The Main Road
The lava poured down the high st submerging everything in its way.
We walk across, the mini bus we were in seems to of disappeared - but we still haven’t paid - obviously the driver couldn’t be bothered with the two mzungu’s who were taking so much time at immigration. We hand over our thirty-five US dollars, request tourist visas and a very faint stamp is stuck in our passports stating eight days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I say something like “Shit, were actually in the Congo”.
Our bus has driven off and we walk down the road. It looks very much the town on the Rwandan side. In my mind it should be all dense jungles and long rivers. I’d wished the border to be a dark brown river, to cross on a dug out canoe and enter a dense forest on the other side. I motor bike pulls up and we tell him the name of the hotel we plan to stay in, the only cheap one in town. He asks for $1 but we pull out some Rwanda francs and say we’ll give him about 50 cents. We jump on and are driven a few hundred meters up the road before turning off and bumping down
You can see how much lava poured through. The road would originally be three meters under this.
dirt track for a couple of hundred meters.
The hotel manager wants US$15 for a room worth $2. It’s doesn’t have an on-suite bathroom and there’s no hot water. The room is simple and basic but cleanish and two complementary condoms have been left out. We settle at US$10 and go for a walk around town. We check out another hotel just down the road to see if we can get better value for money. Its Belgium built but seen better days, a simple shell of its former glory. We see a room. It’s even shabbier than ours but has an ancient bathroom and (maybe) hot water. The management wants US$30 for this room. We walk out gob smacked at the price.
The town is covered in volcanic rock. On the 17th January 2002 the volcano Mount Nyiragongo erupted covering the town with a thick layer of lava. Casualties were low due to the slow speed of the lava. I didn’t notice at first until we realised that the road was half way up the buildings. Just as if the street had decided to sink. The door ways and widows are half full of lava. Huge piles of
grey stone are scattered around town. Grey boulders line the road side. Grey mist and haze cover the sky and the notorious volcano that towers over the town is hidden.
I had seen a mini film on the back of a friend’s camera - red hot lava bubbling and boiling, only a couple of hundred meters away. For the pricey sum of one hundred dollars it’s possible to walk up to the top of the Volcano, stand on the edge of the crater and stare in. Where else in the world would you be allowed to do this? Camping the night on the edge of the crater had been the plan. But we never achieve this as the national park is closed because of rebel activity in the area.
I check the MONUC (The UN mission in DRC) web page before going across the border. It states that the North East of Congo is one and the most violently hostile places on the planet. In the last two months the Congo had had its first democratically held elections. Joseph Kabila had won it, the son of the previously assassinated leader. Violence had followed. Kabila still has very little
I guess it says "Beware of men"
control over the country and the rebel group in the north east had boycotted the elections. The same rebel group I assumed was also stopping me from seeing the volcano. I later learn that fighting was going on as close as five kilometers from the city.
Between 1998 and 2003 a war was fought in the Congo which costs the lives of over four million people. How come the world knows nothing about it? That’s half the number of Jews put to death by the Nazi’s. Is the old cliché really true? The world cares nothing about Africans killing Africans. Are the powers that be really that racist? The war is complicated, very complicated - at one point involving as many as nine different countries. The thing which sticks out, the real reason for the conflict, and possibly any sort of conflict, is money and resources. The Congo is rich is minerals, oil, gold and coltan. A substance used in mobile phones, and a substance only found in the Congo.
Plenty of planes pass over head all day. I’m surprised at the amount until I learn that they’re all cargo planes flying the resources to else where. This
explains the advert I’d seen during the day advertising flights direct to Brussels, Madrid and Amsterdam. I’d thought it odd that you could flight direct from Europe to Goma.
We stubble about the rock and grey sand streets. There’s not a lot about. For a city of four hundred thousand is seems very quiet. There’s a shack selling souvenirs to the mzungu aid workers and UN soldiers who are based in Goma. The UN’s largest peace keeping mission is currently going on in the Congo. Huge UN trucks of Indian soldiers drive past, their blue helmets showing their neutrality. Mzungu’s are plentiful in their land cruisers, everyone from Oxfam to the World Wildlife Foundation are there. There’s actually more mzungu’s here than I’d seen in along time. We past a jeep full of government soldiers their all heavily armed and some even have small rocket launchers sitting on their shoulders. It’s a little unnerving but the reality of where I actually am hits in a bit more. We wonder on. I’m constantly looking for a glimpse of the volcano through the hazy sky but don’t see one.
We venture to a bar for a drink. The menu’s in
US dollars and the clientele are all mzungu - bar a few local prostitutes. It happy hour on Primus beer so we buy one and get one free. We check the menu out, but there nothing for less than US$10. Pizza, pasta, lasagna - it’s all there if you can afford it. The menu says all products are imported from Europe. I’d wanted to go clubbing. Congolese music was until fairly recently the music of east Africa. Now artists from there respective countries are catching up. But I’m told only a few years ago from Mombasa to Dar es Salem the music was always Congolese. I hadn’t exactly seen any clubs but I’d imagined a dark and dingy hut, which on entering screamed banging music and warm beer, a stench of BO and a “Is this really safe” thought going through your mind. But the happy hour has taken its told, and after I’d splashed out on a pizza we were both ready for bed. The bar was pleasant enough it just seemed surreal that in a country ripped apart by war, someone was smart enough to make a few quid and set up a bar for the westerners who
flock there to help.
We leave the Congo after just two nights. Again I learn very little and speak to no one. Again I am ignorant tourist.
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