Chapter 1-The Massacre
“(RNS) Three elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi were laid to rest Thursday (Sept. 11, 2014) in a Xaverian cemetery in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid heightened calls for action about their death.
Sister Lucia Pulici, 75, Sister Olga Raschietti, 82, and Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were gruesomely murdered Sunday in their convent in the Kamenge area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
The triple murders shocked Christians across the globe and ignited calls for the protection of sisters worldwide. The nuns were reportedly beaten and killed with a knife. At least one nun was decapitated. There were conflicting reports about whether they had been raped.
While mourning their deaths, Sister Enelesi Chimbali, general secretary of the Nairobi-based Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa, said such women left their comfortable homes, convents and native countries to serve the poor and downtrodden.
The nuns were buried in Bukavu town in the DRC, where the order has a cemetery. The order’s district covers both Burundi and parts of neighboring DNC. The sisters had wanted to be buried in Africa according to the Xaverian order’s former regional superior, Sister Delia Guadagnini, to mark their love for the continent to the end.”
(Parma, Italy) Seniore Boggian, come quick. Have you read the Newspaper today? No, Guiseppe, I have not had a chance to do so. What is upsetting you? Oh, a terrible thing Seniore. Your older sister Bernadetta Boggian, the Nun, was killed in Burundi, Africa. What? Let me see that paper. Oh my God, Jesus, how could this happen? No one has contacted me from the Vatican or from the Italian consulate in Burundi. Guiseppe call the Italian Consulate, and see if they have any information regarding this story in the newspaper La Republica. Yes, seniore I will call them right away. This is so tragic for my sister who had devoted her whole life to serving in Africa as a Nun for the Xaverian sisters of Mary. She was my only sister. I will have to talk with Father Ramone, and arrange to have a requiem mass in her honor. Perhaps Cardinal Giovanni of the Holy See, my old friend can help me look into my sister’s murder?
(Langley, Virginia, USA, CIA Headquarters)
E-mail message: To Bill Beatrand, Intelligence division
Re: Nuns killed in Burundi, Africa
Bill do we have any Intel that the Hutus and or Tutsis are planning any actions in Burundi? This seems like a savage and senseless killing the kinds the Hutus or Tutsis are capable of.
Hello Bill, this is William Brandt; did you get my e-mail today?
Yes, I did William, and thank you for making me aware of the sad incident in Burundi. I have checked around, and we have no Intel on any Hutus or Tutsis plans or terrorism. Well, if you hear of anything let me know. I just want to stay on top of any plans to return to the civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Will do William, I will keep you informed if anything comes across my desk. Send me a copy of the news article about the Nuns, and I will follow up on the story. Thanks Bill, take care.
(Bolder, Colorado, August 2014)
I just returned to Colorado my hometown after taking a leave of absence from my vows as a Nun. I was in Africa in the Congo, Kenya, and Burundi working with school children. My supervisor transferred me to the Congo even though I protested. Because I was deemed as a troublesome Nun, I was transferred from teaching children to handling financial affairs as a bursar. It was not what I wanted to do so after my last assignment I requested a leave of absence for one year to reconsider my vows and my mission as Sister Angeline Vespucci. At age 30, I have never worked a real job and finding work in Bolder, Colorado, was going to be difficult. I found a little one-room rental in a large tenant house in downtown Bolder to stay in. My sister Jeannine lived in Bolder with husband James Roldon, and she dropped by once in a while with food to help me survive until I found a job. Skills like being able to speak French or Swahili in Bolder Colorado did not translate into job skills in this mountain city. I went downtown one day to apply at the Unemployment agency when I saw a flyer with Uncle Sam on it saying We Want You in the CIA. I knew nothing about the CIA at the time but a government job is a government job I thought, so I picked up an application at the job desk and sent it into the CIA. A month later the phone rang and it was a women from the CIA regional office in Denver, Colorado. “Hello Sister Angeline, this is Mary Walsh from the CIA regional office in Denver. I have read your application for employment at the CIA and we are most interested in you and your French and Swahili speaking skills in Africa. Can you come to Denver for an interview next week? “Sure,” I responded, I will take the bus to Denver next week. “Fine, then we look forward to seeing you next Thursday at 3:00 pm in our regional office in Denver,” Ms. Walsh said.
The following week I packed an overnight bag and caught the bus heading to Denver early in the morning the day before the interview.
“Is this bus going to Denver,” I asked the bus driver. “Yes, Mam we are leaving in ten minutes. Get your ticket at the ticket office. “Thank you sir,” I responded. After getting my ticket I got on the bus and settled in for a long day’s ride to Denver. I was excited because this was the only job offer I had. That night we arrived in Denver, and I booked a room at a local motel. The following afternoon I took a cab to the regional CIA office in the federal government building downtown, Denver. As I entered the office, Ms. Walsh who was a woman in her forties greeted me, with slightly grey hair and horn-rimmed glasses. She was wearing a flowery dress. I was dressed in a simple navy blue skirt and a white blouse. I did not have a lot of civilian clothes so I had to make do with what I had. I don’t think I actually owned a business suit in my entire life. I joined the monastery in Minnesota after I got out of high school. My parents were not in favor of me becoming a Nun, but it was a life long dream to go to Africa and serve the poor there.
