I will say right away, I am very lucky to hold Passports to two of the best countries in the world Canada and the UK!
I left in the middle of September for, Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo to visit friends and I thought I would be assisting with some Charities! (I will not name my friends because of security).
When I arrived in Goma, I was questioned for 15 minutes, guards kept asking what I was doing there and what I did, I must have said I was retired 15 times! When my host met me outside she told me that her husband, who ran a mine, had been taken in for questioning, by the Government. That day and for the next 2 days, the American Embassy, South African officials and even the Canadians got involved, they were all owners of the mine, to try to get the gentleman back home, it didn’t work. He was put on plane to the capital, Kinahasa (900 miles away) to be put in a hotel room and have his passport and phone taken from him, he carried an American passport and so did my host. For the next 10 days all kinds of people tried to get him released, he was released the day I left. There were all kinds of rumours as to what was happening, who was involved, did the orders come from the President’s office etc., as elections are coming up and there’s a lot of unrest in the country.
Let me try and describe Goma, it is a city of one million people, there are very dusty, dirt roads with massive holes and ruts, which during rains are very high with water. There is not a tree or anything green in sight. Water and electricity are a problem, there are very few if any redeeming features, except one, it is on very beautiful large lake with a Volcano in the background that has erupted twice in the last 40 years (last time 2002).
The home where I stayed was right on the lake with 10 bedrooms, with the lake at the back, a high brick wall, barbed wire, an iron gate and a guard house at the front, with many staff; 4 security guards, a chef, 2 maids, a nanny, drivers and a care giver for my host’s 90 year old mother. One couldn’t leave the house without security and also if you could go for walk no place to go!
In Kinshasa, there were riots, policemen were being burnt alive and people were being killed (this all seemed to be a very small by-line on CNN), it was all very uncomfortable!
I decided to cross the border and visit the BK’s in Rwanda, in the city of Kigali. I was questioned again over and over with the same questions, a western lady was in line with me at border, she said you have to have courage to face all of this, I agree! The trip took 3 hours in a taxi to Kigali, what a difference, people working on farms, paved roads, green grass, trees, people smiling, saying hello (just amazing!!!). I should also add the Congo is very expensive, what they charge for food, taxis, is just crazy and in Rwanda it is much cheaper! Kigali is a lovely city, it has won the Cleanest City in Africa award for the last 3 years, items in shops, and you can walk down the street, relaxed! As usual the BK’s were lovely, they arranged for me to see the Genocide museum, which was very powerful and extremely well done, I spent 3 hours with a young man who had lost his Father, and he was my guide. The Canadian General, Romero Dallaire, tried so hard to get the UN to step in and stop the killing; he is very well respected here (the UN didn’t). 850,000 people were killed, in a 3 month period and 250,000 are buried on this site, General Dallaire has never totally recovered from this, he tried to commit suicide and has suffered depression ever since.
I should also say the UN has a major presence in Goma. I really don’t know what they are doing, there are many Peace Keepers, many UN jeeps on roads, and helicopters flying very low with the door open with someone sitting in there holding a gun (unnerving)!
Next stop was the old, Hotel Rwanda. I had attended the opening of the movie Hotel Rwanda at the Toronto International Film Festival years ago, when owners of the hotel were in attendance, the audience gave them a standing ovation for 5 minutes, they had hid over 1000 people in the hotel during the Genocide, I had tears streaming down my face. The next morning I was invited to a Youth rally with Members of Parliament, it was the International Day of Peace; it was wonderful to see the youth so engaged with Politicians, also the beautiful new Conference centre and Hotel complex in Kigali. Sister Seeta, who runs the BK centre is from Mauritius is very well liked and respected here.
Well, I had to leave heaven and go back across the border again to hell, as I named them, when I arrived questions again, with a few new ones but the crowning glory was when I was taken into a room, where a very large woman, heavy, tall and looked like a female thug, she stood in front me and wanted to see my yellow fever papers, which I had shown many times to the guards, she then said she was going to do anal temperature reading, I lost it and said, “don’t you dare touch me, enough is enough,” (she backed off). I had just had it, the power plays, intimidation, and same questions over and over.
I went back to my host’s, and decided it was time to leave early after I had made a Gorilla Trek. I finally ended up with an excellent ticket, an overnight in suite in Addis, a day flight for only $100 US cash, change fee, which was brilliant. I came home 4 days early, and was thrilled to arrive on UK soil and to see my luggage and Sasa (my driver).Getting out of Goma wasn’t fun, it isn’t an International standard airport at all, and I’m glad my luggage made it and of course they wanted money! In the next few days I will do a blog on the Gorillas, which were spectacular!! It has taken me about 4 days to feel normal and relaxed; I had a lot to process! I have been very quiet for few days which is unlike me, and have to say a very large percentage of the world are not only very poor, but live under real fear for their lives, and in the Congo the truth is impossible to find.