Monday, February 8, 2010

Into the field.

Last Wednesday I hired my own 4x4, a driver and enough petrol for a long day in the field with JP and Herman (see here). We were going to their birth village for two reasons.

First, although I have already read a ziljon pages on and visited tens of villages in Eastern Congo, I know very little about
the mundane issues of Congolese rural life. I thus wanted to sit down with villagers and ask basic questions: Where are you fields? What do you grow? Why? If IDPs arrive can they make use of it? Etc. Secondly, JP and Herman have a small project in their birth village (see here again), and I was interested in knowing more about it.

The car picked me up at 730am; one can’t leave earlier for security reasons. And after buying some water and bread for during the day and picking up JP, Herman and their mom, we left for the village Mushugula (localite Mushinga, territoire Mwenga,
province Sud Kivu). Because of bad roads and not knowing where the village is (JP and Herman normally walk to their birth village), it took us 4 hours instead of the expected 2 hours.

We did have great views, though:


Already in the car I started asking questions as the mother of JP and Herman is very old and she was very interesting to talk to. Btw, for most of the trip she sat crying in the back; being happy as she hadn’t been to her village in months. She also had some salt with her for her two cows. In brief, in 1996 her house was burned down by the RCD and she fled for Bukavu and has lived there ever
since. Now, although she wants to work on her fields, she is too old to return.

A friend of JP is mining in Fizi (another territoire of Sud Kivu) and walked three days to give him 25 dollars and a letter for his wife. I asked JP why his friend didn’t walk another day to be home. JP told me that because his friend has been mining in Fizi for over a year the family’s expectations are high; he can
only return if he has money and many presents.


There are many old women that lost their husband and although they own fields they have to beg to survive because they are too old to work on their fields. These old women have a "shameful life". This sounds utterly inefficient, and thus I was interested.

JP and Herman’s project is
to provide small amounts of second-hand clothing to young villagers to motivate them to cultivate the old women’s fields; so that her fields are used, the young people are happy, and the old lady does no longer have to beg. This sounds great, but still inefficient to me. I therefore spend a lot of time chatting with JP, Herman and many old women to understand what was going on. I have more than 30 minutes of video of us talking about this (hope to post that one day), but here two Q&As:
  • Me: Don’t the old women have any children that can help?
    Answer: Yep, they have children. But, the women leave as soon as they get married, and the men get a wife and children and then as Herman noted “do no longer think about their parents”. Also, it is already difficult to obtain enough food for your own wife and children.
  • Me: Why give the young people second-hand clothes? That is, why doesn’t the old lady say in the village “work on my field and of the 100 potatoes I get 20 and you keep 80”?
    Answer: Not only is there not much profit to be divided from a field, most young
    people are “too ambitious to work on a field that is not their own”. Also, they prefer to go to the mining areas to dig for gold. Only with second-hand clothing can they be persuaded.
During our talk we made use of much material to illustrate our questions and answers. Below, the piece of wood indicates a field, the leave an old woman, the pieces of branch are children, and the pieces of straw indicate the border of sub-fields:

All in all, I very exited about JP and Herman's project. Their project makes sense and it necessary. They call their project TKM or Tumaini Kwa Mukosefu, which means, in Swahili, "Hope for the people in need". Below is one of these people. I will write more on the project soon.

Heading back

My GPS device indicated that the sun would set at 627pm and therefore, for security reasons, I told the group we would head back at 2pm. Although JP and Herman told me the we needed only about 2 hours as there was a good road, I have by now spend too much time in the Congo to actually belief that. I was correct.

Of course we only left around 230pm. But ones we were driving I thought it would actually take only 2 hours as the road was, surprisingly, good. Then after 30 minutes on the road, of course, a 1.5 meter high pile of dirt was covering the road from left to right. Right behind the pile several Congolese had dug a 1.5 meter deeper hole so that an irrigation pipe could be placed below the road. Of course instead of first doing the left side of the road (so that cars can pass on the right) and then vice versa, they had done the whole road.

Not only did we have to drive those 30 minutes back, we subsequently had to take roads of utterly bad quality. We
arrived in Bukavu only shortly before dark. It was yet another absolutely great day though!

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