Lomami Portraits 1 : John’s Trip North through the Center of Congo

Wed 22 April.  Chombe Kilima to Camp Bonobo-a 40 km trek. (Notes from John’s journal)

We left Chombe Kilima  at 7:30, 25 of us, and all of us carrying loads.  A real caravan.

Among our cast of characters was Ebembe Kotelema, his name translates from Lingala as “the standing dead”.  He is a pygmy from Equateur Province.

He has a terrible hangover
Ebembe Kotelema collapsed at the rest stop.

Somehow, during Congo’s recent bloody rebellion, in 2002-3, he was part of the infamous militia locally labeled “Effacer le Tableau”.  The name was coined in the Ituri Forest where they “erased” whole villages.  They are accused of rape, murder and even cannibalism.

Ebembe  did confirm that he was in the Ituri, on the Mamabasa-Mungbere Road.  How he ended up in Chombe Kilima, where we recruited him as a porter was a story too long to get on the trail, especially since he hardly spoke Swahili.

Ebembe had fallen way behind by the time we reached our first rest stop west of Falanga, the first of two punishing savanna islands we had to cross.   Ebembe finally came stumbling through the trees, dripping sweat, and looking every bit his nom de guerre.  He claimed dire hunger, said he could not proceed without something to eat.  This was greeted with much laughter.  The day before Ebembe had been nine sheets to the wind with local moonshine.  Someone tossed him a couple packs of biscuits which he immediately wolfed down.

a few Glucose biscuits help
Glucose Biscuits work wonders.

Mpaka asked him about his experience as a rebel fighter in the Ituri Forest.  “Did you eat some of your brothers there?” he asked, taunting him with the accusation made by a local Bishop that the “Effacer” ate pygmies.  Straight-faced, Ebembe denied the charge.   “No”, he said earnestly, “I was in a different part of the forest.”

Revived by the Glucose Biscuits Ebembe shouldered his pack and arrived at Camp Bonobo well before most of the caravan, including me.

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