Saturday, December 11, 2004

A dramatic goodbye

Here it is, the last day in Congo.

It feels strange to leave just as a weekend lull presages a violent week ahead. Ethnic troubles that Goma has avoided for the most part up till now have begun to infect the city. Jo is running around, attempting to mobilize all of civil society to refuse the coming bloodbath. Fatalism reigns among most people I talk to. Soon, news of a wave of violence overwhelming the city I've come to know a little in the past two months will be something I dig up on Google, if I hear about it at all.

I'm hoping to come back sometime; like the ground here, the stories are very rich. Dr. Ahuka at DOCS proposed we do a film about the pygmy populations he's been working with deep in-country to the west of here. Lyn thinks we should document the project DOCS is setting up in Maniema province. Jo said Lubutu in Maniema is to Goma as Goma is to NYC. It's terra nulius. If you can get to these places, filming something compelling is as simple as turning on the camera.

I'm blown away by what I've seen, and haven't processed it yet. Nelson wrote from New York complaining of cold and difficulty negotiating the sidewalk. I'm baffled by the thought of the subway. Can you play tennis at the courts in McCaren park on a winter saturday, maybe if it's sunny? How am I going to live up to the commitments I've made here, for example procuring goat-cheese making technology for Papa Prosper?

I feel like I've lost a lot of fear coming here, which was like crossing into a dark and imaginary place that became real... I survived, I didn't get malaria or some virulent parasitic boil on my face (I hope), I passed out cigarettes to drunken militiamen with a smile, I listened to volleys of automatic weapons fire and learned not to care (silly people), I worked on a really good project, I sat in urine-scented rooms with women who have lived through things that would have destroyed me and listened to them laughing, I met a lot of good people, truly good... I ate really well and spent mornings playing tennis and swimming, evenings watching films and listening to interesting people tell amazing stories... all in all, I would recommend this kind of trip to anyone. It helps if you go with some stand-up guys like BJ and Nelson, and have a surgeon/senator's house to call home base.

It's time to go home, though, and I am so excited about seeing my friends again. I want to go to the movies, get drunk in a bar without fear of armed robbery, eat a steak au poivre/a juicy bacon cheeseburger, and listen to some music with some damn computer-generated heavy bass. Turn it up!

Three months is really nothing. I've been on a ride, suffered no hardship. I very lazily executed my journalistic imperative (article being worked on, publication uncertain). When I get home I think I have enough material to write a magazine-length article on sex crimes in east Congo, but I don't know if I want to yet.

Wish us luck on the trip home. We're going to a mission hospital in the mountains of western Rwanda for a couple of days, so radio silence until I get to Brussels/ Paris on Wednesday or Thursday. It may be my last chance to find a monkey bride (I'm thinking an adolescent lady gorilla of birthing age) in the cloud forests of the volcanic mountains. If she asks me to stay I will think about it. I'd bring her to Brooklyn but I hear it's hard to get a U.S. visa for a monkey nowadays.

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