The interview began promptly at 3:00 on Thursday, and a gentleman named John Sauer interviewed me. Mr. Sauer was a CIA field supervisor and a man in his fifties, bald, with a round face and a small mustache. He obviously smoked because there were cigarette ashtrays everywhere in his office full of old cigarettes. His shirt and jacket reeked of cigarette smoke. Good afternoon Sister Angeline or shall I just call you Angeline? Angeline is just fine. I am not a Sister right now. I took a year leave to reconsider my vows before I make my permanent vows. Ok, then Angeline, I read your application and it says you served in the Congo, in Africa and Burundi and you speak French and Swahili. Very impressive. Why did you choose to go to Africa Angeline? “Well as a little girl I always wanted to go to Africa and serve the poor there as a Nun,” I said. We are looking for clerical work in Washington, D.C. at present with bi-lingual capabilities in French and English. Would you consider moving to Washington, D.C. for a full-time position in Langley, Virginia at our headquarters? “Yes, I guess so if the pay scale is worth the move,” I responded. “Good,” Mr. Sauer responded. The interview went on for an hour with questions about what I did in Africa and who my family was and where they lived. Finally, at the end of the interview, Mr. Sauer told me that he would be getting back to me in a week or two to get approval for me to go to Langley, Virginia for a final interview. “We will pay for your travel expenses and hotel while you stay in Washington, D.C. and your return expenses,” he said. “Well I look forward to hearing from you soon Mr. Sauer,” I said as I got up to leave. “Thank you for coming Angelina,” Mr. Sauer said.
On the bus trip back to Colorado I dreamt of the days when I was in the Congo and how polite the native women were to us Nuns. Surprisingly, many of the African natives are all Christians and on Sundays the churches are packed with parishioners. I remember their colorful dresses the woman wore with beautiful patterns. In Burundi things were very different. The capital Bujumbura was a spread out city that was ten miles across and densely crowded with everything from concert cinderblock buildings to shacks. The monastery was a very old building from the early colonial days of the Germans Europeans. I loved teaching the young English and other life skills, but being transferred each year over three years against my desire turned me off to the organizational structure of the Catholic missions. There was always some administrator at the top that swapped Nuns around the region like pawns in a chess set with no consideration for their personal strengths.
True to his word, Mr. Sauer called two weeks later to inform me that I had been approved for the first level of interviews and the CIA was sending me a plane ticket out of Denver to Washington, D.C. A special car was to pick me up at Washington International Airport and drive me to Langley, Virginia. A few days after the phone call the plane tickets and FedEx delivered a check for $1,000 dollars to my room. I cashed the government check for $1,000 dollars to have money to travel with and to pay for a hotel to stay in Washington, D.C.
I left three days later for Washington, D. C. after taking a bus back to Denver. The plane trip was uneventful and I arrived at Washington Airport in the early afternoon. As soon as I reached the baggage claim area I noticed a gentlemen in a black suit and a chauffer hat with my name on his sign. “Sister Angeline,” he asked. “Yes, that is me,” I responded. Wait one minute, I have to retrieve my bag,” I said. “Sure Madam, take your time,” he responded. After I got my bag he helped me carry the bag outside to a large executive car that was waiting for us. “It will be a little over an hour to get to Langley, Madam, he said.
“No problem,” I responded, “I am in no rush.”
It was the fall season in Washington, D.C. and the leaves had all turned to reds and oranges and were just as brilliant as Colorado in the fall. I fell asleep in the ride to Langley and awoke as we were stopped at the security gate. “Mr. Ruthers for Mr. Cook, “ the driver told the security guard at the gate. “You are cleared to go ahead Mr. Cook. Mr. Ruthers is waiting for you in conference room B 102,” the security guard said. “We are here Sister Angelina. Mr. Ruthers is going to meet you in the conference room B 102. I will take you there and bring your luggage. They are going to check you into a hotel after the interview and take your luggage at that time, “ Mr. Cook told me.
When we got to Conference room B 102, Mr. Ruthers was already waiting with his secretary. “Good afternoon, Sister Angelina, “ Mr. Ruthers commented. “How was your flight to Washington, D.C.,” he asked? “Fine, it was a very nice flight,” I responded. “Well, let’s get down to business then. I read your application and I see you served in Africa in the Congo, Kenya and Burundi. “Yes, sir, I did,” I responded. Do you speak fluid French,” he asked? Yes, I learned French in High School,” I responded. How did you learn Swahili,” he went on to ask?
“I picked it up from the local natives in the Congo,” I said. “Great,” he responded. Do you plan to return to you monastic order as a Nun?” He asked. “No, I don’t think so. I have to still officially asked to be relieved of my vows and have that approved,” I responded. We have need of field agents in Burundi at present, but you will have to undergo some training first if you want to take this assignment. Do you think you might be interested in returning to Burundi to work with school children and in a Woman’s care center,” he asked. “I most enjoy teaching and working with the native woman,” I responded. You would not be alone in Burundi, the American Embassy would be available to you at all times and we have support staff that can help you address any problems you come across. Do you think that would interest your?” he asked. “Definitely, I responded.” I left the order because they kept transferring me from one country to another and not giving me time to adjust to the local conditions. I wanted to teach and they assigned me to bookkeeping and bursar activities going from mission to mission and keeping track of their supplied. It was not what I signed up for when I became a Nun,” I said.
“Good, would you be willing to start training next week? We can have all your belongs shipped and we will pay for your hotel until we find a more permanent housing for you near Langley while you undergo in-service training. You salary would be $80,000 plus full medical and pension plan. Does that sound about right for you?” “While you are on assignment in Africa we will pay for all your expenses. You can save your salary at home for retirement. Will you accept this position, Sister Angelina as a CIA field operative? We will provide you with a cover as a Nun when in fact you will no longer be a Nun in the order you once served. We plan to have you pose as a Nun from an Italian order in Palma. We will create all the necessary paperwork to back up you story and will clear with the Vatican this special clearance to cooperate with us in gathering Intel regarding Hutu and Tutsi activities in Burundi. Does that sound like a plan?” Yes, I will enjoy returning to Burundi so long as I am not transferred around every few months of years, I said. “You have a deal, Sister Angelina, he said. “I will have the employment papers drawn up and you can sign them tomorrow,” he said. Meanwhile, I will have one of our drivers take you back to Washington, D.C. to your hotel. We have arranged for dinner for you at the hotel tonight and all expenses are paid for by us. “I will meet with you tomorrow to finalize your contract and what kind of field training we are going to provide you with in your position at a monastery in Burundi, Africa, he concluded. “Have a nice evening and it was a pleasure meeting you Sister Angelina,” he said. “I will see you tomorrow, then,” he said. I got up and waved goodbye and left to go outside for my car driver to take me to my hotel in Washington, D.C.
