Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Life in Goma

I had my first French lesson last night at six PM and my second this morning at seven AM. That gave me a thirteen hour respite from French, which is maybe not enough.

But no, actually, my French professor is wonderful. We’ve just talked during both lessons, and I’ve talked to him in French and he’s understood and he’s talked to me in French and I’ve understood. And we’ve talked about fun things. Like the lake. And the deadly snails in the lake. And the rivers which are the biggest rivers in Africa. And the gorillas. Gorillas. Gorillas, gorillas. And how much I want to see gorillas. And how he grew up fifteen kilometers away from gorillas in Virguna. And how Virunga is now more secure, and maybe I can go see the gorillas. And how he’ll call some of his friends to ask them about taking me to see the gorillas and let me know the responses at my next French lesson.

Yeah, okay. French lessons rock. Vive le francais!



Well, unfortunately, our provincial head has said “No” to me and my plans to see the gorillas. Maybe next month.



My officemate A agrees with our provincial head’s assessment that the situation is still too volatile to travel into Virunga Park and see gorillas. I wasn’t complaining to him; I will always abide by security rules and regulations. But at the same time, he could tell that I wasn’t thinking too seriously about it.

After all, living here, it doesn’t feel volatile. It feels normal.

Sure, there was the crazy guy with the hoe, but he was crazy, and singular. And okay, yes, my phone was stolen, but that could have happened anywhere. It happens every day in NYC, in DC. Petty theft and muggings.

We see MONUC Blue Helmets all the time, but that is because our compound sits in between their base-of-work and their bases-of-sleep. So they traverse our road many times a day.

We have guards, but I’ve often had guards. Our guards here are extensive but they aren’t armed. (Even my guard in Kitgum was armed! Although – I’d be shocked to learn that her rifle had bullets in it.) Here, our guards only have radios, which they would use to call MONUC and other mobile units in the event of an attack on our compound. Backup would come quickly – we’re well protected. But not seeing the physicality of weaponry has a soothing effect on your mentality. You forget.

It’s not like we hear gunshots off in the distance. We hear drumming and music and car horns and airplane engines and voices calling and chatting and laughing.

But. A says that people here often discuss the safe places to take their families in case the conflict manifests itself into violence again. If this city suddenly turns dangerous, I’ll be evacuated with my US passport to – where? It depends, I guess – Rwanda, probably.

But my neighbors will stay here.


P, one of our guards, asked to take a photo of me with her camera-phone as I was leaving the compound after lunch. This is a great sign that she likes me as a person, and not just as an ex-pat she’s paid to watch over.

It wasn’t a bad photo, either. My hair looks soft and healthy today!