crumbling ladder tears don't always shine down your shoulders
This has been a pretty crazy week. With so many visitors in town, it's been fun to have new people to talk to. I'm also doing some work for Heal Africa that's been quite the adventure. Explain this to me: Goma has so little healthcare, but there's a statistics bureau of the provincial health inspector's office that can provide a detailed list of statistics having to do with infant mortality and early childhood health - in TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. Nothing in Africa can be done in 24 hours. How does this work?!? And why can't the energy and enthusiasm of the statisticians be applied to actually getting needed medication to the population?
(The above picture, of Allie at Gorilla Ben's office, gives you an idea of how this town looks like Roman ruins or something.)
Other than that, I've been helping show people around town and generally enjoying hanging out with some Americans for a few days. Suzy and I went shopping at the big market on Monday because she wanted to get some fabric for a dress. I had a seamstress there hem a piece of cloth I've had for awhile to use as a scarf. There's a whole area of women and men with hand-cranked sewing machines in the market. They'll make a garment for you on the spot, or, in my case, hem two yards of fabric for 25 cents. The guys who change money for me at the market were really excited to see Suzy, because they're always asking me to find them a "white girl" (their words, not mine) to marry. Suzy told them she was married, but, not surprisingly, that didn't stop them, even the married guy. Sigh.
Suzy and Sam left Goma on Tuesday after we all had lunch at the only place in Goma where you can get a cheap lunch, this Lebanese restaurant at the old colonial grand hotel, which is now a total dump except for the Lebanese restaurant. Every expat with an office on that side of town has lunch at the Lebanese place. Anyway, Allie, Gorilla Ben, and I all went back to work and then met up at Gorilla Ben's office to see the gorillas. Gorilla Ben works for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Goma and had told us that they had a gorilla sanctuary at their office. What Allie and I didn't expect was to see gorillas in the parking lot the second we drove through the gate, but there they were. And were they cute! Unfortunately, these young females have already experienced too much trauma in their short lives - the oldest one, here, is about 2 1/2 years old. Gorilla Ben told us that the fund got the three gorillas by confiscating them from people who are trying to illegally trade them - basically, they just take the gorillas when they find them. The littlest one is less than a year old. She was confiscated from the governor. That's right, the governor. So they named her after him. Serefuli was showing off for Allie and me by beating on her chest and the tree, and by swinging from the trees. It was pretty funny - the light wasn't good for getting great pictures, unfortunately.
What amazed me about the gorillas is how expressive they are. These are lowland gorillas with a fancy name I can't find on the internet, not the mountain gorillas that you find in Rwanda, but it doesn't make much different. They watch you and look at you like they know what you're thinking. The oldest one kept trying to get away from her caretaker (there are men who work for the fund that watch and guard the gorillas 24 hours a day) and would act like she was being subtle, looking for vegetation, and then take off towards us as her caretaker grabbed her arm and walked her back over to the ledge. The gorillas are really incredible. I read Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist a few weeks ago, and could only really think that she knew a little too much about the gorillas, but it was so interesting to see in person the behavior she described. Allie and Oliver went to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda on Saturday. She said it was pretty incredible - these huge silverback gorillas come stand right next to you. It sounds like an amazing experience; Wilco Ben and I are talking about going to see them next week. Hopefully it will work out, because as cool as the gorillas in Goma are, it will be pretty amazing to see gorillas in the wild.
I asked Gorilla Ben what they will do with these gorillas and he told me that they really don't know. All three gorillas are female, and since an existing gorilla group won't accept them until they are mature enough for the silverback leader to mate with them. Even then, their chances of survival in the wild are pretty slim. It's heartbreaking that people try to traffic in endangered species, especially in a place like Congo where it's really hard for conservationists to protect them. They have to do it all. Next week I am supposed to interview a guy who works for the Frankfurt Zoo, but who lately has been training commando units to protect the Virunga National Park and its animals. Think about that for a minute - this guy is your typical zookeeper, friendly and kind to animals, but he's training paramilitary forces to use lethal weapons to protect the gorillas and other wildlife in the park. Incredible. But it's the only way to protect these rare species, which only live in the Congo/Uganda/Rwanda border region. Yet another example of the far-reaching effects of a total lack of state authority. Nothing is safe here.