The next day I signed a two-year conditional contract as a CIA field agent assigned to Burundi, Africa. My cover story was I was from an Italian order in Parma, Italy and assigned to work with children teaching and abused mothers in the monastery woman’s clinic.
I was very excited to go back to Africa on my terms this time and looking forward to the training the CIA was going to provide me with.
I began working for the CIA in a clerical setting for about a month until they transferred me to Chicago where I was to receive three months training in CIA field agent skills and communication.
After the three months training in Chicago, I was sent to Dallas, Texas for special coding training so that I would send messages and decode special messages. I was in Dallas for two months and then they transferred me to Paris, France, In Paris I was there for only a week and I received my final orders to fly to Burundi and contact the convent in Bujumbura where Italian and Polish Nuns were teaching children and serving abused wives of Hutu and Tutsi woman. I barely had time to collect my things and I was off to Africa. The CIA had provided me some regular clothing to wear since the Nuns of the Order of Mary did not wear Nun habits. I was told they wear normal dresses and are very low key in the dress apparel.
Just before leaving I got a message from one of the sub-directors of the CIA about a gentlemen in Palma Italy, whose sister was an Italian Nun who was murdered recently along with three other Nuns at the convent in Kamenge. This gentleman’s name was Boggian and he had several connections in the Vatican. A Cardinal from the Vatican Holy See had personally contacted the American CIA, to request a favor in following up on the murders of the Nuns outside of the local police investigation. They did not want to let anyone know the Vatican was looking into the murders, officially. Wow, everything seem so hush, hush with the ‘powers that be’ regarding this terrible tragedy in Burundi.
My next transfer was to the CIA’s office in Paris, France. It was expected that my passport would be French, not American and the paperwork for my backup story was to be created in Paris, France. The CIA did not want any links leading back to the CIA or American interfering in an African countries local Policing affair. Paris was beautiful in the spring of the year 2015. My apartment was ½ a mile from the Eiffel tower and everyday I reported to the CIA Paris office to review documents and study my phony background information. Since I was a Nun from another order, the Xaverian Sisters of Mary may be more inclined to accept me into their fold. The Vatican Holy See is providing the Roman Catholic Church’s story, that I was a one of several replacements for the sisters that were murdered. The truth is no other sisters were being sent to Burundi. Paris is the spring is so beautiful with all the trees along the boulevards blooming. The harsh winter days were over and the warm days of sunshine had returned. The two weeks in Paris went by quickly and before I knew it I was on my way to Burundi, Africa. The Holy See of the Vatican in advance of my arrival had sent a letter, so that the Nuns in Kamenge convent would be expecting me.
I boarded the plane on Air Uganda airlines to Burundi, and had first class accommodation all the way to Africa. I departed early in the morning at 6:00 am arrived in Bujumbura the Capitol of Burundi in the early evening. The sun was just beginning to set as the plane arrived at the airport. I was met at the airport by a CIA field supervisor Dennis Roddenberg. “Bonjour monsieur,” when we first met at the airport. He was very gracious man dressed in a tie and dress shirt and slacks. He drove me to a hotel in the capitol city, Bujumbura to stay overnight, and then the next day I would have my final briefing. I was to be assigned a field operative, whom I was to report to on a weekly basis without the Nuns knowledge. He was to be a local that would blend in with the natives in Bujumbura.
When we arrived at the Hotel I first met the local field operative I would be working with. “Sister Angelina, I would like to introduce your field operative Kwami,” Dennis said. Dennis went on to say that Kwami was a Hutu native, and he spoke French, Swahili and a limited amount of English. I tried a little Swahili on him also, “Habari,” I said (which means hello in Swahili). “Nzuri,” he responded which in Swahili mean “I am fine.” Kwami was a tall six feet African native with short cut hair, and a shaven face. His skin was very dark and he had a scar across the right side of his face. He was dressed in kaki pants, and kaki shirt looking almost like a uniform. He wore sandals rather than boots however. I hoped he could see I had a good command of both French, and Swahili as we spoke casually in the foyer of the US Embassy. Kwami would be most useful at the convent in Kamenge in the outskirts of Bujumbura the Capitol in providing me with information I needed and in monitoring my stay with the Nuns at Kamenge Convent. “Sister Angelina, I have been instructed to take you to the Kamenge Convent tomorrow after you are briefed here as to the political situation and the murders of the Nuns last year,” he said. “Since the Nuns are allowed to have cell phones you will be given a special cell phone to contact me or anyone at the Embassy when making reports or in case of any emergency. Do not tell anyone about the cell phone and try to hide it somewhere safe where it will not be discovered. No one will ever call you on the cell phone. It is strictly one way for you to call out. This will prevent an unwanted phone ring sound when you least expect it Sister,” he said. Mr. Roddenburg will introduce you to some of the staff here at the Embassy and take you to a few briefing meetings to help you become aware of the local situation in Kamenge Convent and in Bujumbura as a whole. “Thank you Kwami,” I responded. “ I am looking forward to working with you,” I said. “One more thing Sister Angelina. I am the food vendor that brings food to the convent several times a week. The days when I come will allow you to keep me informed if no one is watching you,” Kwami said.
