In a remote village in eastern Congo, Mama Nadi’s brothel is an unlikely haven for young women who are victims of the brutal sexual violence that is used as a weapon in this war-torn region. But women come to Mama Nadi’s, and she takes them in, because they have nowhere else to go. Rejected because of the disgrace they bring to their villages, families, and husbands, these women create new lives at Mama Nadi’s. Their livelihoods may be tied to sexual whims of rebels, Congolese soldiers, and coltan miners, but the women consider themselves fortunate. And compared to the brutality waged on their bodies in the past, they find their work at Mama Nadi’s palatable.
The story of Mama Nadi and the women under her wing is fictional, captured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play RUINED, written by Lynn Nottage. But as the drama plays out on the stage of the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, where I sat in the audience on Saturday night, the real-life horrors continue, a half a world away.
Before creating RUINED, playwright Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey traveled to Uganda to interview women who had survived the harrowing experiences in Congo that are now portrayed in the play. Photos of the 15 women Nottage profiled hang in the lobby of the theater, powerful reminders of vitality of the war’s survivors. Even as the play reaches desperate moments, the characters demonstrate how women cope, adapt, and even thrive in spite of the brutality they endure.
It is this propensity to survive that the Enough Project works to highlight through the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign. We’re working to find ways to team up with RUINED to promote the story of Mama Nadi and bring awareness to the broad social destruction wrought by violence against women in eastern Congo. Visit this space in the coming weeks to learn more about RUINED, as the widely acclaimed play finishes its successful New York run on June 28.
Photo: Actresses Condola Rashad and Quincy Tyler Bernstine in RUINED. Joan Marcus/Manhattan Theatre Club