Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen: An Ordinary Family’s Extraordinary Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in Congo

Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen: An Ordinary Family’s Extraordinary Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in Congo

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 1610394453

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Driven by her family’s devastating losses, Congolese expatriate Francisca Thelin embarks, with human rights activist Lisa J. Shannon, on a perilous journey back to her beloved homeland, now under the shadow of one of Africa’s most feared militias—Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. With gunmen camped at the edge of town, Francisca is forced to face a paralyzing clash between her life in America and her family’s rapidly evaporating world—and the reality that their rush to her family’s aid may backfire.

Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen weaves Francisca’s journey with stories of the family’s harrowing encounters with gunmen and tales from their past to create a vivid, illuminating portrait of a place and its people. We hear of Mama Koko’s early life as a gap-toothed beauty plotting to escape her inevitable fate of wife and motherhood; of Papa Alexander’s empire of wives, each of whom he married because she cooked and cleaned and made good coffee; and of Francisca’s idyllic childhood, when she ran barefoot through the family’s coffee plantation gorging herself on mangoes and fish that “were the size of small children.”

Offering compelling testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the beauty of human connection in the darkest of times, Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen also explores what it means and requires to truly make a difference in an unjust and often violent world.

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town center. Tita Vica held Cisca’s hand as the singing began. A woman’s voice rose above the crowd with the twists and lifts of a bird in flight, singing one word: Baati. The procession began, with the crowd calling back: Baati. Baati. Baati. Cisca didn’t know the word, but she figured it was an old Azande call: Rain come down. With palm leaves waving above the crowd, women beating on old plastic oil containers, the procession moved through town toward that spot where all their chiefs had been

knew to expect huge buildings. She didn’t expect that America would make her feel so small. They arrived in Seattle in the winter. Kevin’s parents greeted them, taken aback by Francisca’s flimsy cotton outfit. It was far too thin for blustery Pacific Northwest weather. “How could you let her come here in something so light!” “It’s what she wears,” Kevin said. He loved Francisca in a bright wrap, just like the day they met. “She’s cold!” his dad said, bundling her in his puffy coat. Kevin’s

get it moving—earned plenty a chuckle. But on the outskirts of Bamokandi, next door to the new LRA campground, where we were headed again, it was a problem. If gunmen surfaced at the wrong time, the iffy getaway plan could cost us. Francisca pulled our new driver Mamba aside to talk it through during his first couple of days on the job. Mamba was shocked: “You think I’m going to drive you out of an LRA attack?” He told her flat out, “You’ve never lived through it. There’s no time to think. If

must come with being the family’s presiding matriarch. Gunshots echoed across town, from the direction of Mama Koko’s place. Francisca watched the family exchange tense glances. Francisca looked over at me, snapping photos, oblivious. She wondered: Should I tell her? We’d almost canceled the trip. About a week before our departure, Francisca got another bad-news call about a fresh attack. Most attacks raged in the countryside north of Dungu, driving villagers into town, under the shadow of the

said. He interrupted her. “You don’t have to be Catholic to have God. The Jewie-Jews, they have God. Everybody have God.” “You have to be Catholic to be a godparent. You are taking responsibility for the spiritual development of the child,” Francisca said. I turned to her. “You’re Catholic. What if we were godparents together?” “What? You want us to be lesbian godparents?” Francisca asked. “Yes! Exactly.” We laughed, but I refused to drop it. At random intervals over the next few days,

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