The meetings went on all day, and finally, I was driven back to the Hotel Dolce Vita Resort. I collapsed in my bed and slept for an hour before going downstairs for dinner. The CIA briefed me on everything, the murder the year before, the supposed culprit the police say was caught with the keys to the convent and a cell phone from one of the Nuns. The CIA felt the whole thing was a setup and the man caught has a reduced mental capacity, and could have easily been bought off to take the fall for the murders. Secondly, the Hutu and Tutsi conflicts were a sensitive issue in Burundi after the years of civil war. Most of the Italian Nuns had come from the DRC, Congo, after working with mothers and children for many years. Only in the past few years was it safe enough to come to Bujumbura, the Capitol, to work in a convent with abused women and children who needed schooling. All the facts were whirling though my head. So much to remember and I have to remember to be humble and to be careful about asking too many questions. After a vegetarian dinner, which was delicious, I retired back to my hotel room to pray and relax. The next day would be the beginning of a whole new career.
The next day Kwami showed up soon after breakfast with an old worn out looking jeep. “Good Morning Sister Angelina. How did you sleep last night,” he inquired. “I slept very well, thank you Kwami,” I answered. “We are off to the convent in Kamenge which is three miles from the U.S. Embassy today,” he said. “I will leave you without ceremony because I do not want anyone to recognize me when I drive you to the convent. Remember I am the food delivery man and you will see me around a lot on deliver days in the kitchen,” he went on to say. “ I am excited to meet the Nuns at Kamenge Convent,” I said. “Do you have your bag packed, Sister?” he asked. “Yes I am packed and ready to go Kwami,” I said. “Let’s get going then,” he said, as he lifted my bag into the old jeep. Ten minutes later we arrived at the convent which was a simple cinderblock building in an off-white color next to a community church with some other buildings in a cluster. Young African children were playing soccer by kicking a can around the dusty parking lot. A rooster could be heard in the distance crowing as the sun began to rise for another hot African day. Kwami stopped and took out my suitcase and big me farewell and good luck. “I will see you next week Sister Angelina, Kwami said. “Be safe and most of all be careful Sister,” he said. “God Bless you,” I said as he got back into the jeep and drove away. There I was standing in a cloud of dust outside the convent door. I knocked on the door and a Nun came to the door and asked whom I was. “Hello, I am Sister Angelina Vespucci,” I said when the door opened. “Welcome Sister, I am Sister Kathryn Collati, come right in,” she said. Sister Collati was dressed in a flowery dress and plain shoes. She could have easily passed for a housewife in Italy with no problem. Her grey hair indicated she was at least in her fifties or sixties. The Italian accent gave her away as being an Italian. It was almost lunchtime and the Nuns were all in the chapel praying when I arrived. Sister Kathryn and I waited in the dining room for the sisters to finish their noontime prayer. Several African women were milling around and serving food on the table as we sat and chatted. “So have you come all the way from Italy or America Sister,” She asked? No, I had a layover in Paris, and then I took another flight from there to Bujumbura’s International Airport. “Have you been to Africa before Sister Angelina,” She went on to ask? “Yes, Sister Kathryn, I served two years in the Congo, Burundi, and in Kenya as a teacher for the Sisters of Mercy from Minneapolis, Minnesota. “That sounds wonderful,” she replied. Mother Superior will be along shortly after noonday prayers. We have six other Sisters at this convent. Sister Louise, Sister Elaina, Sister Margarette, Sister Madeline and myself.
Mother Superior is also known as Sister Julianna, but we do not call her by that name. Just then I heard the Nuns singing an African song as they emerged from noonday chapel. The last Nun out of the chapel was Mother Superior. As Sister Kathryn and I sat on the bench in the dining hall Mother Superior approached us and introduced herself. “Welcome Sister Angelina, we have been waiting for you for several weeks since we got a letter from the Vatican Holy See that you would be coming to replace our departed sisters,” she said. Reaching out her arms to give me a hug, she exclaimed, “How wonderful it is to finally get to meet you.” “Come you must tell us all about your travels and your time in Africa in the Congo, Kenya, and Burundi, she exclaimed. “Thank you Mother Superior, I am glad to be here back in Africa. I have always loved Africa,” I said. “Come sit down and I will introduce you to all our sisters after Grace, she said. Sister Kathryn led the Grace for the meal. “Father we ask thy blessing on this food today and all those that are to partake in this meal. Bless the hungry in Africa and the World. Bless the poor in Africa and the world and help them to bring Jesus into their life. Bless our volunteers, our students and our mothers that we counsel. All this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen.”
Sister Angelina allow me to introduce Sister Louise, Sister Elaina, Sister Margarette, and Sister Madeline. You have already met Sister Kathryn I believe. Let’s us all eat and enjoy in celebration of a new member to our convent. Some of the Nuns spoke better French than English, but out of respect they tried to speak English the best they could. I told them of my days in teaching in the Congo and Burundi and how I was transferred to Kenya against my wishes and my subsequent one-year leave of absence and eventual dismissal of my vows. Some looked a little shocked that I would take a year of leave just because my superiors kept moving me around from one country to another.
After lunch all of the Nuns returned to teaching children and counseling abused women. Mother Superior showed me to my room and told me after I rested I could join them in the school. I unpacked my suitcase in my barren room with nothing on the walls but a crucifix.
