throw it away. Do you know what I say to you? If you think it’s so great, you take it, be my guest.
I went against my parents wishes, and went to Columbia University in New York. I seriously thought that my parents were going to have simultaneous massive coronaries. I wasn’t following family tradition and this, my parents just couldn’t handle. My parents had the same childhood as me, they were rich and spoiled rotten. They had never been denied whatever their little hearts desired. When I told them my plans, they had a tantrum that would make a two year old envious.
Words were spoken, threats were made and psychologists brought in. Nothing or no one could change my mind. I wasn’t going to double major in something as boring as finance and business. I was not going to become an uptight old hag. Oh, and you should have seen my mother’s reaction when I screamed this in her face. She knew that the old hag I was referring to was her. She had been beautiful once, but the business and greed had ruined her and my father as well.
They were like cocaine addicts but instead of coke, it was the insurance business. Every dinner and major holiday, that is all my family would discuss. By the time I was ten I knew everything I would ever need to know about insurance, from rates and interest, how much our stock was worth, to who could qualify for the best insurance policy. I also knew enough to know that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with insurance.
I graduated top in my class at Columbia with a double major in French and secondary education. My parents were still very delusional. They thought I would change my mind and go into the business. That’s when decided I needed to do something drastic. There was this sign-up for people who wanted to help in under-developed countries. I, being the idiot that I am, saw this as the opportunity to show my parents that I was serious on my career choice. I was going to go teach children in the Congo. The Congo’s main language is French, having been a French colony. I would have no problem communicating and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. At least that is what the sheet said. I told the interviewer that I wanted to make a difference. That’s how I ended up in the Congo and that is just the beginning of my story.
July 2, 2007
I’m in a small village outside of Brazzaville, the capital. It’s right on the Congo River. I have a little house, or a hut is more like it. I’m not complaining or anything, it’s actually better than most of the homes in the area. It has a kitchen, and a bathroom. There is running water, when it feels like working. There is electricity, but it goes on and off a lot. Otherwise, everything else is good.
My class varies in ages and in attendance. Sometimes I will have close to forty students and sometimes I will have only ten or so. They are all amazing. They want to learn. They are nothing like the kids back in the states. These kids haven’t had the opportunities that I had growing up and it makes me realize that I was lucky. My parents made sure I had everything I would ever need or want. They wanted me to be successful. Here though, in the Congo, it’s very different. Day after day, I’m telling my student’s parents that they need to go to school, that they need to learn. The parents don’t understand, they tell me that they need the children home, to help with chores and to watch the children who aren’t old enough to go to school yet. After about the tenth explanation that was like this, I decided to open a daycare for the children who weren’t old enough to go to school. I wrote to the program director and asked for some more help. Within a week, I had a response and in another week, someone was there to help. I’m not going to lie, when I wrote for help I was expecting someone like me, a girl just out of college. What I got totally blindsided me.
I think I forgot to tell all of you wonderful readers that I was engaged when I left. Yep, that’s right, and this wasn’t something new. I had been engaged to this person for two years. We decided that we would get married when I graduated; he was two years older than I was. Our parents set up the meeting. They had been friends for years. What would be better than to have their kids get married, right? Wrong, I didn’t realize this until two weeks before the wedding. I had a revelation, I was twenty-one and getting married, because my parents wanted it. I went to my fiancé, told him that I wasn’t ready to get married, and gave him his rock of a ring back. Well, I think I might have thrown it at him; I wasn’t exactly sober at the time. Then I got on a plane and came here. I bet you’re wondering why I brought this up, the volunteer I asked for was my ex-fiancé.
The expression on my face was probably more horrified and ugly than that girl in The Ring. You know, the girl in the first one that they find in the closet at the beginning, yeah that one. Anyways, he came off the plane and I just stared in disbelief. What was he doing here? He came over to me and I couldn’t even talk to him.
When I finally was able to produce more than a stutter, I asked him the first logical question that came to mind, which was, what are you doing here? He of course answered, to help. I actually started to yell at him for showing up here and that he shouldn’t have come. I was being so selfish; I wasn’t even thinking about the kids. My only child syndrome was coming back. Only thinking of my feelings, what I wanted and myself. It always had to be about me.
