Woolgathering Catastrophe in Congo

Georgianne Nienaber


Trying to tell the stories of the latest human catastrophes in the Democratic Republic of Congo feels like woolgathering. Not the popular definition of a “flight of fancy,” or Patti Smith’s phantom woolgatherers clothed in “strange archaic cap and dress,” in her magnificent story/poem Woolgathering. No. This is literal woolgathering–wandering from bush to bush and picking tufts of wool from sticky brambles that have torn the coats of lost sheep that wandered into the thicket.

As a writer, I feel buried in the wool. The fibers of information, true and false, threaten to suffocate any desire to try to tell the story. The thread of truth exists in thousands of pages of field reports, government propaganda, human rights press releases, emails from Congolese friends, personal photos from Congolese IDP camps, and press releases from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

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