After washing up I returned to see what was going on in the children’s school the Nuns taught in. The first classroom I saw was what looked like a kindergarten class with six little toddlers sitting in a circle playing with clay. The next classroom had ten early grade level students who were using water paints to create pictures. The third and last class was eight upper grade level students who were learning the English alphabet along side the French alphabet. It warmed my heart to be in a school once again. I could not wait until I would be able to join with the Sisters of Mary in teaching. Sister Kathryn gave me a tour of the buildings and the church next door. In another building there was a lounge, and several bedrooms for women seeking refuge from their abusive husbands. I observed one Nun, Sister Elaina sitting talking with an African woman in a room that had a one-way mirror for observation of counseling sessions. In the lounge sat a dozen African women with infants, babies crying, and screaming. The noise echoed off the cinderblock walls, and rang in my ears. Some of the mothers were singing to their children and others just rocking them in their arms. It seemed like a peaceful place to be despite the babies crying. One cute little boy came running up to me and said, “shikamoo,” which means in Swahili, I touch your feet as a sign of respect (younger to older greeting in Swahili). “Marahabaa,” I responded (meaning I acknowledge your respect. I patted him on the head and he turned and ran off. Sister Elaina pointed out that the children were very friendly. “They have not had to suffer from the terrible terror in the civil wars,” Sister Elaina said. “I see, is the civil war still on their minds,” I asked?
“The anger between the Hutu and the Tutsi is just under their skins as you can imagine,” she said. “How often do the children come to school,” I inquired? “Everyday, Monday to Friday,” Sister Elaina responded. “I love working with young children. To look into their innocent little faces gives great pleasure,” I said. “Come I will show you their lunch room. “We give them either a box lunch each day or a hot meal or stew if we can afford the meat,” she said. We entered a high ceiling room with bare beams in the ceiling. Ceiling fans moved the air around and kept the lunchroom cool from the African heat. Small groups of children were already lined up for their lunch. “Sometimes this lunch is the only meal they get all day,” Sister Elaina remarked. “We make the difference between them starving or living healthy, she went on to point out. “We get aid from the USA, Italy, and the World Health organization. Sometimes it is dried food and other times it is medical supplies. All of our students have had all the necessary vaccinations to prevent most childhood diseases. We are also very cautious to detect any signs of Ebola. We have not gotten the new serum yet, but if there is a problem we have asked for serum to fight the disease,” she said.
“I can see it is very important to stay ahead of any diseases to insure the children and their families stay healthy,” I commented. “Let us go into the Abused Women’s Counseling Center,” Sister Elaina said. “We have served over a thousand woman in the past year alone from abuse from their husbands. The Burundi men treat their women poorly like cattle and show them little respect. It is a poor tradition we have worked hard to correct. You must be especially sensitive to whether the women are Hutu or Tutsi and be sure not to mix them together in discussion groups. The hatred between the two ethnic groups has a long and bad history back to the civil wars in the 1990’s. Some of our volunteers will help you sort out which women are Hutu or Tutsi, “ she said. “I will keep you advise in mind Sister,” I commented. “So, what do you think of our little Convent and School” Sister Elaina asked? “I think you have a wonderful setup here with many loving Sisters and volunteers,” I responded. The village I served with in Burundi a few years ago was much more primitive and did not have any permanent buildings other than grass shacks,” I commented. “Well, we hope you are going to like it here. “We are short-handed with only seven Nuns total including you,” she said. “It will take some time and patience to get used to working with the abused women,” she went on to say. “Sometimes they are beaten up so severely that we have to hospitalize them to heal their wounds,” she said. “Is it advisable to talk to their husbands,” I asked? “No, do not approach the husband ever,” she pointed out. “Their male pride gets in the way of their thinking and they do not want to be singled out for beating their wife or wives,” she remarked. “Yes, you must know some of the richer men have several wives if they can afford them,” she said. “I see,” I remarked. “Let’s sit down and have some tea and I will have Mother Superior talk with you for a while and work our what your first assignment will be,” she said.
“That sounds wonderful,” I said.
We talked all morning about stories of Africa and stories of home Italy an America. All of the Nuns I noticed were quite old in their seventies and eighties. They were in need of some young blood to be sure. I didn’t feel I was young blood, but in comparison to their ages I was 20-30 years their junior. I observed there was some tenseness in the air that you could not put your finger on, but it still lingered just the same. I felt from the beginning there was more to this assignment than helping battered women and teaching children. The reality is that this was Burundi the land of many decades of dreaded violence and ethic cleansing. I was well informed about Burundi, and it’s history at the CIA, but I was already aware of the tensions from the short six-month assignment I had in Burundi a few years ago.
That afternoon I met with Mother Superior to discuss my assignment and the rules of the convent. Mother Superior pointed out that the Nuns dressed casually in dresses rather than habits so they would blend in with the natives. Some Africans saw the Nuns habits as a kind of uniform of the old colonial days of the whites invading Africa. We discussed my strengths and desire to teach children, so Mother Superior assigned me to assist Sister Elaina in the early elementary grade classroom. Mother Superior suggested that down the road I could begin to assist in working with abused women in the clinic. I was excited to begin teaching, but the day had passed by with talks and meetings. After talking with Mother Superior I want back to my room to get ready for Evening prayer and dinner. I changed into another dress for dinner and Evening prayer and walked over to the Church Chapel for prayers.
Some of the Sisters were practicing some African spiritual songs and their voices blended together so beautifully. I sat and listened to their bird like voices. It was a most pleasurable moment for me. The light was beginning to dim and shadows covered the chapel. The heat of the day was beginning to subside and all the cares of the day seem to float away in the chapel at that moment.
Chapter 2- Settling In
As the week went by I began to adjust to the African heat, and the busy daily schedules: Morning prayer at 6:00 am, breakfast, daily chores, Teaching assignment to noon, Noon Day Prayer service, Lunch, rest time, Afternoon teaching assignment, Evening Prayer with song, dinner, prayer and mediation time, and evening vespers. The Nuns were most welcoming to have another hand to help in their mission.
