Despite the grim subject matter, I smiled when I read A Thousand Sisters: My Journey Into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, when the author, Lisa Shannon wrote of meeting Alice Walker in the Congo when they were both visiting Women for Women International.
Weeks before I’d read Walker’s book, Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel, her account of her 2006 visit to East Congo and Rwanda on behalf of Women for Women and 2009 visit to the Gaza Strip for Code Pink. She wrote of being rendered nearly speechless by the atrocities in the stories of the women she visited.
But in 2006 when Walker crossed paths with Shannon, the famous writer, poet and activist was visiting the women’s center in Congo along with Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi. Shannon, a young white woman, started a nonprofit to raise funds to support women in the Congo who had been raped in the genocidal attacks. Shannon had been so awed by meeting Walker that she could barely speak to the famous author.
I smiled because I realized that I might also have struggled to find the courage to approach a famous writer, one that I admired immensely, when we were both thousands of miles from home witnessing the atrocities committed against other women — other sisters — despite so many differences.
At the airport as they both prepared for departing flights, Shannon writes that she couldn’t resist asking Walker for her impressions of the Congo and Walker replied: “I could not begin… It will take months.”
I wonder if, even then, Walker was just beginning to write in her head — and her heart — Overcoming Speechlessness.