in which a grad student does a great public service
Logistics are among the biggest challenges one incurs when conducting research in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. There's not a guidebook.* Maps are few and far between, unless you can track down the cartographers in Goma and Bunia. Phone numbers and email addresses constantly change. It's virtually impossible to make hotel reservations in advance, such that you just have to cross your fingers and hope that there won't be a massive peace conference in town when you show up looking for a room. Security conditions change rapidly - what was a safe route one day might be completely dangerous the next, and there's little rhyme or reason as to where and when insecurity happens. Planning a move from one city to the next is exhausting and can take up inordinate amounts of time.
Enter Dan Fahey, a PhD candidate at UC-Berkeley who studies gold mining and its relationship to the war in Ituri. Dan was in the field this summer, and, while gathering data in the far north of North Kivu and Ituri, took the time to write down all the latest information for travelers to Bunia, Beni, and Butembo in a handy new PDF guide, available for free to anyone who wants to download it. It also includes information about the little things you need to know if you want to work in the region, like what currency to take, how to get onto MONUSCO flights, the least terrifying commercial flight options, where to shop for fabric (essential if you want to know the latest trends in local political commitments) and even where to find a swimming pool for those hot dry season days in Bunia. AND THERE ARE MAPS.
(For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on travel to those cities:
- I'm a fan of the Centre Uhai Kikyo in Butembo. Kikyo is out of town a bit, but it gets you away from the dust in downtown Butembo. If, like me, you're allergic to just about the entire natural world, it's a lifesaver. And it's quiet. And they have wifi. And your room comes with a pleasant little balcony, where it's nice to sit and ponder the political organization mysteries of an ethnically homogeneous city that's controlled by a small cabal of business leaders.
- The Hotel Beni is the best option in Beni, which isn't saying much, but it's tolerable and you can special order a pretty tasty spaghetti avec sauce tomate naturelle from the restaurant. Please note that an ice-cold trickle of water is as good as showering gets there. Think of it as an incentive to get your work done quickly.
- And after you've been there for awhile, Bunia's New Cosmos Hotel seems like paradise. Even their cheap rooms have fans. And 24-hour hot water. And electricity all the time.
- In all cases, you should try not to think about the fact that staying anywhere other than a church guesthouse means you're probably funding some rebel movement and/or illicit mining operation. That goes double for hotels in Goma.)
*Okay, technically, there is a guidebook, but it's already hugely out of date, there aren't maps of most major cities, and half the hotel options, phone numbers, and email addresses are either not listed or are wrong.