As the second week progressed, I met the cook, Doto, who was a smiling cheerful heavy woman in her early 50’s. She was a woman who had been abused by her husband many years before. She took her two children at the time, and fled her village, and came to the convent at Kamenge. The Nuns hid her, and protected her in their convent. Later on Tutis rebels killed her husband when they raided her village. Doto began a new life at the convent cooking for all the Nuns, staff, women, and the children. She spoke Swahili, French, and some broken English. I knew she would be important to get to know because my CIA contact Swami would be delivering food to her once or twice a week, and I would need to make contact with him during that interval of time.
Bahati was another abused woman of late 30’s or early 40’s. She was the assistant cook for the convent. She was also a volunteer. Like Doto, she was always smiling and worked hard to provide three meals a day for the Nuns, staff, women, and children. Sometimes Bahati and Doto would come to Morning Prayer or evening prayer with the Nuns. They were always welcome. “Habari Doto,” I said in Swahili early that morning before Morning Prayer. “Nzuri,” she responded with a wild smile. She was busy chopping carrots in the kitchen at the time. “Jina langu ni Angelina,” I responded the first time we met. “Nafurahi kukuona Angelina,” (I am pleased to meet you Angelina) Doto answered. So, our first meeting, I had to rush to Morning Prayer. “Kwaheri Doto,” (good bye Doto) I answered as I rushed off to Morning Prayer.
The following week on Monday, Swami was to make a delivery to the convent. I tried to make sure I was around when he delivered the food to give him a short message that the Nuns, and the staff were accepting me, and there were no problems. As I was in my classroom with Sister Kathryn teaching our young children English words and phrases I looked out the window to see Swami in a white food truck. I excused myself with Sister Kathryn when we were teaching the children, saying I had to go to the bathroom. As I entered the courtyard where the food truck was parked, Swami noticed me coming toward the truck. As he passed by me with a hand truck full of boxes of fresh vegetables, I handed him a small paper note, and kept walking toward the bathroom. That was my first drop as the CIA called it. If problems developed or Hutu or Tutsi husbands made physical threats against me, I needed to inform the CIA at the American Embassy. I also had a throwaway cell phone, but I could never use it with anyone around me. I did not want the Nuns or staff knowing that I was contacting someone outside the convent.
A few days later Sister Margarette taught me a song we could sing with the children in Swahili. Sister Margarette was in her 60’s, grey hair, short and Italian. She spoke French, English, Italian, Swahili and several other African languages spoken in Kenya and South Africa. She was very talented with a guitar that seemed as old as she was with the many wrinkles in her face and hands. “Sister Angelina we are going to teach our students how to sing this simple song in Swahili,” Sister Margarette said. Here is the first line. I have written it down for you to memorize easier.
Let us begin in the cord of C with
Sina Mungu mwingine ila wewe (I have no other God but You)
Now A minor,
Moyo wangu watambua jemedari (My heart recognizes the Commander)
To the F cord,
Nafsi yangu yakutamani ewe (My soul desires You)
Back up to the G7 cord at the top of the guitar, and back to the C major cord again with the last line.
Roho yangu yahitaji Tabibu (My spirit needs The Physician)
(From the top)
Shuka kwa utukufu wako nikuone
(Let me see you come down in Your Glory) Am cord,
Shekinah, utukufu wako (Shekinah Glory) F major cord,
Utukufu wako (Your Glory), This last line we repeat four times in the G7 cord,”
I hummed the tune as Sister Margarette played the song over, and over on her guitar. “I wish I could play a guitar,” I responded. “Perhaps you can learn someday with practice,” Sister Margarette answered. “Perhaps,” I agreed. “Let’s take it from the top again Sister Angelina,” Sister Margarette said. “Sina Mungu mwingine ila wewe,” she sang the first verse so easily. All day long I was mumbling the song under my breath to memorize the Swahili words. It was a simple and beautiful song. I prayed that evening at Vespers that might one day learn to play the guitar like Sister Margarette. I am a Soprano, and several of the other sisters were sopranos also, with a few Altos to sing the second line of music. The church chapel echoed our beautiful voices given up for the glory of Jesus Christ. I slept well that night.
Toward the end of the first week our first crisis developed. Late in the evening of the second week there was a lot of noise in the courtyard of the convent. Dogs were barking, chickens clucking, and loud voices could be heard yelling something. All of the Nuns were in Vespers at the time. We stopped what we were doing, and rushed outside to see several of the woman staff members Hasanti and Halima carrying a badly injured woman who was bleeding from the face and arms. She was a local Hutu wife whose husband accused her of having affections for his brother in their tribe. He beat her severely almost killing her. After he fell into a drunken stupor, she escaped and walked ten miles to the Kamenge Convent. Mother Superior had the women and a few nuns take the woman into the clinic to be bandaged and cared for. We all returned to finishing Vespers afterward.
