Washington, D.C. – based Emily Troutman describes herself as an “artist whose writing, photography and video work focuses on politics, identity and social documentary.” A recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo inspired this piece about what lies beyond the numbers we all see…
After spending a month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I find myself speaking most often about the numbers: 5.4 million dead, 2,000 rapes per month, 17,000 UN soldiers, a war that started 15 years ago (or more?)….
And suddenly, the conflict seems impossibly huge, unsolvable, tragic, and remote. It is easy to forget that numbers are symbols, representing real people who take up an actual, physical space; who walk the down the dirt roads at sunset and carry water from the river, just as they did when I was there.
Numbers are a simple way to measure what has been lost. But we also lose something in the counting. We begin to think we know the exact dimensions of a problem, and then, we file it away to be solved later, somewhere between running out of milk and global warming.
For a number to be useful, it should have a beating heart and a face. It should collect names and remind us of something in ourselves. A number should challenge us to unravel it, to give it a smell (the earthy jungle undergrowth), a color (the black volcanic dust), a taste (papaya), and a sound (the ‘snap’ of a green bean).
Each death, each rape in Congo, happens in a moment when the sun is either up or down, when the rain has started or stopped, when a small phrase was uttered, or a glance exchanged. The numbers can tell us something about how often it has happened, but almost nothing about how. Or who.
With a story this big, and so little public awareness of it, I started to ask myself, Does Congo matter? I don’t know. I guess that’s hard to measure. It matters to the people who live there. It matters to me.
– Emily Troutman
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