Some days, I see a lot of suffering. Those are the difficult, exhausting days. But some days, I see life. Those are the better days.
Today was somewhere in between. Since my hand was so cramped from all of yesterday's interviews (six, two of which consisted of me asking one question and the respondent talking for 1 hour, 45 minutes and 1 hour, 30 minutes, respectively), I decided to take it easy today. I had an interview in the morning, then went out to Buhinga to buy copies of the latest editions of Congo-Afrique.
Congo-Afrique is an academic journal published by Congo's Jesuits. It contains excellent analysis on Congolese politics, culture, and society. And although the folks at ILS in the PCL have repeatedly informed me that Congo-Afrique does not exist, they're wrong. It is regularly cited by people who write about Congo.
This being Congo, however, buying a copy of Congo-Afrique is not as easy as downloading articles off of JSTOR, or going to a bookstore and purchasing them. To buy Congo-Afrique, you have to first get your hands on someone else's copy to check the inside cover for the name and phone number of the local priest, monseignor, or abbe who sells the journal in one of the five cities in which you can purchase Congo-Afrique.
In Goma's case, the point-man for Congo-Afrique is a delightful Abbe who lives at the Grand Seminaire (literally, "The Big Seminary") in Buhimba, about 15 minutes' drive out of Goma. So E organized a taxi for me, I invited along a Wheaton student who's doing his summer internship at Heal Africa, and off we went to Buhimba.
It was really fun. The Abbe couldn't have been nicer, and he managed to find 5 months' worth of journals for me (including one with election data that I really wanted). When he heard that I'm headed to Bukavu next, he gave me several contacts in the Catholic church there, and told me where I can find more issues in the city.
The Abbe also told us about his experiences at the seminary, which is really, really close to the site of the biggest refugee camp that was set up after the Rwandan genocide. That particular camp housed about 400,000 Rwandans. When you ask Goma-ites when things changed, almost everyone points to 1994-95 as the pivotal date. The shock of 1 million refugees to the environment and society is something from which Goma in many ways has still yet to recover.
I went home for lunch, helped E with the adorable baby boy (above) whose mother was otherwise occupied, and headed over to see A at her office.
A works at the World Food Program, and she had one of her staff take me on a tour of the warehouse. I don't know if you've ever seen what 250,000 tons of food looks like. Unfortunately, I couldn't take pictures, but, wow. Sack after sack after sack of flour, split peas, and Unimix are piled to about 20 feet high. Grain from Canada, the United States, the UK. I've never seen anything like it.
A has invited me to go out on a food distribution trip next week. I would be in an area north of here that's experienced considerable instability. It's a place I couldn't go on my own, but that's perfectly safe if you're going with the UN. We'd sleep at a church and I would get to talk to people who've been directly impacted by the violence in the region. I'd also get to see firsthand how a major international aid agency does its work, and I'd be able to see more of the Congo.
Because two important contacts are out of town, I was on the verge of deciding to stay in Goma through next weekend anyway. I'm trying to figure out if I can still get all my interviews done and get to Bukavu, but I think I would regret not seizing the opportunity to go. We'll see.