The next morning knowing the husband would try and follow his wife we prepared to hide her in the church in a hidden room behind the altar. As expected the raging mad husband showed up later in the afternoon asking where he wife was. The wife’s name was Ngozi Eze, and we hid her in the secret room behind the altar. The male volunteers tried to calm the man down. Matata and Bongani told him that they had no seen any women named Ngozi. They told him to look in the markets in downtown Bujumbura. After an hour of raving and ranting he decided to leave, when Matata threatened to call the local police and have him arrested. After he was gone Mother Superior sent Malaika to the local courthouse to file a restraining order against Ngozi Eze’s husband, named Gwembeshe Eze, for fear of her life. We knew now that Ngozi would be a marked woman until the representatives for the Church could file legal papers to protect her and possibly give her a divorce from her husband. The problem in these domestic abuse situations was always the children left behind. Sometimes were able to send someone to retrieve the children and sometimes we are rejected. Mother Superior told me it always comes down to money or barter in the end especially when the husband has several wives. “Sometimes it take a few goats or a donkey to trade for a battered wife to be free of her husband,” Mother Superior told me one day. After the husband was gone I went to the clinic to see if I could help the suffering woman with her wounds. She needed stiches on her face from a long knife wound. She also had deep slash cuts on her arms. Sister Louise and I sewed up her wounds while Sister Margarette put iodine on the bruises to kill any infection. Mother Superior supervised while we worked on this poor woman. “Ngozi, you understand that if you stay here with us at the convent that we will have to file legal papers first in order to legally protect you from your husband,” Mother Superior said. “Do you want to divorce your husband,” Mother Superior asked Ngozi? “Yes, Sister, my husband is crazy and he will kill me for no reason. I have no interest in his brother. It is his brother that tried to make my husband jealous and he overreacted by beating me senseless. (All this she said in Swahili and French) Sister Louise interpreted what she said to Mother Superior for me. I understood some of her French but not all of the Swahili. Another learning experience, I said to myself. I could see how the Nuns had all gone though this experience before and were well equipped to caring for abused women and hiding them for their own safety. Eventually, one of our male staff volunteers would take some goats or another prized animal and go out to the tribe and make an offer to buy the wife from the abusive husband. Once the husband got over his anger, money or barter always worked.
“Well I have to get back to my students,” I said and prepared to leave the clinic. “If you need any assistance Mother Superior, do not hesitate to call me, “ I said. When I got back to my classroom we worked with clay and made little animals with the children. They love to work with their hands and mold different turtles, frogs, and birds. After an hour or so of clay work we cleaned up and had the entire student wash their hands. One little girl named Abena was having difficulty washing the clay off her hands. I went over to the sink to help her out. She was the cutest thing with a little round face and a nice flowery blue African style dress on. I showed her how to use the hand brush to get the clay out of her nails. She smiled and thanked me, “Asante,” she said. I replied in Swahili, “Nakutakia siku njema Abena,”(Have a nice day Abena). Our paths had crossed and a little bond was created that day.
We kept Ngozi in hiding for several weeks until the paperwork was finished. Matata and Chinwe, two or our male volunteers took two goats and a bottle of wine to the husband of Ngozi to buy her freedom and to get the husband to sign a divorce decree from the courts. They left early in the morning after breakfast to walk the ten miles to the tribal village on the outskirts of Bujumbura the Capital.
Early that evening they returned without the goats and the bottle of wine. The husband drove a hard bargain, but they got him to sign the paperwork for the divorce decree. Mother Superior decided it would be safer to send Ngozi to work in the Convent in the Congo rather than have to go into hiding for a year in Bujumbura. “You will be safe there until we can call you back to our Convent in six months or a year,” Mother Superior explained to Ngozi. Ngozi cried for her children and her family, but she knew Mother Superior was right that if she stayed at the Convent, even with the legal divorce, her husband when drunk might come looking for her.
Ngozi left in a taxi for the railroad station in downtown Bujumbura. Mother Superior had given her some cash and a letter to the Mother Superior at their Congo Convent to allow Ngozi to reside there until the danger from her husband was over. Ngozi left with only a small travel bag of used clothes the Nuns put together for her. That was the last we saw of Ngozi for a year.
Ebola and AIDS were two deadly viruses everyone in Africa was afraid of contracting. Nuns had heard horror stories of the flesh eating Ebola virus which had no cure. Fortunately, a Doctors and a volunteer woman assistant came down with Ebola were flown back to the U.S.A. to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia to be treated with a new serum from San Diego, California which had not been approved by the FDA yet. The serum and treatment of containing the virus worked and the volunteer worker was released first and then the Doctor recovered and he was released. Small portions of the serum were being flown to Africa to use in combating Ebola in some patients that have the disease. Mother Superior had a discussion one day about the symptoms of Ebola or AIDS and how we should proceed. We were told to use plastic gloves at all times and facemasks to prevent inhaling any viruses that can transmit through the air. AIDS required direct contact and in that case we are to inform public health to prevent an epidemic. We were all afraid of both diseases but went about our work daily without showing the fear.
Two months later.
Two months later Swami my CIA contact left some news articles about the Nuns that were murdered at the Kamenge convent a year before. I was briefed about this tragedy at the CIA but no follow-up was provided. Now the CIA wanted me to ask the Nuns what they knew about the murders and the murder caught. Some Nuns had gone on record in the Newspapers a year ago saying that one man could not have done all these killings in one night. The killer was declared a mental patient and sent to a Mental Hospital without a trial. The local authorities called it case closed, but many lingering facts do not support the local police version. The CIA wanted me to find some facts that could not uncover, but at the same time I was to be extremely careful and not to enter into any tribal villages seeking information about the massacre.
One day Mother Superior and Sister Elaine Luna went for a day trip to a tribal village ten miles away from the convent. Mother Superior wanted to check up on several abused wives that she had worked with over the years to see how they were doing. This gave me an opportunity to enter Mother Superior’s office after she left with Sister Elaine. I made an excuse I wasn’t feeling well that day and would spend the morning in bed in my room. No one was around Mother Superior’s office at the time and the door was unlocked. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but I started with the file cabinets that seemed to have a file on every child and every abuse mother that attended the clinic over the past ten years. I search through file cabinet after file cabinet until I realized that if I checked abused mothers that were counseled in the spring of 2014 I might find something of interest. I did find that Sister Olga Raschaetti worked with some Hutu women that were abused from a tribal village nearby. The woman’s names were in the file and the months they stayed at the clinic until Sister Raschaetti was murdered. That seemed strange, perhaps the husbands of the battered Hutu woman took revenge on the Sisters for sheltering and treating the runaway Hutu wives? There were several husbands listed next to their wives in one folder of a file that Sister Olga had kept. I wrote the names down: Tumbuka Nkruma, Simisola Oluwaseyi, Opeyemi Omobolanle, and Nwanneka Nkiruka and stuffed the paper in my pocket. As I was closing the file cabinet, Malaika one of the volunteer teaching assistant walked by the office but did not realize I was behind the closed door. I waited until she left, then I slipped our of the office and back to my room. I now had a theory the vengeance might have been a motive for the Nuns being murdered. I would inform the CIA of the men’s names so that they could investigate these Hutu men and see if they had ever threatened any of the Nuns or Mother Superior. Noonday prayers were being offered, and if I did not show up some of the Nuns would begin asking questions as to where I was? I hurried over to the chapel in the church and arrived just in time for the first hymn of the service. I had to find a way to see if any of the Nuns knew who these husbands were that I found in Mother Superior’s file cabinets.