Of course, he didn’t listen to me when I told him to get back on the plane. He waited for me to cool off and told me that he wasn’t going to give me up and that he was going to do whatever it took to get me back. I had to admire him for his persistence. Not only had I been receiving letters and voicemails (that I couldn’t listen to unless I went into the capital and stood a certain way) almost every day, but also he had come all the way here. He had been asking me to come back home and to talk things out in person. He wasn’t ready to accept the fact we were over, and honestly with every letter and voicemail I was starting to reconsider the choice I had made. If I hadn’t made that choice, I wouldn’t be here helping these sweet kids and that’s what stopped me from getting on a plane and going back home. Now he was here though, I couldn’t avoid my feelings when they are staring me right in the face. Well not right in the face, Aden, that’s his name, is about a half a foot taller than me and has these amazing green eyes and… I can’t go there.
We went back to the little village and I introduced him to the kids he would be taking care of and their parents. He was so sweet and charming that most of the mothers wanted to take him home. Once again, I was second-guessing my decision, but then I just looked into the faces of my students and was brought back to reality.
Especially this one little girl’s face, her name was Kira and she was eight years old. Her mother had died of AIDS a year ago and her father is always disappearing, leaving her to take care of her little brothers. I was thinking of her the most when coming up with the plan for the daycare. She was by far my most promising student. She had already known how to read and write in French and was learning very quickly in English. When her father did his disappearing act, I would help her and her brothers, I couldn’t just abandon them, they needed me, all of them still needed me.
When I told Aden all of this, he simply said okay and asked what he could do to help. I know what your thinking, why did I not marry this guy? To tell you the truth, I was thinking the same thing. Those thoughts were going to have to wait though. I had more important things to think about.
July 25, 2007
“What am I going to do?” That has been the question running through my head ever since Aden showed up. Also, something that doesn’t seem like a coincidence is my parents have started talking to me again. I think their theory is if I haven’t shipped Aden back home yet, then they still think that there is a chance that I will come home and fulfill my family duties. The chance of that happening is about the same as the price of gas going below three dollars again. When we talk, my parents don’t bring up the “incident”. That’s what they are calling my decision not to get married, publicly humiliating them, and then coming here. At least that’s what Aden told me. He has been very informative. You should hear the story they have going to cover up what I did. My parents are telling their friends that Aden and I decided to help others before coming and working for our family businesses. (That was another thing that brought Aden and I together. He didn’t want anything to do with his family’s business either.) When I do get cell phone service out here, my parents just talk about general things, like the weather and what they are doing and how is Aden? Then, if there is time, what I’m doing. I have a feeling that they are going to start pressuring me to come back home soon. Honestly, I don’t have a clue on what I plan to do.
August 5, 2007
I can’t believe what has just happened. Ten days before the Independence Day celebration, there is an attack on the capital. Apparently, the rebels are still upset over who won the presidential election. My little village is about seven miles away from the capital and we can see the smoke and flames rising from it. Kira, the little girl with the two little brothers is worried. The last time she saw her father, he was going into the capital. Most likely to get drunk or to do something shady. I actually think he might have been one of the rebels, but I have no proof. I have been trying to get more information on what happened, but this isn’t the United States. A person can’t get information as easily. There isn’t any stable internet connection and right now, all local telephone lines are down, and there isn’t a newspaper. Strangely enough, my cell phone reception is better. I have been trying to get information from people in the states, and that hasn’t gone over well either. Let’s just say the Republic of the Congo and its burning capital isn’t the number one news story. Our wonderful President Bush and his ever-occurring screw-ups have filled that spot. Oh and the question of the decade, how many kids can Britney Spears have? No wonder the rest of the world hates us. We are the shallowest nation that ever existed. Not to mention the most obese.
August 26, 2007
There is a disease outbreak of cholera. The director of the program wants Aden and I to come back to the states before the border is closed. I don’t know what to do right now. I don’t want to leave these kids; they have already been through so much as it is. Last week parents went missing. They were taken during the night, but the children were left behind. I have set up a shelter in the school for the orphaned children. What is going to happen to them if Aden and I leave? There are also rumors going around that there was another person who died of the Avian Flu. That is just one more thing that we don’t need. Also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a courthouse was set on fire. Looks like both Congo’s are rebelling against their governments. I just wish it wasn’t so close to where we are.
Kira’s father is still missing. I went into the capital last week to get supplies and I hadn’t heard anything about him or anyone else from our village. It’s creepy, people are missing and no one knows what happened to them. If things get any worse, I’m afraid that we are going to have to get these kids out of here. It won’t be long before the people who took their parents come back and get the children. Aden and I have been talking about what we would do and the only thing we could come up with was to get the children to the United States or to another well-established country. One that could take care of them and make sure they were safe.
