Naipaul

Goma, DRC, across Lake Kivu

Difficult man? Probably. Pretty much nobody says not. But whether or not you’d enjoy his company at your next ice cream social, V. S. Naipaul’s fictional Kisangani in A Bend in the River sticks with you.

Congo will just not stop being a compelling place. Kabila’s reign in Congo is drawing to a bitter close, even as Kivu provinces totter close to armed conflict – again – and  the Latest Ebola Outbreak Is Centered in a War Zone. All in Congo.

Remind me to post a Congo reading list. Just now though, on the occasion of Naipaul’s death, let’s all pull out A Bend in the River or A House for Mr. Biswas and reread.

Vignette: Congo Border Tales

Just a little thing that happened five or six years ago in Uganda. A Congolese Border Tale:

Whenever I read a story with news like this“Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have taken a major border post after clashes with government troops….” I think about a visit to a safari camp in Uganda a few years back, just near the border with Congo. It was small, only ten tents. The proprietor, a stereotypical grizzled white African character I’ll call Dave, said he’d take out three of the tents and only have seven if he had his way but he was only working for the man, just like everybody else.

This place was down along a river, nice location. Oil had been discovered in the ground nearby, but recently enough that not a lot had been done yet; They were still mobilizing to get at it. Just over a ridge was the Congo border.

A four-wheeler drove up and Dave went to see. Came back after a while and told us it was the head of military intelligence for this sector. Said he drops by to buy a beer now and then, but of course the beer’s on the house. The military man makes every visit a “family visit” (Dave sticks quotes up in the air). This time he brought his wife, last time his sister.

I give them some beers, maybe a bite, and we visit a half hour, Dave says. Even though you have to do it, it’s not a bad idea. I mean, it’s calm over there now (thumb in the direction of the DRC), but it only takes them three or four days to cook up a civil war.

Not that this isn’t the safest place you can be, right here. Because it is, he thinks. They’ve got all the oil guys here. They’ve doubled the military presence. Never be the same. Still, it’s good to have a phone number for the head of military intelligence.

 •••••

Uganda is one of my favorite of the countries Donald Trump characterized rudely. Really a pretty place with nice, easy-going people. There are more photos in the Uganda Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

The Dawn Watch

Reasonably well-read people will know that Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness after spending time in Congo. Maybe you didn’t know Conrad only made one trip up the river and on returning to Leopoldville, before even leaving the colony, wrote

“Decidedly I regret having come here. I even regret it bitterly….”

Most people will also have the vague knowledge that Congo produced rubber. Maybe you didn’t realize how perfectly nasty that business was.

You had to go into the rainforest, your feet squelching deep into mud and standing water, hoping not to step on a snake, ears pricked for the rustle of leopards a pounce away. You had to pick out a rubber vine in the vegetable tangle, then shimmy up its stalk to a point soft enough that you could slice it to release the sap. It was faster just to cut a vine in half, but because that killed the vine, the state forbade it. You had to wait for the creamy liquid to drop into your pot, then wait for it to thicken and gum into latex. The easiest way was to smear the sap over your body. Once it dried, you could tear it off your skin (taking your hair or skin with it, if needed) and roll it up into balls. It could take days to fill your basket with enough tough, gray pellets to satisfy the state or company agent.”

Get yourself a copy of The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff and you’ll learn much more. Ms. Jasanoff opens and closes the book with some of her travels to research the book, and while those sections are brief I’d have been eager to read a whole book about her own travel.

The Dawn Watch is a fine travelogue/biography and I recommend it heartily.

Impenitrable Means Impenitrable

There is a nice article at TheAtlantic.com today called Mountain Gorillas at Home. My gorilla photography pales before it so I will spare you of anything more than a link, below, but the area around the gorillas is interesting in its own right. Here are a couple of shots of where the Uganda gorillas live (there are also gorillas in Rwanda and Congo). This is a place called the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Strictly speaking, it’s not quite impenetrable. There is this road through it:

Adjoining the forest are heavily farmed, terraced fields. The hills are really steep, as you can see here:

We visited the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, farther down the road (See the Mountain Gorillas Gallery at EarthPhotos.com). Here are a few things I wrote at the time, when CS&W was on Typepad. I guess they ought to still work: 12345678.

And while we’re here, apropos to nothing except that I just ran across this photo, and it’s also from Uganda, here is the only galloping hippo I have ever seen:

Click ’em all to enlarge them. And have a look at more in the Uganda Gallery and the Rwanda Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Weekend Reading

Here is a selection of fine reading material on which to muse this weekend:

The Fate of Earth by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
Russia’s House of Shadows by Joshua Yaffa in The New Yorker
A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas by Adam Rutherford in The Atlantic
Here’s What Would Happen If Donald Trump Nuked North Korea by Greg Fish at Rantt.com
Citizens of anywhere by Matthew Valencia at 1843magazine.com
Ça va un peu by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books, reviewing Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck

Meanwhile on the Planet

This photo is from Amboseli, a park in Kenya famous for elephants, that my wife and I got into a groove of visiting a few times a few years ago. This is one of my favorite pictures, two friends greeting one another, querying each other, displaying obvious good will, emotions like humans.

I commend to you the author Carl Safina whose insights about animal minds are essential. See my posts Do Animals Think? and Elephants Display Emotion Just Like You Do for links to his work.

Just now, we’re all up in ourselves here in the United States about the eclipse next Monday. Our country closes up over myopic media-driven obsessions, the eclipse for one thing and this week, for another, Trump/Charlottesville, topped today with a side of possibly Islam-tinged terror in Barcelona (cable channels can never leave ‘possibly Islamic-tinged’ alone). Sometimes it’s hard to hear from our mass media about much anything else in the world beyond our country.

Sad and evil things happen out there. From the African continent this week, where dedicated people are fighting the good fight on behalf of the non-human world,  here are two:

Leading elephant conservationist shot dead in Tanzania

Three wildlife rangers killed in attack by violent militia in DRC/

Congo Intrigue

gorillas

Battles for resources, outright wars and jockeying for power never seem to stop in eastern Congo.

Four men were jailed for eight years each in South Africa on Wednesday for attempting to murder a former Rwandan general. The Kagame government in Kigali disavows knowledge of the plot, sort of.

A tweet from Anjan Sundaram (@anjansun) points to this scary story involving a Belgian prince, AK-47 fire, a British-registered company based opposite the Ritz in London’s Mayfair and ongoing efforts to save the Virunga Park – and its small population of mountain gorillas – on Congo’s eastern border.

One tiny personal anecdote from the Congo border, albeit from the much safer Ugandan side.

•••••

And if you’re looking for an off the beaten track travel/adventure for your next read, I recommend Anjan Sundaram’s book called Stringer, A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo.