So, here I am.
On my 25 hour journey (4 airplanes, 1 four hour delay in Nairobi, and lots of chewing gum), I read an excellent book called The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a very comprehensive political history of the DRC from colonization until the ascension of Joseph Kabila in 2001.
One reason why the history and problems of the DRC are so complicated is that they transcend national boundaries. Here in Eastern Congo, the actors include not only entities within the DRC, but also from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, China, the USA, France, and Belgium, to name just a few. One cannot tell the story of the DRC without underscoring the role it plays on a regional and even international level. All the more reason to give a voice to the people in the DRC; they have long been powerless under the boots of the political elite, the men with guns, and their neo-colonialist collaborators.
Uvira is a town centered upon a single long avenue, made of crumbling asphalt. It is banked on three sides by green hills, houses fading up into the steep grade. To the east of Uvira is Lake Tanganyika, a roiling indigo cauldron. The main avenue is lined with shops, houses, wooden stands, makeshift offices, churches, and one mosque. Bananas, peanuts, fish, manioc, gasoline, all are available at any interval along the road. Motorcycle taxis buzz back and forth; helmets are now mandatory for driver and passenger, an odd piece of order amid the atmosphere of chaos.
There is really nothing that can compare to the experience of Africa, the blinding midday heat, women in colorful pagnes carrying loads on their heads, speakers rattling out bouncy rhythms, the hazardous act of traversing an avenue full of speeding Toyotas. I am learning important words and phrases in Swahili (how are you, rice, bananas, I am tired, you are beautiful like the glowing moon, etc.), but it is coming along slowly. Fortunately, Ned and Isidord are very patient teachers.
I live with Ned, my fellow AP fellow, and Isidord, Ned’s Congolese friend, in a small house in the Quartier Kavimvira, Uvira, Sud Kivu, DRC. The house is made of mud, has a nice cement latrine, and an outdoor kitchen with a crumbling stove originally from a refugee camp. No running water, no electricity, no problem. The house is in a compound with another house, all surrounded by a bamboo fence, or lupongo ya matete. When I take a motorcycle taxi, I am supposed to tell the driver to stop at the lupongo ya matete. We also have a really cool cat named Obama. Just last night, Obama disemboweled a very large rat inside our house, leaving blood and guts all over the floor. Hope, change, and killer of disease-carrying rats.
There has not been any fighting around my neighborhood for the last three weeks, but I am told the situation may change at any moment. I have definitely seen a lot of soldiers walking around with scintillating new Chinese-made assault rifles and heavy machine guns.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Jun 11th, 2009