Two weeks later I was talking to Sister Margarette about the dangers of working with Hutu abused women, Tutsi abused women, staying out of politics, and local hatreds. Sister Margarette. “You know Sister Angelina you have to be very careful when counseling abused wife’s of Hutu or Tutsi tribesman,” Sister Margarette commented. “Sometimes you could be could be very involved in saving a women from her abusive husband and not realize the danger if the husband is violent and seeks revenge or justice as he sees it, Sister Margarette said. “I understand Sister Margarette and I am learning,” I responded. “What happened to the Nuns that were killed a year ago,” I asked Sister Margarette. She had a startled look on her face when I asked the question. “I cannot talk about it Sister and you would be wise not to ask anyone,” Sister Margarette warned. “Ok,” I responded. It was obvious a painful and secret kept by all the Nuns for some reason. I went about my daily activities painfully aware that none of the Nuns were going to be helpful in discovering the real facts about the murdered Nuns a year ago.
That evening Mother Superior returned with Sister Elaina just in time for evening prayer. “How was your day in the Hutu tribal village,” I asked Mother Superior?
“It went well,” she said and that was all. Getting information from Mother Superior was like pulling teeth. She was always very secretive and spoke very little about sensitive issues of politics and the Hutu and Tutsi situation.
The next day Swami came with a food delivery. I gave him a paper note with the names of the Hutu men of several abused women that Sister Olga has treated in the spring of 2014. I need the CIA to research these men and see if they were still alive or whether, they had ever been interviewed by the local police after the murders. I could see that I was never going to get any information from the Nuns without arising suspicion. Perhaps there was some other explanation that I was not aware of involving the murders? After Swami delivered the food for the day, a priest visited Mother Superior. His name was Father Michel Tognazzi, and this was the first time I had seen him visit the convent. “Sister Madeline, who is this Father Michel Tognazzi,” I asked. “He is the Priest in charge of our Convent assigned by the Vatican,” she said. “Oh, I said, I wonder why he is visiting Mother Superior,” I asked? “It is usually about some major issue,” Sister Madeline said. “He seldom comes just to visit,” she said. I wish I could be a fly on the wall that day, but that was never going to happen, so I kept my doubts, and questions to myself. Father Tognazzi stayed for evening prayer, and then left before darkness.
I would not discover the real reason for Father Tognazzi’s visit until a month later when Mother Superior mentioned at dinner one night that there was some trouble with some of the Hutu tribes, and we were warned by Father Tognazzi to be careful with both Hutu woman and Tutsi women and children. Strange how Mother Superior mention this as a matter of fact? I guess she had gotten use to the political dangers of working with Hutu and Tutsi women and children? It was very puzzling to me. I prayed about it that night.
One day I spoke to Bongani, one of our male volunteers, who was working in the gardens outside the church building. Speaking in Swahili I said, “Habari Bongani,” (Hello) “Hujambo,” (are you fine?)? “Sijambo,” he responded while planting some beautiful flowers. “Ninaitwa Angelina (My name is Angelina) ,” I said. “Nimefurahi,” (I am pleased to know you) he responded. “Do you speak any English Bongani. “Kidogo tu,”( Just a little bit) he responded. “Your flowers are beautiful,” I said. “Do you like living here in the convent,” I asked. “Yes, Sister, he responded. “How old are you Bongani,” I asked. “I am age 23 Sister,” he said. “Where do you get these beautiful flowers,” I asked him? “Some people give them to the Nuns as gifts, and other flowers I dig up myself growing wild,” he said. “They add much beauty to the church,” I said. “Thank you Sister,” he said. “I will see you later,” I said. I went to teach my students wondering in the back of my head what kind of a life Bongani had working as a volunteer for the Sisters?
Mother Superior asked me one day if would like to visit the Cathédrale Regina Mundi, “Queen of the World Cathedral in the Capitol city Bujumbura.” “Yes, Mother Superior, I would be thrilled to see the Cathedral. I have never see it before,” I said. “Good , we will bring Sisters Kathryn, Louise and Madeline with us today,” she said. “Matata will drive us to the Cathedral,” she said. When we went outside the buildings, there was Matata in a Jeep ready to drive us to the Cathedral that was nine miles away from the convent. “Bon Jour, Sisters,” Matata said. We all eagerly climbed into the jeep for a day at the cathedral in the heart of Bujumbura. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Cathedral. It was surprisingly modern with a high tower the dominated all the buildings around it. The interior of the nave was very large and could handle hundreds of people. Everything about the Cathedral was modern. I was used to Cathedrals built in Gothic style as in America with St. Peters Cathedral and the Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C.. We spent some time praying at the small chapels around the outside edge of the Cathedral. The bell tower was most impressive rising about seven stories above the ground. At the gift shop we purchased a few religious items to give to our staff at the convent, and to give to battered woman we counseled. We ate lunch nearby at the Sion public market, and had a most entertaining day.