Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back from our first few days in the field.

Yep, we didn’t update our blog for a few days. Reason: Simon and I were in the field to visit several Tuungane projects to get a feel for the project. We left Monday – internet didn’t work on both Sunday and Monday so we couldn’t update the blog – and returned yesterday. We had a team of five people: the driver, Joseph (the IRC coordinator responsible for the projects in Territoire Kalehe), and Bashizi (the engineer responsible for construction quality of projects in the Groupement de Mbinga North), Simon and me.* We went north because at present it is dangerous to the south of Bukavu – the FARDC and MONUC recently started fighting the FDLR.

Monday, June 8.

We travelled on one of DR Congo’s national roads – the N2 between Bukavu and Goma – and only had to drive around 75 kilometers. It took us … about 3.5 hours! Our GPS tracking-devices confirmed that although we drove a 4x4 at the highest speed possible, our average speed was only 22 km/h. Just imagine: if this is one of the best roads in the Congo and we had to drive only 75 kilometers try to get really into the heart of the DRC: a country the size of Western Europe, and without roads similar to the N2.

We stayed over in the local church in the village of Kale (don’t even bother looking it up on a map). Interestingly, government soldiers (FARDC) left less than three months ago – they had confiscated the church for several months. Trucks and jeeps that broke down were still lying scattered around the church. Laurant Nkunda and his rebel troops had confiscated the church before that when he advanced with his troops from Goma on Bukavu; raping and pillaging in the process. We tried not to think too much about the things that most likely have happened within the walls of the room we were sleeping in.

In the afternoon we visited a project only a 2 km drive from the church; the CDV** is called Mungwahere. The villagers were building a “centre d’alphabetisation”. The local chief was quickly at the scene and so were tens of people from the village. While the walls were up and a roof was placed, the floor was not yet done and the windows were not yet in. We had a lively discussion and Simon and I asked many questions. It is incredible how much more one learns from being on the ground compared to reading reports while sitting in a comfortable chair in New York. At around 5pm we headed back to the church. Simon and I – not used to sun-light and overly bumpy roads – were exhausted. We had dinner at the church with the priest and an intern, and because there is only electricity between 645-9pm we were in bed early.

Tuesday, June 9.

The next morning the plan was to leave early. However, we first made sure to tell the local authorities of our presence – one never knows and can’t be too safe. Unfortunately, this took a while, despite the fact that we had our passport and official documentation from the IRC. Reason: A not-important bureaucrat was trying to be top-dog. He said he had to be very strict because many people pretended to be from NGOs while they actually were from a rebel group. He also told us that there would be consequences if we would take pictures (don’t be afraid, we took many). Funny: He looked at my DRC VISA for almost 10 minutes; instead of looking tough he made himself look illiterate.

After a drive of 50 km (i.e. around 2.5 hours) we arrived at another Tuungane project. Here the villagers were building a hospital (see picture). Also this building was not yet finished; they were running out of money as the prices of materials had risen over the last months. Another reason why these projects often take long is transportation. For example, these villagers have to travel 3 days to a nearby village by bike for bricks. The atmosphere was great as a large chunk of the village walked out to greet us. We spend around an hour in Misinzo-Kazo (the name of the CDV) and then went on to the next project site that was relatively close by. After a twenty minute ride we arrived at the CDVs Nukwidja and Cilina: two villages had pulled their resources in order to build a market. At our arrival a village meeting was called together and Simon, Joseph, Bashizi and me had to sit in front of some 100+ people (see other picture). Was great and we learned a lot from the project, how the people perceived it, what the problems are, etc.

In the evening we again had dinner at the church. The dinner at the church was very luxurious (for Congolese standards). We eat bananas and avocados from the garden, foufou (typical Congolese food), and fish from Lake Kivu; Peter had the fish’s head. We had a long chat – as we had the evening before – with Amuli; a very knowledgeable guy of our age who did an intern at the church. He was also headmaster of the local secondary school. We asked him many questions about the civil war, politics, African history, etc. We went to bed, again, relatively early, because the next morning (Wednesday) we left for Bukavo; Macartan arrives on Friday and we better be prepared.

Some final random things.

1. Women carry a lot of stuff. 2. The roads are in really bad shape. Strangely enough, this seems to be especially the case within small towns. 3. The country is utterly beautiful. 4. Why is this country so poor? The food is all around. Corn, for example, grows everywhere. Is that the reason? People never had a need to cooperate or build tools for survival? 5. “MONUC”! “ MONUC”! Is what the small children scream when they see us. Everyone that is white is seen as a UN soldier. 6. The village chief in the first village we visited wanted us to bring him to the entrance of the village. We think it is for status reasons; being seen in a big 4x4 car and with the people that provide money to the village. 6. Most cars on the road (which are very few) are either humanitarian agencies or UN, or trucks bringing commercial goods from Bukavu to Goma or vice versa (the latter are most of the times stuck in the mud). 7. “If you find a dog on a tree-branch, you should ask yourself who put it there.” An interesting Congolese saying that was used by Amuli in the context of Rwanda; while it is a very small country it is very powerful in this region. Reason: Likely backed up by the West. 8. There are so many small children in the Congo.

* From large to small, the DR Congo is organized as follows: Province -> Territoire -> Groupement -> Chefferie.

**CDV stands for Community Development Village. An indication used by the IRC for the level at which projects are undertaken. A CDV consists out of around 1,200 people.

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