Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Too much gun talk

Here, photos from the Rutshuru mission when the kids turned in their guns:

The Mayi-mayi who'd holed up in Virunga Park, Commander Jackson's "men." You don't see the girls in this photo, but you can see the age range (young).

Here's the haul... I wrote down the number of guns somewhere, in the hundreds... from China via a dozen other countries.

Bonus pic. Find the following elements: a goat, a rocket launcher, a peacekeeper about to shoot his foot off.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

On the march

On Friday, there was a march organized by UNICEF to call for ending violence against women in the Congo, and rape in particular. The route went from just outside our office to the Stadium of Victory, about a mile and a half. Under the searing sun, I walked with some of the stronger patients at the hospital and, I'd estimate, about 30,000 women who had dressed in all black for the occasion. It was an opportunity to film in town, which we don't do that much because of the hassles that ensue. Due to the march, it seems the police had their hands full, or there was a sense that what we were doing was appropriate and not worthy of a shake-down. A wild scene-- the students here are incredibly rowdy and I saw a couple of fights when motorbike drivers tried to cut the parade route and were beaten by the marchers... a contemptuous military funeral convoy also drove through, flatbed trucks piled high with furious guys who pointed their RPGs and machine guns at everyone-- I could imagine the massacre happening, and was scared (needlessly-- why would they shoot us?). But we filmed it. It was a day, it was a day.

The other highlight of last week was when we asked the MONUC if we could film one of their regular patrols through town. Major Navdeep of the mechanized infantry said that there weren't any that day, but that he could fix a little something up for us. Which turned out to be a fleet of tanks, jeeps, a couple platoons of Indian and Congolese soldiers, and a helicopter overflight-- all just for us. Nelson seemed small with the camera in the middle of all that... later we found ourselves eating curry and watching Fashion TV's "Midnight Hot" with 10th Bihar's officers in their (plush) mess.

I guess they know the best way to use their money. I wish I knew how to play basketball so I could play them on their court that overlooks the attack helicopter hangar, though.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

A little dreamlike...

From a recent mission... click to enlarge (idiots)

Market in Minova, just south of Goma

From somewhere up in Minova

And here we have the state of things, per MONUC. Thanks bro.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Damn. It is my pleasure to announce that we will still be able to eat when we get back to New York. We just got news of our first grant-- from the Jerome Foundation.

Yip yip yip.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A stylish universe

"Style Fashion Forward Style"

Tea time at MONUC

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Banana Brewery in the Age of Mechanical Beer Production

This is a still from the shoot of Horeb Bulambo’s new film, “Searching for My Father,” which the Goma Film Project is producing. It was taken last Saturday in a village not far from Nyiragongo and the MONUC airport base, but so tucked away from the road that it could have been Anyvillage, Congo DRC. We spent a day beneath the banana trees among a lot of perplexed villagers. (Seen here, a chief, his wife and henchmen)

It’s a simple story in the vein of “Prejudice,” Horeb’s last movie. A mixed-race girl living with her Mzungu/ NGO worker mother (played by LT, our editrix, who is Korean-American, but all non black or arab people are called “Mzungu” here—even the Indians, who would be called “Mhindi” elsewhere in the Kiswahili speaking world I think—but I digress)—anyway this girl is tired of being called a bastard and sets out to find her father in a remote village. Then it becomes sort of a story of love lost and found, etc., and ends with a group hug (like “Prejudice” did). It has some pretty intense scenes, including a traditional dance of the virgins, in which a son of the village must pick his bride among a seductive line of dancing girls. Horeb wanted to pay homage to tradition while also saying something about cosmopolitainism and the future of Africa... anyway, I'm not in it, so who cares.

The spot for UNICEF is on local TV, and there's a march for women's rights coming up soon that might make a good cap to the movie.

BJ saw the body of a sorcerer on the way back from tennis-- she had been stoned to death. Now, I know what you're thinking-- we all know that sorcerers fly around naked by night on sorcerer airplanes, right? So how could the stones ever bring her down? Well, as a mechanic at the hospital patiently explained, it was surmised that this particular witch must have run out of gas for her magic plane, thus explaining her naked fall to earth. Still it was a strange sight at 7am, per Bige.

