Monday, July 27, 2009

A weekend in Goma, and instruments from hell.

At around 3pm – after a comfortable, three-hour boat ride across Lake Kivu – Tracy, Simon and I arrived in Goma. The latter is a plagued city while it should be a paradise. The area around the city is fertile, the city is located next to a gorgeous lake, there are incredible parks with wildlife all around (a.o. Virunga National Park), the weather is amazing, etc. But Goma is far from a paradise. It is fertile because of volcanoes; and in 2002 one of them – Nyiragongo – erupted and sent a stream of lava (200 meters to one kilometer wide and up to two meters deep) through the center of the city as far as the lake shore. The nature reserves are nice, but there is one problem. They are also great hide-outs for rebel groups; and are used as such. Also, Goma is located in the east of the Congo on the border with Rwanda; the city was the hub for the refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, because of its strategic position it saw lots of fighting during both the First and the Second Congo War, and recently it was almost overrun by Laurent Nkunda and his CNDP rebels. Oh yes, I almost forgot. It is located next to Lake Kivu, which is about to blow up (see one of my first posts).


After arrival, being picked up by an IRC car and driver, showing our face at IRC’s Goma-office, and checking into the Caritas hotel, we had a walk through the city. Although Goma is one of the bigger city’s of the DR Congo, there is little to do. The main attraction on our walk was a supermarket. There are – in contrast to Bukavu – several good restaurants in Goma. We ended up at a great Indian place, and I made sure that the leftovers was put in a doggy-bag.

Our hotel with view:


A friend and colleague in our PhD-program is from Goma; his family still lives there, and we wanted to visit them. Of course(!) when we tried to call them on Sunday morning, the Zain network was down. We therefore had to go for another walk through Goma, and then walked back to the docks as our boat left at 2pm.

Instruments from hell.

I am not talking about AK47s; I am talking about our boat on the way back to Bukavu. The boatride was horrible. The boat – with 2x 50hp Yamaha engines – was very small. The boat was overcrowded; instead of 14 people there were about 24. The lake was extremely rough; a lot of wind and high waves. Before we had even left a lady threw up, and shortly after taking off the captain's assistant hit his head again a pin in the sealing and had a well-bleeding headwound. The lady sitting in front of me was well over 240 pounds and, as a result, her seat touched the ground and the back of her seat hit the front of my seat; i.e. my legs (already not made for these types of boats) had absolutely no room and I had to place my legs in Tracy’s legs-place. I mentioned the lake was rough. I spent enough time on boats to know that at those moments – in order not to get seasick – one has to look at the horizon. And so I did. The people in the boat did everything but that. They were talking (read: arguing and screaming), looking inside the boat, etc. However, after several minutes, many of them turned quiet and started looking sick. In addition, when, after about an hour, I looked on my GPS device (great stuff) to see how far we still had to go, we were not even a quarter of the way! Combine all this with what I thought was going to be a mix of the the following odors: vomit, petrol, blood, and… the Indian food I brought on the boat (I already smelled it in my bag while on the shore), this boat was a vomit bomb ready to explode.

Then … Idjwi saved us. Idjwi is the world's tenth-largest inland island and stretches out over almost the whole of Lake Kivu. It took the wind - and therefore the waves - away. The boat picket up speed (the GPS device indicated we were going as fast as 45 km/h), the music went on in the boat, sodas were distributed and there was even a working television in the boat. Brilliant.

The boat on the way back:

In the end we arrived at around 530pm; of course an hour later than what the people at the dock in Goma told us, but we were very happy to be back on shore. An IRC car was waiting for us, and after going through customs (yes, each time!) and a short ride back home, Simon and I could finally... dress up. We were invited by our Voix des Kivus Field Coordinator and his wife to have dinner at their place. After a great Congolese dinner (foufou, fish from Lake Kivu, etc.) we arrived back at around 11pm; finally we could sit on a couch and be tired.

Two final random things:

- This is a great report:

- We asked Macartan to send us some money via Western Union. The latter told Macartan that there were no Western Unions in the Congo. Simon and I beg to differ as we have seen tens and tens of them in Bukavu, Lubumbashi and Goma. Hereby proof:

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