The crew is up-river. Up the Congo River that is and preparing – only preparing – to start up the Lomami River. Originally from Mbandaka, the crew is now in Kisangani, the big bend in the Congo River, and even further upriver than Kurtz’s ramparts – that’s the Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The crew’s immediate mission: buy food, collect the fuel and most importantly, buy the right dugout for the river trip. They are investigating every fisherman’s wharf and consulting local expert carvers.
With Bernard you know someone is watching the details and calculating consequences. Incredibly important.
In Salonga, his first job was looking into park border disputes. He stood out immediately. He drew a map of the area showing all the villages and where the park border was meant to be. The details were minutely precise and the map was to scale, explaining everything about the area. It was far more than was expected and showed he had qualities that the other guys just did not possess.
He is now my top chef d’équipe (team leader) and I feel he will go really far. He is also a great father to his kids, which I like as well. A young man with real character.
Maurice is long-experienced as chef d’équipe. He worked in Salonga for many years, first helping to assess elephant density and then looking for bonobo. He knows a lot about data collection: what data are needed and how to be accurate and complete in recording. I never have problems with his data. From notebook to computer—one step. All in all he’s someone I can rely on totally—and I know I will need that.
Marlene is key. The only woman in the équipe, at this point, and respected by all. A job description would put her as cook, but she is cook with corn starch stirred right in and holding us altogether. No matter what crisis is going on, she just gets on with her work. I went with Marlene for the mega voyage up to Lomela in Salonga NP. This was an 8 day trip in the pirogue, small compared to what we are about to start, but sill it took a lot of organizing. No freeze dried rations here!
She had a tiny area in the front of the pirogue where she worked, and always managed to come up with great food everyday for over 20 people. That is no mean feat and a she’s a sort-of mama to the guys besides. After a week I knew she was a must for taking care of all of us.
Now Jonathan. Without him I would be pretty worried about pushing off onto unknown waters. But Jonathan just knows rivers, he has a feel for rivers, pirogues and motors. He can carry on all night if it is needed. Tremendous energy and courage. To steer these pirogues at night is incredibly dangerous and he is always in control. I never worry with him there. Put it this way, other people tried to hire him away from us, but we got him. He trusts me and knows that when I say he will get paid every month for x amount of time that actually happens.
Assistant of Johnathan
A new person. Interviewed well. No blah blah, very calm and experienced.
What can I say about Maga. He is a man of the forest. We hired him in Salonga as assistant cook to Marlene but he knows the forest so well, I think it is time to move him onto the teams.
Forest work is physically very demanding. When you arrive at camp at the end of the day most everybody collapses. Well Maga after hauling heavy loads all day is the sort of guy who gets the fire going immediately, makes me a coffee, washes my revolting sweat sodden clothes and gets dinner ready for everybody. Quite a guy. Oh and he named his child after me. Okay so I’m totally vain. Every team like this needs a Maga. I believe he will go far.
Ashley Vosper — His GPS is going down the Lomami
Terese Hart — I’ve got the pen and provisions