Thursday, December 06, 2007

Back of Beyond

You may well imagine that Bukavu is one of those out of the way places, the back of beyond, that no one’s ever heard of and certainly no one who is anyone at all would ever think of visiting. Can you locate it on a map of DR Congo? I doubt that I could before I first came to East Africa four years ago. It’s a surprise to find out the number of people that visit – and I’ve probably only heard of a few.

Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, was in town on November 25th to lead a march, which she had organized, of thousands of women dressed in black marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Also in town last week were a number of Congressional delegates, the fact-finders, researching information about the Great Lakes region conflict on behalf of members of the US Congress. Along with them (possibly just a coincidence, I don’t know) was GW’s former speech writer, the one who coined the term “axis of evil” (used by Bush in his State of the Union Address on Jan 29th, 2002). We were all hanging out (at separate tables, of course!) having drinks and dinner at The Orchid, described by John Le Carré (he stayed here in April 2006 after finishing work on his latest novel, The Mission Song, which uses the war in Eastern Congo as a backdrop) as one of those quintessential places where you find a mélange of expatriates gathered together around the bar*. I was quite perturbed in fact when a friend came over to where I was having a working dinner with a couple of colleagues, and in whispered tones informed us of the identity of the chap in the blue shirt just a few feet away. Had never in my life expected to get this close to the axis of evil!

Yes, Bill Gates has been here too. Haven’t seen much sign of his beneficence yet. And yes, they’re still fighting in North Kivu, barely 100 km from Goma. No end in sight yet.

*”In every trouble spot I have cautiously visited, there has always been one watering hole where, as if by secret rite, hacks, spies, aid workers and carpetbaggers converge. In Saigon, it was the Continental; in Phnom Penh, the Pnom; in Vientiane, the Constellation; in Beirut, the Commodore; and here in Bukavu it's the Orchid, a gated, low-built lakeside colonial villa surrounded by discreet cabins.”

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