Last one out, please turn off the generator.
Our driver is on holiday at the moment. But I am not.
Yesterday was Mutsora Ishango, Ishango Kasindi, Kasindi Mutsora.
I could have just said that I went to Ishango and then Kasindi, but that’s not how you do things here. Instead destinations are repeated and listed like a train timetable, and then punctuated by Beau-coup! This then gives everyone listening the chance to repeat Beau-coupif not once, then twice; Beaucoup,Beau-coup.
Kasindi is on the frontier of Uganda, and comes with all the tension you’d expect from a Congo border town. Despite still being in the DRC it’s impossible to use Congolese Francs, and the chickens are not Congolese either; they’re much fatter. Tastier even.
Truck parked at Lubiriha, Kasindi.
The road to the frontier separates Virunga park from the town, but during the ‘rebellion’ the town spilled into the park and it is still spreading. It is parkside where you can get the better tasting chicken.
Today’s travelling was Mutsora Kasindi, Kasindi Beni, Beni Mutsora. Beau-coup.
Leaving Kasindi; filling the valley is Virunga National Park.
I took fellow volunteers to the border, who will continue their travels until Nairobi.
Due to the dangerous nature of Congolese parklife, all other NGOs have self imposed bans on entering Virunga. I however actually live in the park. In a tent.
Semliki River, Virunga National Park.
In the last couple of weeks Virunga has received a lot of media attention with “the most moving environmental story of the year”. Like a film, something can only be ‘moving’ if watched from afar. Here in Virunga there is no story, it is a reality and it is desperate.
Despite the war ending a few years ago, Congo has still not made it to being a post-war society. Because of this it’s hard to look out for warning signs as nothing is ever peaceful here, and I truly hope that ‘if’ does not become ‘when’, but apart from the gorillas I’ve been following another story through my feedreader this past week:
7th Aug DR Congo and Uganda in Border Talks (Al Jazeera)
10th Aug Uganda accuses Congo gunmen of crossing border, killing 3 people (International Herald Tribune)
10th Aug Uganda threatens Congo over raids (BBC News)
11th Aug Congo Army halts operations against Rwandan rebels (Reuters)
11th Aug Uganda: Air Force to Patrol against Congo Attacks (The Monitor -Ugandan Newspaper)
12th Aug Uganda: Congo Troops Occupy Country’s Territory (The Monitor -Ugandan Newspaper)
This is only one thread of news out of the many outbursts of violence that have occurred here in the East in the last three/four weeks, but this one is the more noticeable because it started with ‘Talks’.
Although seemingly separate, the simultaneous decision for the Congolese military to halt operations against Rwandan rebels is worrying. Especially as the story being weaved into the Ugandan media is that it is the Interahamwe (Hutus) who are responsible for the recent attack in Uganda. I’ve been told that due to locations of rebel groups, it is far more likely that this was a calculated attack by the mixed, yet Nkunda loyal, ‘Congolese’ military in Southern Virunga.
Living in a park station, I’m desensitized to men in military uniform and wayward pointing guns - twice while driving along an incredibly bumpy road yesterday I had to stop the pick-up and tell the ranger behind me to stop pointing his AK47 at the back of my head - but despite this desensitization and despite their prolific numbers, I can’t help but be very aware of the Congolese military.
On the road between Mutsora and Beni the military have put road blocks on either side of the bridge that traverses the Semliki River.
Military controlled bridge, Virunga National Park
On the other side of the bridge, you can just make out their hut to the left of the road. I often pass this bridge without incident, but being in an NGO, and one that works for the park, it is forbidden for me to interact with, give rides too, or give money to the military. Which makes sense.
However each vehicle which passes this bridge pays a ‘toll’, and so you can imagine while waiting for the barrier to be lifted, the tension created by not paying. Add to this a military man who is drunk and stoned and things can be rather uncomfortable -although to be fair, so far this has happened only the once.
Just before this bridge, headed towards Beni, there is a stretch of road that runs through the park, and upon entering the jungle the humidity is palpable. It is nearly always empty of people, and it is also a lot darker than the picture below suggests.
Vers Beni, Virunga National Park
It was on this road this morning where I found myself behind 800 - 1,000 military, marching in formation and singing in Lingala. For five long minutes we were directed to drive, very slowly, past the troops, the smell of their sweat hanging in the humidity and their song heightening the silence of the forest.
They were heading towards Nyaleke, an illegally positioned Camp de Brassage inside Virunga National Park. Apparently this a regular part of their exercise, and after six months of being here I should have come across them sooner.
Tomorrow is another day of travel: Mutsora Beni, Beni Goma, Goma Rumangabo.
Goma is a dirty, dangerous city, with a high UN and NGO presence. Oh, and a great big active volcano too.
Lava covered road, Goma
Although it’s not all bad as there is a shop that sells Mars bars and, if you work for an NGO, it’s very easy to sit by the lake and make Goma look like this:
Le Chalet, Goma
Unfortunately I’ll be in and out of Goma, as my final destination is Rumangabo.
To see where Rumangabo is, head to the map at the bottom of this page, and you’ll see the Park Station about 3 miles outside of the Nkunda controlled area.
Well, this evening is already tomorrow, and tomorrow I need to be up at six. So I must now turn off the generator, try to go to the loo without startling the sleeping guards, and then head to my mouse infested tent. The internet connection in Rumangabo is rubbish, so this could be the last post for a couple of weeks. Kwa heri.