LOUIS ABELMAN

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Internet access has been difficult for the last week and the power supply episodic. I like reading with candles but I miss nightly action movies with Aimé and Kitsa, who huddle together and whisper intensely as they try to piece together the plot of “Spiderman II” or “Hellboy” without understanding English. They liked Spiderman and described it as “that movie with the red ninja… and the snake-man who walks like a cowboy” (Doc Oc?). Makusu, the 19-year old guard with the baby-face, likes violent movies and makes machine-gun sounds when referring to them, and he’s usually holding a machine gun while he does.

I’m finding it hard to grasp the seriousness of events here as they happen or are recounted to me. The general attitude towards life is slack and shrugging with regard to even the most frightening things– which I guess is normal when you can’t even remember a time of relative stability. Then there is the tendency, among Congolese, to discount unpleasantness, and the tendency among young expats to gleefully exult in the proximity of carnage because it proves how bad-ass you are to be in a warzone and everything (see the posturing in this very blog). But it can get to you sometimes.

There have been run-ins with officialdom and the police state. It is difficult to take pictures in public and illegal unless you have the right papers, which we admittedly should have but have been slow in getting. We were out taking pictures of carbonized cars that are immerged in solid lava and ourselves pretending to drive them when a bunch of plainclothes guys surrounded us and started arresting us for “photographing a military installation.” Jo was in Kigali so he couldn’t rescue us; a young DOCS surgical resident happened by and tried to resolve things, “Congolais à Congolais.” No dice and we were taken to the security station by armed escort. Speaking French I pleaded with Capitaine Christian, the bleary-eyed security officer in charge, for a good twenty minutes and did all the groveling I could, but in the end it was Dr. Justin who got us out of it. “Congolais à Congolais.” I now regret passing up the offer to broker tantalite and diamonds in the U.S. for Desiré, one of the “plainclothes security officers” or maybe just their associate.

White people=money. The children say very gravely the phrase they know in French, “Mr. the white man, give me money.”

What is the difference between extreme poverty and “insecurity”? Is it worse to die by violence or disease? To be a refugee from another country or an Internally Displaced Person in your own? (it makes a difference to UNHCR.) To be raped or widowed, or raped and widowed, or simply to die of complications from childbirth?

We did an expedition to Masisi territory, adjacent to Goma territory in North Kivu but high in the green volcanic mountains on 80 miles of dirt road… It used to be called the Switzerland of Congo for its dairy production and steep cultivated inclines, but it has been desolated by a decade of constant war (indeed, the Congo wars started in the area). No power, no water and villages made up of mud and wattle huts. They are beautiful, those huts, they look timeless, they hang in clumps from impossibly steep slopes of bean and banana fields, but no one would choose to live in them. They are pure products of rural destitution. Say the Mamas we talked to up there, “We are miserable… help us to build houses of tin that keep the water out.” But the mud houses are so lovely! I say to myself. Romance dies hard. I don’t think we were really supposed to go up there but Mama Jeanne, who lives in an orphanage of sixty kids and runs “Gueri Mon Peuple,” the program for fistular women in the territory, guided us, palms greased a little by the donation of 100 pounds of rice and sugar, as well as three cases of Fanta and some sacks of bread. It’s rebel territory (rebel? bandit? It’s a mess up there) so we came home before nightfall. I will remember the women who walked miles over the mountains to see us, the wooden divan for a sick woman carried to the hospital by ten men, piglets, long horn cattle, and the misty landscape like an amazing vertical quilt of fields.

I won my first game of tennis. I even served an ace. I still jump like a girl when I go for the ball though.

Written by louis

November 21st, 2004 at 11:30 am

Posted in Blog

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