John reports his adventures as he moves towards meeting Ashley on the Lomami:
Our arrival in Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu and our jumping off point for Kindu, coincided with the renewal of conflict in the surrounding hills between the Congolese army, FARDC, and troops loyal to the dissident Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, recently featured in the National Geographic story on the killing of Mountain gorillas in Virungas National Park.
Dino’s job in Goma was to make sure our two new motorcycles were on air frieght to Kindu. Not an easy job. Dino in red jacket.
We found Goma a-tizzy with FARDC action. Soldiers everywhere, Kalashnikovs at their side, zooming about on the back of motorbike taxis in what even a hopeful observer would have to call chaotic frenzy. Unavoidable problems: We witnessed two soldiers in bare-knuckle combat on a side street we were trying to cross to get to the medical clinic. Hundreds were crowded around, spectator sport. There was even one curious soul who hobbled out of the clinic pushing his intravenous serum hook-up with tube taped into his arm.
FARDC appears less well engaged on the battle front than in impromptu street fights. Laurent Nkunda’s forces, Radio Okapi informs us, have taken several villages and are still moving. Sorting rumor from fact is not easy, but there was no surprise at recent news quoting Global Witness that Congolese army and “enemy” Rwandan rebels were cooperating to form protection rackets around artisanal gold and tin mines. The local civilian mood varies from despondency to fatalistic humor.
There is also no surprise that the president of the country has failed to comment on the military setbacks. Early morning TV carried the usual fare of Congolese hip hop artists and provocative dancing girls. No grave faced Joseph Kabila appeared to rally the nation or announce the sacking of the errant general whose negligence allowed this malfeasance to occur (and into whose pocket “retombées” have undoubtedly “fallen”?).
We will be glad to leave Goma behind.
But getting seats on the once-a-week CAA flight to Kindu is no easy matter, and that was the reason we found ourselves “ring-side” on the street in front of the clinic Tuesday.
It all started when the person sent to buy our airplane tickets smilingly informed us all seats were taken on Friday’s flight to Kindu. How dismal the prospect of another whole week in Goma!
I could only think of one person who might possibly help, Rosalie, a mid-level baggage and passenger inspector at Goma airport. I had only had casual contact with her and even then, it had been at least a year since I had bought her a coke.
John reconnecting with Rosalie in Goma.
It was only a hunch. Maybe Rosalie has some connection to the CAA airline company; all companies know very well what it takes to keep their operations working smoothly out of Goma’s airport. Thank goodness, we were lucky.
Rosalie’s name was still in my cell phone directory. She recognized my name immediately. After the usual telephone pleasantries: “where have you disappeared to”, I put our problem to her. Her younger brother, Kanku, she said was Chef de Base for CAA. He might be able to help. Kanku is allocated by his bosses, I suspect, rights to a seat on some of flights to compensate for meager salary. He and other staff are authorized to “sell” their seats at whatever price they can get. My hopes were rising.
Rosalie was willing to make the necessary introductions on our behalf. But the operation required face-to-face contact with Kanku, and there was a small problem. Roaslie had just undergone a major gynecological operation. The stitches had not been removed from the abdominal incision and she was still in the hospital. I went silent on the other end of the phone line. “I can’t ride a motorbike taxi,” she said, “but if you come with a car, I will go with you. It will even help,” she laughed. “My little brother will be embarrassed to see me climb the steps to his office. He has not even come to the hospital to see me.”
Rosalie with her own serum hook-up next to her bed at the clinic.
And so the deal was done. We needed three tickets and Kanku would find two other staff willing to provide their allocated slots. And it all cost far less than another week in Goma.
We got Rosalie back in the cab and dropped her off at the hospital, stopping first at a little grocery store to buy her dried milk, margarine and bottled water.
Kanku’s parting advice had us at the airport very early on Friday. “These flights are always overbooked.” They were legitimate tickets, BUT…
Anyway, here I am in Kindu and now we are looking west toward the Lomami, Goma thankfully left in the east.