We boarded the flight to Rwanda having spent a night in a gorgeous old colonial hotel in Nairobi. Felt such anticipation as we flew over Lake Victoria and watched the landscape beneath us with its deep reds transforming into luscious green and mountainous peaks. Rwanda is so full of history and so far from home. A country that has been ravaged by war and yet once landing we were met by a sea of smiling faces and stunning landscape. The only reminder of genocide on our four-hour drive to the border of Congo was the banners stretching across the road as a memorial to those who were so brutally murdered.
I don't really know what I expected the Democratic Republic of Congo to be like. Rwanda felt peaceful, but upon crossing the border, the violence which I have read so much about became apparent. The people weren't hostile, but we were greeted by a truckload of army guys with rocket launchers on their laps. And our head of security, Martin Gilmour, who has almost definitely seen it all. I'm traveling with my best friend Tori, Margeret Aguirre from the International Medical Corps and David Serota our cinematographer. We get a security briefing before leaving the border: don't go anywhere alone, be smart, body language is important, a smile goes a long way.. .and if we get a gun out in our faces, to remain calm and let Martin do the talking. The country feels so different to Rwanda... bustling markets, smoke, chickens and goats running freely, men and women holding hands, and I smile at the universal language of love.
Our hotel is set upon Lake Kivu. It is so utterly beautiful here that it is hard to remember that the backdrop upon which this country is set, is a very dark one. Only 2 days ago, and approximately 40 miles north of where we are, a thousand people or so have been displaced, a few killed and their homes burned to the ground. We are invited to the IMC guest house for dinner with Fernand, a west African, whose work in humanitarian services has been so fantastic that he is now head of all of the IMC programs in North Kivu. He is immediately so warm and affectionate towards us... hugs and smiles, peanuts , Pringles and beautiful South African wine and then we sit down for dinner. Fernand is away from his wife and three boys. He has been here for 2 weeks now and I asked him how it was going. He said that he and his wife ate together and that was their ritual, that they would sit down and eat no matter what, and that since he's been away it's been hard to find an appetite. It was such a simple insight, but so moving. It spoke volumes to me and made me think about the differences in our cultures, and just how much we could learn if we could step out of the arrogance which sometimes seems to consume us in the west. It was a wonderful evening... chicken and chips, beef, peas... the peanuts we ate were still warm from roasting all day in the heat of the sun. Martin told us war stories (I proceeded to have the most dramatic and violent dreams!) and he played us a song by Baz Luhrman around the table which I haven't heard for years and is packed with invaluable advice...it's called "Sunscreen"... look it up and listen! We finally went to bed. I could hear people jumping into the lake and swimming under the stars and ironically I felt peaceful.
Sienna Miller is working with International Medical Corps, TakePart.com, and Children Mending Hearts to raise awareness of the long-running conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and its devastating impact on women and children.