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.
Other road users are NGO four-wheel drive cars with a lot of logo’s and stickers (you can’t believe how many different charities and organisations there are and also how much equipment the UN has in this part of the world), countless motorbikes and of course my favourite chukudus. Chukudus are the logistical drivers of the local economy***. At the outskirts of Goma we pass by the fireball fabric****. This is a trial and error product of Virunga National Park. They seem to have the product right now and it should be a matter of logistics and marketing to get it going. Once on the road to Rumangabo, the fields, hills and volcanoes of Virunga surround us. Wonderful. We arrive at the Virunga headquarters around noon. What a happy return!
I spent several months at the FZS Rumangabo office and worked on the chimpanzee project in Tongo. Good memories, it was a unique experience with great colleagues. Even after more than two years, I’m still known as “Anita de Frankfort”. I hear a lot of “bienvenue” and “karibu” (resp. French and Swahili for “welcome”). To be honest, it is sometimes painful not to remember all and everybody’s names, which is hopefully a matter of time.
For sure I am happy to see everybody in good health, as the past two years were tough for the colleagues and the local population. After the elections in 2012, the M23 rebels took over the Goma area and it was like a war zone.
The good news is that, despite the instability, projects developed. There is so much to catch up on.
*** The “chukudu”
The “chukudu” is like a wooden bike/ scooter invented by local vegetable merchants in Kibumba – an agricultural village uphill from the bigger town Goma. The merchants had to transport a lot of goods to the market downtown and developed this vehicle that can carry up to 500kg. Various smaller and lighter versions are available for kids in different age groups. The chukudu drives like crazy downhill (although it does have a “break mechanism”) and needs to be pushed uphill (it doesn’t have pedals).
Fertile volcanic soils and the lakes make the Virunga region one of the most cultivated and densely populated regions in Africa, with crop fields right up against the Park boundaries and more than a thousand people per square mile. The charcoal that constitutes 98 per cent of a household’s energy source comes from the forests inside the Park. Charcoal is both a local necessity as a source of great controversy; its extraction represents am estimated USD 35m illegal industry.
Virunga is in a “trial and error” improvement process with regard to the development of alternatives for charcoal. In 2010-2011, Virunga worked on a briquette project. This didn’t work out as hoped for due to a lack of quality/ too expensive. This project was followed up by the “fire balls” initiative. They got the concept right this time. The fireballs are seen as good quality and well-priced products. For about USD 100 a family has enough fireballs for two months. Now logistics and a commercial mind failed. It were some tough years in 2012-2013, so a rebound may follow in due course. I will keep you posted!