Christmas 2020 on the Lomami River

We wanted the usual Christmas …as always, we planned to head back to family in the States.  We had our air tickets already in early November.

Christmas party 2020

Instead, our Christmas party was at Kakongo Camp on the Lomami River where John shared the smidgen of Johnnie Walker left in his single bottle.

BECAUSE the USA Covid numbers began to climb and kept climbing – in every state…we adjusted our calendar.

What was the point of returning to the States to be quarantined in upstate NY and not see our daughters and families, or possibly not be able to return to Congo?

John and I opted for Christmas along the Lomami River.  We would meet at Kakongo camp that is being rebuilt after destruction by the Mai-Mai leaders, Fidel and Bernard.

John came up river in a dugout after another round of teams left on the elephant census circuits in Tshopo.  I walked across from Bafundo, a 53 km-long trail redolent of history.  

Trail Bafundo-Kakongo

Along the ancient Kakongo trail, this old secondary forest was a village abandoned 80 years ago.

The trail is a patchwork of history… nearly disappeared openings that were hunting camps from the elephant slaughters of the 1970s and far older regrowth from the Bakuti ethnic migration…..

view of the camp Kakongo, Dec 2020

Kakongo camp is still being built, but felt very welcoming.

Kakongo is a new camp…the old camp was burned at the end of 2019 by Bernard’s Mai-Mai, it wasn’t until the second half of 2020 that we could again put a base camp in Balanga West .

Kakongo seat with a view

A lovely place to sit in the evening or any time in Kakongo camp.

The village up the hill welcomed us with a local version of Christmas carolling…. Not much mention of Christmas but lots of WELCOME.

carolling a welcome

Dancers from the tiny village of Kakongo, one of the fewer than 15 villages that make up Balanga West.

And there were other bits of Christmas.  During the night, Santa had hung an old sock stuffed with goodies from a forked stick outside our tent

Examining Santa's surprise

Reading : “For PapaZa from Santa Claus“.

John's Christmas stocking

The goodies inside:  chocolate, dried fruit, and anti-fungal cream.  A resourceful Santa

Taye in captivity at Kakongo

Taye was a top deputy of the Mai-Mai, Bernard.  He is arrested here the day before Christmas.

Unfortunately, there are still reminders of the Mai-Mai insurrection.  One of Bernard’s deputies had fled to relatives in Kakongo.  Taye was arrested and will be tried for atrocities that he committed: rape (including of elder women), murder (beheading), torture, and theft.  

John and I returned to Kindu together where, via What’s App, we too enjoyed the Christmas celebrations of children and grandchildren.

guests arrive for new year's supper

And we had our own New Year’s feast at our Kindu base…including potatoes cooked in tripe.

The advent of 2021 is hardly smooth in terms of public health, democracy, personal and institutional safety.   But we stay optimistic …. All we are able to do is what we are convinced is right and for the common good.  We are all in this year together.  


  1. Kim
    Posted 2021-01-11 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Great to read this post from kakongo
    I miss the forest. Cheers from Abidjan!

  2. Posted 2021-01-11 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Best wishes for a safe and productive 2021 to you, John and your team!

  3. Tom Hart
    Posted 2021-01-12 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Hey you two…..Happy New Year!!!
    I love your Christmas shirt Ter.
    Could I remember that bench on the River? ….and that flooded “bridge” from our bike trip?
    I’m sure we stopped in Kikongo.
    I sent a bottle of liquid gold to Red pond……hopefully the mailman enjoyed it on his Christmas waffles.
    Love from Lake Superior

  4. JP d'Huart
    Posted 2021-01-12 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Very best wishes for a fruitful and not too disturbed year. Keep your exemplary drive and serenity! DRC people and the rest of us need inspiration from you! Warm regards from Belgium.

  5. Rafael Reyna-Hurtado
    Posted 2021-01-12 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I really like the message for this 2021… keep that positivity that gives us energy to continue with our own work. You and your team are a great example for conservation work!!

  6. Terese Hart
    Posted 2021-01-12 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Some of the flooded bridges were passed over during the 2011 bicycle trip, but we never got to Kakongo…well north of the bicycle trip.
    Every camp on the river ends up with a bench or two looking out over that forever-flow — can’t be helped.

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