“In my prints I try to show that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in formless chaos, (…). I cannot resist fooling around with our established certainties. It gives me great pleasure, for example, to deliberately mix together objects with two and three dimensions, surface and spatial relationships, and to make fun of gravity.” – M.C. Escher
This was my view from the Frankfurt Zoological Society camp in Rumangabo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the eruption of the Nyamuragira, one of the Virunga volcanoes. A true force of nature. Mind-blowing! Working and living in East Congo amazes in every possible way.
The chukudu is the typical wooden, handbuilt, men powered “pick up truck” in East Congo. Like a bicycle, this vehicle converts muscle power into speed. A chukudu costs about USD 20. For the Congolese, the chukudu is the motor of the local economy and it can be the difference between starving and eating. And it often proofs to be more reliable than other means of motorized transport…
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
There was no need to say goodbye in Rumangabo as I will be back soon enough. I spent the last weekend of my first business trip in Goma. Maarten and I worked several hours and we browsed a bit around town. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by how small the world can be, but I still am from time to time. Several examples in Goma, but I just want to mention Adalbert. My previous FZS colleague. It was lovely to catch up with him in the garden of le Chalet restaurant Sunday afternoon. He sets up his own “language business” now. He is translator for the upcoming Virunga documentary by filmmaker Orlando. Details will follow. And also, Adalbert may become Maarten’s French teacher.
As sweet and as strong the one puppy seems to be, so are the African babies and kids generally. The little ones are tight on the back of their Mums or older brothers or sisters. Wrapped in colourful cloths. The bigger ones walk around – sometimes playing with wheels or selfmade toys but often enough helping in the housekeeping/ collecting water.
At the moment, Rumangabo hosts four female bloodhounds, one male Bloodhound and two male Springer Spaniels.
The dogs (all pure bred) are supplied by official breeders and trained on the ground by expert dog trainers. The key skills of the bloodhounds are trailing missing people, poachers, criminals et cetera. The search trained English Springer spaniels are able to find (part of) fire arms and ivory.
It’s also great to experience the reality on the ground in East Congo and to overthrow presumptions from typical Western desk analyses. Just a very plain example: when discussing the hydropower business case with a development banker, the feedback was that there is no market for electricity in these areas. There wouldn’t be enough paying customers. Lack of demand. Well, let’s imagine an area with tens of thousands of people and hardly access to energy. How can a community develop or a local economy progress without energy? There are entrepreneurs, organisations, better-off individuals who do have access to energy: by means of expensive generators.
The first Wednesday afternoon in Rumangabo is full of meetings and discussions. I need to get up to speed. A lot of work has to be done; there are ambitious plans and there is time pressure. Whatever “time” and “pressure” mean in the Congo.
“There are domains in which expertise is not possible. Stock picking is a good example. And in longterm political strategic forecasting, it’s been shown that experts are just not better than a dice-throwing monkey.” – Daniel Kahneman
Maarten and I make our way from Goma to Rumangabo. I won’t elaborate too much on the road quality. In one word: horrendous. Lava (stone) based and potholed. It is a bumpy ride of one and a half hours. Good part of the story is that it is as least as scenic as it is bumpy. First, we pass by the lively suburbs with the colourful markets.
I spend the first day of my stay in DRC in Goma. Catching up with Maarten, Virunga’s Finance Director, and getting to know the Finance, Logistics and HR teams. After an afternoon in the office we go to the lake house. Goma used to be an idyllic town next to Lake Kivu, before it grew out to a million+ inhabitants’ settlement. It is a pretty horrible city, if you ask me.
A new (ad)venture
Monday 3 February 2014, I make my way from Germany to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”). To Virunga National Park in East Congo, the North Kivu province to be precise.
Please find a first impression of the magnificent Virunga National Park here:
Le Réveil des Virunga: