Life in Eastern Congo
How is life in Eastern Congo, a region of the world so devastated by armed conflict? In our minds we can fill the shadows of knowledge with visions of war movies, terror and destruction. Foreign Offices of most countries of the world encourage people to avoid by all means Easter Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo). However, the situation at the time when I was there wasn’t that bad, it had calmed down, and normal life was going on. As always. I walked around the city of Goma both together with a friend from the US and alone, went to markets, walked through secondary streets without asphalt, visited parks and covered long avenues. I saw people smiling, talking, shopping, eating… In summary, I have seen a lot of normal people doing normal stuff, and that is what I want to show you.
Despite the fact that UN vehicles and military personnel were all around, you could not feel any difference regarding violence levels in comparison with neighbouring countries. Was my perspective accurate? Difficult to say, as it all depends on the kind of experiences each person has. But I can say that most people was very nice to me, that I walked alone for miles with my full frame Nikon D610 on my hand, and I felt no danger at all. I had a lot of tension caused by all the fears in my mind, but that is my fault as I was carrying a lot of prejudices about life in Eastern Congo.
Ibrahim and his brother work at a local market in Goma selling meat. It was almost the end of the day and the flies were all around the remaining pieces of beef. I asked him what would he do with the meat that he was not able to sell during the day. He looked at me with a look mix of surprise and resignation: he had no refrigerator, and the meat would be sold the next day. I guess it would go at a cheaper price… Some weeks later, Ibrahim eventually add me on WhatsApp and ask me for his pictures, which I took some days to recover. He insisted a lot, but a lot, until he got his pictures. After that, once in a while I receive a message in a very poor English asking how am I. Conversation is impossible, though. Local market, Goma
Local market, Goma This guy and his friends were making purses and selling them through internet, sending the pictures by WhatsApp to all those interested, and then sending the goods via courier. Wise guys, real entrepeneurs, happy people in one of the poorest countries of the world. The owner of the shop where they were selling purses was also taking some beans out of the shell This guy was working at manteinance in the hotel were I was hosted. In his free time he was lifting some weigh This man was also working at the hotel, and was cooking a kind of soup based in tomato. My room was the window behind him This girl was the sister of a guy working in a record store. While I was sitting and engaged in conversation with him and another friend, she decided it was a good time to take a selfie. I was quick enough to caugh her in the process Portrait. I gave my SD card to her and she kept the photo in her computer Our guy, working at the record store in Goma Daniel, as many other kids in the world, is a fan of Leo Messi, Barcelona’s football player. The boy works in a tiny wooden shop where he fixes bicycles and motorcycles using a few rusty tools. That early morning he was alone there, I guess his family would join him later. After 10 minutes communicating with him in basic English, I tried to take a pic but he ran away; I wanted to know why. After some talking thanks to a person who translated between us, he explained me that he didn’t want me to photo him because I would take the pic with me and he would never have it. I solved that giving him my contact information and promising that whenever he contacts me I will send the photo
When she first saw me I was still some metres away, and she already shouted out “don’t take a photo of me!!”. I approached her smiling and asked her politely why she didn’t want to be photographed. She started laughing, also her friend did. Some more people approached us and we started talking. After a while, I took a selfie with her friend and she liked it. So I took a photo of she and her friend, and then a photo of her alone. All the people around was laughing, she affirmed that she wasn’t all that pretty that day, but I confessed that my opinion was the opposite, that she was a beautiful woman. And very stylish! Some women selling mango on the streets of Goma. The price for foreigners was 500CDF a piece (around 0,45$USD), but I am sure that the local price was much cheaper, around half of it. However, in Congo it`s often impossible to buy with local prices when you have a white face, but being it one of the poorest countries in the world… well, it is fine if they fool you a little bit once in a while Security guy waiting to start his job at a supermarket in Goma Supermarket owner. He asked me to take some photos of him and his staff personnel. After that, he asked me to give him some “present”. He was asking for money! I told him he probably had more money than me, owning that huge supermarket. However, I offered him my WhatsApp number and sent him the photos some days later Cashier Sister of the owner of the supermarket Brother of the owner of the supermarket. I think he was a tailor or something like that Hair salon in a secondary street of Goma Hairdresser. He asked me to get a haircut, which wasn’t needed Many young men were sitting in front of these two “Salon de Coiffure”. The ones who could speak English approached me with curiosity. One of them told me he was a fixer and had worked with many important foreign journalists. He was explaining me about some visits he did to the guerrilla when he suddenly lowered his voice and changed the topic. Some seconds after that, he told me that a man that was just a few metres away from us was a secret police officer and had gone near to listen what were we talking about. I saw the man next to the door of the barber shop, dressed up in classy clothes that made credible that he was a police. I had yet another encounter with secret police in Goma, but nothing serious happened. However, it was a clear sign of the political situation in the country. These two men were sitting under a roof just doing nothing. Life in Eastern Congo sometimes is very slow. I sat next to them, tried to talk but they couldn’t say a word of English I am not sure whether this shop was to charge minutes on your SIM card or also to charge the battery of the mobile phone. I have seen many places were you pay to charge the battery, in East Africa This man was selling football shoes, all dressed up with the Barcelona t-shirt and shorts, in the sidewalk of one of the main avenues in Goma This woman was grating tomatoes, same as we do in Spain This Muslim woman came to talk to me and talked to me for a while. Then she walked with me for a while and guided me to show me the Mosque of her neighborhood, which you can see behind her. Also near there we saw the hostel owned by his brother, who was introduced to me and tried to convince me to go to his hostel in the future. Maybe that was the aim she had! This kind of wooden bike is a very common mean of transport in Congo
Main market in Goma Demonstration on the main avenue of Goma. This was the time when I was intercepted by a secret police by second time. In this occasion he asked me 3 or 4 times whether I was a journalist, and asked me what I was doing there. Also told me that I should take pictures of people because that is dangerous… He never said he was a police, however I am sure he was. Immediately after he asked me all these questions the demonstration arrived and I understood what was going on. However, I said “oh, look! they are singing, so funny!” and took a picture just like that. He didn’t say a word and turned around