If you ever should come to the Congo be sure and ask for a window seat for it is only then that you will appreciate the size of this immense country which spans over two time zones; and feel the disconnect between disparate population centers who have come to find themselves citizens of the same country by the simple fluke of a colonial pen.
I finally gave up my “kiss me” hat for a bright blue Chinese made umbrella from the local market. I have realized in Africa it is the sun which is the ultimate tyrant. My follicles are burning and my hair is falling out. Soon I will need some of the same colorful extensions and polyester wigs that I see the African mammas wearing. I now understand the reason behind those giant head wraps.
Kamina, a city of 200,000, is the capital of Haut Lomami in Southeastern Congo. It is also the entry way from the Province of Kasai where the railway spills down from the north to the mining areas in southern Katanga bringing a steady migration of Kasaians from the time of the Belgians through the reign of Mobutu and up to today. This territory is also the heartland of the Luba people, birthplace of the current president and home to the grand chief of the ancient Luba empire. You would think any one of these reasons should be enough to give Kamina some importance – or at least the functioning basics. But you would be wrong. It is a dustbowl of dirt roads filled with grimy impoverished souls who live on subsistence farming and mostly go unemployed.
My team mate and I are staying at an abbey run by a very short and very round abbot priest who rents out rooms for $15 a night – and this is the five star of the city. There is no running water and yours truly makes do with a bucket of cold water that is filled and placed at my door every day. The town is generally in the dark at night but the five star abbot motel has electricity, albeit intermittent and extremely feeble due to overload on the local power facilities – and this is not exactly considered an appliance heavy zone. The faint flicker is just enough to keep you from bumping into walls at night but you can forget about reading. S,omehow the old TV in the communal room where the priests eat works, and every day for hours on end they sit captivated in front of a continuous loop of ad campaigns for Joseph Kabila with the number 3 flashing in the corner – that’s candidat numero trois!
The highlight of the week is Sunday when the whole town dresses up to attend one of the astounding numbers of churches of all shapes and colors, to worship and sing songs. The abbot also dresses up in his finest, hops on his motorcycle and zips to his parish to orate on the wisdom of the almighty who must have surely had good reason to ignore his children in this part of the world. He says he is a Luba — a true Katangan, and has taken it upon himself to enlighten the two of us observers with regard to the hazards of disorderly migration and its eroding effects on society.
“Nos freres, les Kasaians. They are our brothers of course.”
“But you can’t just have people streaming into your home, taking away jobs. It creates problems, unemployment, insecurities. You can hardly walk at night in the cities any more. People will steal your money”
I told him I have lived in the U.S. for a long time and I have moved and changed states four times.
“Exactly!” the priest cuts me off. “So you know what I mean! Meme chez vous, I am sure they did not just let you move to California comme ca!”
“Uh, actually — I just packed up my bags and left Massachusetts; — new electricity bill, new driver’s license. That was that.”
“Ah oui?! How is that possible? You did not have to inform anyone?”
“Well… Yes actually. The local post office, so they would not throw out my old mail”.
*** *** ***
One Week Later – Breaking News:
“…Clashes in the city of Kamina – 600 kilometers Northeast of Lumumbashi during elections campaign. In the opposition neighborhoods where the Kasais live, at least a dozen homes were burnt, a woman was raped, many businesses were pillaged…” We called our friendly priest to get the skinny but he declined comment. He said it must have been a simple misunderstanding and hung up.
*** *** ***