Report Back from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

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The DRC was one of those places I often referenced when talking about places I would never be crazy enough to visit.  For instance when people wrongly think that Iran is a place of “chaos and war” I correct them- “It’s not like it’s the DRC” I often say.  Here in Rwanda I heard many stories about the violence that goes on over in the Congo.  The violence perpertarted against women is on par with Darfur- it is said to be a lawless corrupt place- not a place I would risk going to.  But then I went.  Unlike other countries, I still believe, post visit, that the DRC is a place which is very dangerous.  I am not an expert- I just read books & read news- all of which could be misconstrued propaganda.  That said, the NGO workers I have met who have been there tell me that what I hear about the DRC in the news is correct, if anything understated.  Like the long going genocide in Rwanda, foreign powers seem to turn a blind eye. The chaos in the Congo makes it so they can rape the land of its natural resources- including minerals which are used in cell phones, and diamonds… seems like that may be why no one does anything about it (my opinion at least).

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I hired a guide to take me around- I was told that one is absolutely a must or else a tourist like me would get hassled to death.  Even with a guide we were bombarded by people desperate to make money that they would surround us trying to get us to go on their motor taxi or buy something- quite different from Rwanda.  We visited a poor part of the city of Goma, near the airport & just one of the many UN compounds.  There young children in scraps of clothing toiled away clinking at rocks-  the rocks are in fact dried lava, as most of the town of Goma was covered in lava after a volcano erupted in 2002.  My guide tried to show me some houses still immersed in lava but as we tried to walk to the area a man came out behind a shack and started screaming at us- he seemed to be very angry.  My guide said that the man was simply “overtaken with joy in seeing a visitor” Ha!  That story again changed to “he’s a hooligan who smokes marijuana” and then finally to “It is a government official who wants a bribe.” 

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We also visited the “rich” part of Goma- which is on the lake- land which was not there pre volcano eruption.  There we chatted with prostitutes drinking beer in shacks as construction on houses went on all around them.  We still had to stumble around on dried lava which made visiting this area even more exhausting- never mind the emotional inundation.  The newly built compounds were surrounded by bundles and bundles of razor wire.  I asked who lived in these homes as we passed some homeless people getting comfortable in the driveway entrance of one home. “They’re empty” my guide explained.  I guess they are counting on NGOs to rent them out for their foreign workers.  The UN has its biggest mission going in the DRC; from what I saw most of them consist of Indians and Uruguayans- we saw them riding about 100 to a truck- heading over to Rwanda for some R&R.  I can imagine it is extremely intense and depressing working in the DRC- something I have learned this trip is that the darkness and intensity n this region is something far too powerful for me at this point in my life- it would engulf me.  I don’t think I could ever live and work here.

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In my brief visit I saw images of war and abject poverty at a level unlike I have seen before – a little boy sucking on a real gun on roadside, hate in a young boys eyes when he saw me, women walking about as empty vessels- no doubt they had been raped at least one in their lifetime, wooden bicycles that look like they are out of the movie Mad Max ridden by young boys in dirty ragged clothing- desperate for work or a way to make money.  I could not help but think of the DRC as a crying helpless baby- only wanting its mother and the most basic of comforts- but it cries in vain- no one comes- at least not to help- take advantage of her yes- help- no.  The DRC cries alone- shivering- cold, hungry, terrified.  I pray for this country’s people- what a horrific and unjust existence.  No one should have to live that way just so the rick can get richer.  We are very lucky to have been born where we were born- I think it is up to us to speak up and help those who have had the bad luck to have been born into something so horrible.

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1 Comment

  1. Mars
    January 2, 2010

    Wonderful pictures and text, Michelle. There´s a documentary called “Jupiter´s Dance”, on the music of Congo. It´s really impressive. Did you hear about Jupiter and the Okwess International while you were there? They´re from the city of Kinshasa – a very musical, creative place, but extremely poor.

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