08.11.2010 38 °C
One of my boyfriend’s cousins is visiting Kinshasa at the moment. He was born here but left when he was 3 years old to live in Europe, 32 years ago. Last week they were leaving a terrace at 1am and an 8 year old street kid approached him and asked him for 500CF [less than 50 cents] to buy food. He burst into tears, gave the kid $10, jumped into the car and fled for the hotel. My initial reaction was fury; ‘how ridiculous, he was born here and yet he knows so little about the place and has taken so little interest that he is shocked by street kids’. The average person’s lack of knowledge about the world south of the Mediterranean Sea is enough to send me on a rant, but someone who is actually Congolese?! I was apoplectic.
On reflection, and after a bit of an ear-bashing from my other half, I think maybe this was a little harsh. Reading articles and watching 30 second news clips can only go so far to preparing you for a midnight encounter with a primary school child, not quite dressed in old grey charity clothes, asking you for pocket change to avoid picking through the gutters to survive. But it also made me think that perhaps I have become de-sensitised to the things I see and hear and do everyday, and I am not sure it’s a good thing. It enables me to do my job without losing my mind and I will never ‘accept the reality’ of street kids or widespread rape, but I have started to understand how and why – nothing is inexplicable or unimaginable anymore.
I am back in Gemena, and on arrival I was greeted by news from the 3 teams I left behind in Dongo that rebels were on the move and the town was on ‘yellow alert’ [which means absolutely nothing], but as I said rumour is King in RDC so nobody really knows what is happening. Fingers crossed. I also work in South Equateur and tomorrow I leave for our base in Mbandaka [there is talk of a pizzeria and I have been dreaming about cheese for days]. In April 70 young men with machetes took over the town, captured the airport and generally created widespread panic among politicians in Kinshasa. Our teams have been doing Battle Area Clearance in and around the town ever since. Between 1998 and 2001 this whole area was the scene of intense fighting; one of our technical teams is currently in Ikela Territory which was bombarded and Ikela Town was largely destroyed so the level of pollution in the area is huge, 275 UXOs for a population of 15,000. But a local NGO and the local authorities have been encouraging the local population to ‘hide’ items and to refuse to give vital information to de-mining teams. One man was found to be hiding a live rocket under his bed. We often get asked for money in exchange for information, but this is something else. I will be spending the next two weeks finding out lots more about Equateur south of the river, meeting the flood of NGOs that installed themselves here after events in April, and sampling the local riverside restaurants and bars [including the infamous 222 nightclub]........