September 14, 2007
The kids are getting sick. Kira’s little brothers both have cholera. Aden went to go get a doctor from the capital, but it appears that the people in the capital are more important than orphaned children seven miles away. I called our director back in the states and he said that he would try to get help as fast as he could. Who knows how long that will take though? It’s really frustrating to be in a position where there is nothing I can do to help these people. Things are so different here compared to the United States. It’s almost as if I living in a completely separate universe.
September 20, 2007
Kira’s brothers died this morning. So did a nine-year-old girl named Madeline and a four-year-old boy named Jack. Their bodies were taken away by the government because of the disease. Kira won’t talk or eat. She has been like a daughter to me and if something happened to her, I don’t know what I would do. I was talking to Aden about this and for the first time since he got here, he brought up our engagement. He started to talk about if we were married, we could adopt Kira and go back to the states so she could have a proper home and education. I cut him off before he could really start getting into his idea. I told him that I would have to think about it. I want to say yes, and take Kira away from this awful place and go home. I’m actually starting to miss our shallow, hated country.
October 15, 2007
I can hear bombs going off in the distance, and the smell of wood burning from the homes in the village. I hear the screams and screeches of people and animals and there isn’t anything I can do. I don’t even know where Aden is. He went into the capital to pick up supplies, but that was yesterday afternoon.
I’m trapped in my own home by U.S. officers. Apparently, my parents have been checking the news in the Congo, and once they found out that there was a revolt against the government, they wanted me out of here. When are they going to realize that they don’t control my life anymore? I’m not leaving here until I know that all of my students are safe and that Aden is okay.
The officers told me that they were going to escort me to the nearest, safest airport as soon as things were more stable. I told them that I don’t want to leave and they just looked at me as if I were insane. I’m starting to get used to that look. My parents gave me that look a lot after I called off the marriage and decided to come here.
This attack started late last night. I heard the children screaming and I ran outside. There were people in masks, they had guns and knives. It looked like they were stealing things from the homes and then they went after the school. The screaming was coming from the makeshift orphanage that we built behind the school. I ran for the orphanage door, but someone grabbed me from behind. I was hit over the head and that was the last thing I remember.
I have tried to find out what happened after I was knocked out, but the officers don’t have a clue. I told them that I wasn’t going to leave until I knew that the children and Aden were safe. They didn’t say anything to that, but I did see one of the officers grab a radio. Maybe I’m finally getting through to them.
Later That Day
I thought too soon. Apparently, they have strict orders from my parents that I am to come home as soon as it’s safe enough. No matter what. I have an idea, but it’s crazy. I don’t have anything to lose.
October 16, 2007
Well, my crazy plan worked. I crawled through a hole in my home and ran for the woods. One of the officers came after me but I was ready. Ever since the disease outbreak we have been receiving sedatives. I had a couple handy, I stuck the officer with it, and he just conked out. Then I ran. Now I’m here in the woods, waiting for daylight to come.
October 21, 2007
I wish I had stayed in my little house and waited for the airplane. No, I wish I had never gone there. I should have just done what my parents wanted me to do. Maybe if I had listened to them, none of this would have happened. I have been sedated for the last couple of days. I guess when the officers finally found me I was hysterical. Now I’m back at my parents house in lovely little Connecticut. I guess I should explain what happened.
When it was light out enough for me to travel, I left the woods. I started to walk towards the capital, but something made me turn and go to the right. I walked down a path that looked new, too new. Then the smell hit me. Burnt flesh. I couldn’t turn around. I had to keep going. I had to know what happened. What I found was worse than I expected. The kids were there, all of them; at least that is what I thought. The smell seemed to disappear. I don’t know how much time I spent there. I couldn’t leave them. I wasn’t going to leave them; they should never have been alone. None of those children deserved this. I sat there thinking about all of them. Then I noticed that one was missing. Kira, she wasn’t among the piles of bodies. Neither was Aden. Those two were still missing. I heard voices and I ran. It was the officers. I started screaming and then it just came. Everything that I had been holding in, even before I came here, just came out. That was about the time the officers used the sedatives on me. Then I woke up here in Connecticut. I don’t know what happened to Kira, or Aden. I asked my parents and they don’t know either. They have people searching, but they told me that the chance of them surviving that kind of attack was very unlikely. I’m going to have to accept an unfinished ending, because I that is the only one I can handle. If they were alive, I still don’t know what I would do with Aden, and if they were dead, I wouldn’t be able to survive with that kind of guilt on my conscience. He would have never been there, if it wasn’t for me. Kira could have had a better life if I had decided to marry Aden sooner, and adopt her. I just couldn’t handle it. So for now, it’s unfinished. Their story, my story, its unfinished.