Friday, June 5, 2009

From our balcony (first DRC post)

My first post from the Congo. To be more specific, a post from the balcony of IRC House 5 in Bukavu (IRC is the International Rescue Committee – more on them in the next post). It is around 10pm now. Yesterday – late in the evening – we arrived in Kigali. After a taxi-ride from the airport, a tasty local beer, a night in an ok hotel in Kigali, another taxi-ride back to the airport in the morning, and a 45 minute flight we arrived this morning at around 11am at Kamembe airport. We were picked up by a 4x4 of the IRC. We crossed Rwanda’s border, then Congo’s border and finally arrived at the IRC headquarter. We were introduced to the IRC, the house where we will live for upcoming two months, we did logistics, and we just came back from a dinner with IRC staff. Regarding some keywords:


Simon and I live in a house that is owned by the IRC. The house is perfect. We each have our own room, big bed with mosquito-net, there is internet connection (albeit extremely slow), we have a cook and cleaner, and… we have a view on Lake Kivu from our balcony. In total we live here with 4 people. The two of us, plus Jana and Stefan (more on both in a future post as well). Also, the temperature is great and I haven't been stung by a mosquito yet.


This is likely the word I have heard most often today. Bukavo seems to be relatively ‘safe’. During the day one can walk over the streets without additional security people. The IRC, however, is really tight on security. Staff is not expected to walk over the streets and everybody makes use of 4x4s of the IRC; these cars are constantly in contact with "the base". Each of us received a radio and a cellphone (in case the radio doesn't work); to call in a 4x4 and driver, but also to call if something goes wrong; we should always have them close. We have two panic buttons in the building. We also have a 24/7 guard at the house. When we went to dinner this evening we were driven and the driver waited outside. Interestingly, when we were in the car on our way back the IRC radio center called around all the names of the IRC people (a few hundred) and everybody has to respond via radio. A nice security check I hadn’t seen before. Anyhow, security is tight, which seems wise. While Bukavo seems safe at the moment, everybody acknowledges that the situation is fluid; it can change any minute. This is especially so now the government – together with, among others, MONUC – has started a military operation in this area to push the FDLR (Hutu rebels here in the East) back into Rwanda. People here do not yet know what is going to happen because of this. There is quite a bit of uncertainty. The people here however seem quite relaxed and we join them in that.

First impressions.

Let me finish this first post from Congo with my first impressions. I have four. In chronological order. 1. When I was in Rwanda I caught myself thinking: Would this person be a Hutu or a Tutsi? While the genocide happened more than 15 years ago, I did think about it when I was there. Do the people of Rwanda think the same? Unfortunately, our stay in Kigali was very short. 2. The area is beautiful. Lake Kivu is a pearl, the mountains are big and green and flowers and birds are everywhere. Was it not for war, poverty, etc. this would definitely be heaven on earth. 3. The IRC is very well-organized. Our pick-up at Kigali was on time, we received a security briefing, we received brand new mobile phones and radios, if it wasn't the case that we already had 3 laptops with us they would have provided us with laptops as well, the drivers keep track of what they drive and when, security is tight, etc. 4. The roads are really bad - one really can't do without 4x4s - and there are many international organizations around. On the latter, today we have seen many MONUC soldiers (i.e. the blue helmets based here in DR Congo), and cars from (to mention a few): the IRC, CIRC, WFP, Medicines du Monde, MSF, UN, OCHA.

I hope to upload a few photos in a bit, but the internet connection is slow (extremely slow).

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