The documentary? The actual purpose of our coming here? It's getting bigger and more complicated every day, more and more footage comes in, and we're trying to file down to a few compelling characters. Translation is a burden, but there are many new scenes already and it just keeps going...

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rutshuru: Where the kids turn in their guns

I haven't written in a bit since I've been down with a short but violent case of Nyiragongo's revenge. On Sunday we had a great day on the boat-- the area really is much safer now, so we went down the coast a little. There are some beautiful cliffs that hang over the water, and we pulled up to them to go exploring. Me and Nelson climbed up a wall and were oblivious to the fact that the rocks we were on were completely detached, as our boatmates directly below were glad to tell us. Then I climbed around a small island outcropping to get picked up on the other side... gripping the side of the rock face and scooting along little ledges, I was upset to see a large human turd on my next handhold... then another... then another and another... it was the local fishermans' poop rock, apparently. After that, lured by the sounds of cheering crowds, we were nearly boarded by a youth soccer team that waved us in to shore and didn't want us to go...

I just came back from a day trip to Rutshuru, north of Goma at the foot of Virunga National Park, where we attended an arms handover ceremony at a forward operating base presided by the MONUC and the Congolese FARDC. It was an amazing ride in a convoy of Indian MONUC soldiers... the country is so beautiful... the Indians are fun guys... I don't know what to say; it was a little overwhelming. It was my personal Vietnam movie. We were there because after last week's big offensive, about 350 Mayi-mayi militiamen demobilized, and this was a ceremony to congratulate them. I finally got to see the rebels up close. About half couldn't be older than 13. Their guns are a median of 20 years old. Uniforms in tatters. Rubber fishing boots. Girls. The best part was hearing their martial songs as the line of children filed up to the blue helmets, laid down their guns, and marched back. There were helicopters. There were tanks. We got great, hassle free footage of soldiers. A great day in my book.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blue-turbaned tea time

The Goma Film Project is diversifying quickly on the ground. This week we are working with Esther and Camille, representatives of a Southern-California based Christian NGO that are staying at Maji Matulivu. We're doing a public service announcement for UNICEF to fight violence against women that's going to be running about a hundred times a day on Congolese TV for the next couple of weeks. Meantime, we're trying to hook up with the Indian MONUC batallion to accompany them on patrol here in town, and to fly over the Interhamwe mop-up operations they're doing in the surrounding countryside in the UN press helicopter... no embedding with troops on the ground per UN policy, unfortunately. OK, I'll admit that I have a juvenile fascination with military things, so I'm pretty excited about the prospect. And wouldn't you know the Indian troops are disarmingly gracious with their guests-- today, after a press conference at the main MONUC compound, we took tea and samosas with some blue-turbaned sikh colonels. Thank you to Horeb Bulambo for setting us up with press muffin Jennifer at MONUC.

Up in Virunga Park, seat of lord Nyiragongo, the Indian battalion is working with the Congolese 8th division to flush out any Interhamwe or Mayi-Mayi militia camps that continue to endanger the people and wildlife of the park. The problem with this is simple: what guarantees that the fleeing gunman won't return as soon as operation Northern Nexus packs up shop tommorow? The MONUC says they can only keep the "negative forces" on the run; only the Congolese FARDC forces can occupy and secure an area subsequently. Great, but unless Kinshasa pays those troops, the whole operation will only change the national origin of the parasites that prey on civilians. Civilians are rightly wary of anyone in uniform. As far as we've seen every single group under arms here has committed atrocities (not excluding the sexual predators among the UN forces).

My birthday was good; no pretzel cake this year, but I did get a good drunk on with the crew at Le Chalet. Halloween at Coco Jambos was similar; there was lots of international intrigue, and I had high hopes of winning the costume contest with my "Dangerous"-era Michael Jackson-- until Osama Bin Laden showed up...

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