Take this desirable patch of land and lay it elsewhere. Where no one can touch it, where people are free and without sorrow. Where birds can whistle from dusk till dawn and elephants can thump their feet on the savannah plains in sheer happiness. This is Congo, a land of hopes and dreams and laughter and despair and grief and disillusion. A strange mix of both good and bad, of the greatest riches on earth as well as the greatest poverty man has ever seen. How can a land like this keep you ignorant when crushing poverty envelops people day by day, night by night? It surely cannot?
I walk through the forest every day with colobus as well as blue monkeys jumping swiftly from one tree to the next. And then those awful baboons show up, who seem to have neither fear nor shame in them. The forest changes constantly, invading my personal space, bursting in with a gift, pleasant as well as unpleasant. One day I can walk, the day after the path has disappeared and has become forest again. “This is how it should be.”, I think. Nature devours man until there is no trace of mankind left. It will always conquer and my efforts are useless.
“Devastatingly beautiful” is my tag for Congo. Its beauty devastates me. I spend my days in awe of its nature and its people who carry around a constant smile as if life has not yet been rough on them. Working the soil with makeshift tools, walking for days on end with a heavy load on their shoulders and children on their backs. With the constant threat of gunfire and the presence of armed men everywhere, they are always ready to run for their lives. But then they sing songs, as if their lives depend on them, as if reality could be changed by them. How can these songs keep you ignorant when a land thrives on them? They surely cannot?
I live in Virunga National Park and we lost two Rangers last weekend. Killed brutally by a new coalition of Mai Mai rebels. “Maji” means “water”, magic water that ‘protects’ them against bullets. Storming into battle, they killed our rangers without even flicking an eyelash. Without even considering the carefully brokered peace, its promise, its fragility. Like a patched up wound, they tore out the stitches once more. Lives rebuilt, lives lost.
Many tears were shed, stories were told and songs were sung. This is Congo. Devastatingly beautiful. How can this land keep you ignorant? It certainly cannot.
Virunga National Park, DRC. For more, watch the “Virunga” documentary on Netflix. http://virunga.org