Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thursday night reporter's notebook from Kinshasa

A year ago at this time - Valentine’s Day - I was about mid-way through a brief stint living in Bombay, a city of some 20 million souls strung like a dazzling necklace of human heat and light just inland from the Arabian sea. This year, many thousands of miles away and with many thousands of miles and half a dozen countries in between, the sun sinks carnally into the horizon and I am in Kinshasa, another - well, spectacular would be a good word - city along the banks of the Congo River, a river whose banks begin only about two hundred yards away from my new flat.

I arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo almost exactly two weeks ago, and have spent much of that time in the rush of firsts that anyone confronts when moving to a new country, and some that are perhaps more unique to here. Find a suitable place to live, find somewhere to buy food, set up some kind of system of communications with the outside world, get all the official accreditations and papers in order to keep my from being clapped in jail while I practice my trade (not to say that might not happen anyway). On top of all that, there has been polishing my French, picking up some snatches of Lingala (a language I would like to learn with some degree of proficiency) and, tipa tipa, beginning to decipher the political and cultural complexities of this place, of which there are so many. And looking forward, as always, to the many stories to be told and the many voices to be brought to the fore so often ignored.

Tonight, after paying the man who secured my new apartment his (unexpected) commission, a few of us went out to relax at one of the establishments along the Boulevard du 30 Juin. It being Valentine’s Day - and boy does Kinshasa do Valentine’s Day - many parts of the city, from the poorest to the more affluent - are festooned with red heart decorations and red-attired waitresses, as couples snuggle in dark corners or brazenly out in the open to the sounds of zouk and soukous. Scribbling some of my impressions down in my ever-present notebook, a Congolese friend of mine observed “You are always writing!”

Indeed. When I look back over the last year, a very productive one in many respects, that has been the constant. Whether one is talking about Haitian peasants, Kashmiri villagers, residents of West Kingston ghettos, joyous and besieged cariocas or the long-suffering people of Congo, a country as vast as the United States east of the Mississippi River and long beset by destructive outside interventions and visionless, self-interested leaders, the goal has always been the same, and that is to let people speak for themselves and try to make those in a position to ameliorate their circumstances hear their voices. Will this be the year Congo turns the corner? Only time will tell. But come what may I hope to be able give voice to the daily struggles of the people here and to do that struggle, and the dignity that comes with it justice. Ahead stretch visits to the Kivus and the Ituri regions of the country, a long-awaited trip to Angola, a potential detour to South Africa, and much work to be done and much knowledge to be gained.

I’m just getting started.


eve said...

sounds fun, when r u inviting guests?

Irina Prentice said...


thank you for sending out pieces. I am really psyched to hear about your impressions. I feel like you are a set of eyes finally describing a place we simply never see. I look forward to the next piece... and the discipline of writing reminds me I need to update news of Lebanon. Hope you are well.


Tor Hershman said...

You have a most interesting blog.

Best Regards,