Saturday, June 11, 2011

Goma, The Guy, and the Mai-Mai

    Dusan and I don’t see eachother for two months, and then suddenly, and as out of the blue as always, he reappears.  We meet in Ivatsyro hotel, a four story hang out for FaRDC, local police and Internationals.  The concrete building is lit with every color neon light making it feel permanently like a red light district or Chinatown.
    -We are to go into the bush, to Muhanga.  We will stay there about three days and we are to also go to Kirumba and to Goma, says Dusan over a double whisky and a Pall Mall cigarette. 
          I have been trying to get Dusan to take me into the bush since the first time we met almost a year ago.  Finally, with plans for a rebel sensitization project, it is hopefully coming to fruition.
    -We are to pick C—in Goma, he is movie maker and he is making some film, whatever whatever, and he is to travel with us into Muhanga.   And you can do your soldier project.
          He pauses and moves his cigarette away from his face.
    -You know what I am calling this actually?  This what you are doing?
    -No, what, I ask, knowing the response can only be slightly offensive or full of doubt.
    -I am thinking you are vivisectionist.  Dick-cutter.
          He doubles over in laughter.
    -Okay, I guess you can call it that.  I have a question though, unrelated.
    -What?  His face immediately snaps back to serious.
    -I was thinking, with Kabila the father, he was assassinated supposedly because he was indicating he was going to do deals with the Soviet Union.  Of course, the western world can’t stand for communism or any hint at communism, and they helped arrange this assassination.  Now, Kabila the current president has just made a deal with the Chinese government for however many millions of dollars.  Do you think the western world will still consider this a big threat and arrange Kabila’s assassination?
          Dusan puts his whisky glass on the table and nods his head quietly, but not as an affirmation.
    -You must to understand.  First of all, you are not genius like me.  But, okay, you are junior genius so we can speak a little.  This is all political issue, this is all international relations.  It is not so simple as support or not support or communist contract.  Every government who does not have a lot of power, must to play the games.  They must to play the games always, always with two sides.  Because if they play the games with only one country, then that country will be in power of their government, not them. 
          He pauses and puckers his lips contemplatively.
    -You know, I think Rihanna has nicest ass in the world.  In The World.
          I laugh and figure he doesn’t want to talk politics, so I let him move on.
    -But, he continues.  Rihanna has no tits.  And a woman with the nicest ass in the world but no tits, is still not a woman.  For me.
    -I’ve never studied Rihanna’s ass or her tits before but okay.
    -FaRDC governmental forces have some men.  But they have not any effective artillery, weaponry, there is almost not any structure at all.  Out of ten, FaRDC has maybe one point.  So, they are like Rihanna.
    -FaRDC has an ass but no tits, I say laughing.
    -Yes.  Yes it is true.  It is not so difficult thing for International government to overtake Kabila and this FaRDC.  They have no tits.
    -Okay, I’m catching your point.  That’s a nice parallel.  I don’t think Rihanna would like it very much but I like it.
    -Yes, but she does have nicest ass, so it is okay.
    -So when will we leave for Muhanga?
    -Today, of course.  You can pick your things and we will proceed to Lubero after dinner and tomorrow morning we will proceed to Goma to pick C—and after that we will going to Muhanga.
    -Great.  I’m ready.
    -Yes, you think you are ready.  But, you are only dumb American so this is just thinking.
          He breaks into laughter that sounds like a ten year old boy.
    -This is true. 
    -Yes, but this is enough.  Maybe you can still become genius.
          That night we drive to Lubero and in the morning we stop at the United Nations DDR/RR office in Lubero to pick-up a woman Dusan has extracted.  She is the wife of an FDLR officer, and the rebel has agreed to allow her to leave and join her parents in Rwanda.  She’s 20 years old but looks 17.  We greet each other in Swahili but she speaks no French.  Dusan explains that she is from Rwanda but has lived her whole life in the bush.  Even though her Father was the President of a secondary school and her Mother a teacher in the school, Eugenie doesn’t speak any French.  When Dusan asked her why she did not benefit from her parents’ knowledge she responded, “Because we had to eat.”
          On the drive we pass through Kirumba and Virunga national park where there are scattered sentries of FaRDC soldiers.  All are wearing new-extremely tattered army digs and carrying mostly tattered machine guns.  I wonder what they would do if they knew we had an FDLR commander’s wife in the car.  The scenery changes from fertile mountains to fertile plains.  I give commiserating looks to Eugenie as we’re tossed around in the white metal vehicle.  Dusan talks the entire way about this and that and this and that.
          N’ Yuck’n ya n’ yuck’n yoo.
          We reach the perimeter of Goma after dark, though we should not be on the road at this time.
    -I think we are okay, says Dusan.  There was an attack last night and civilians were killed.  Some drunk civilian I’m sure causing problems and then another drunk civilian wants also to cause problems to counter problems of first drunk civilian.  And then people start yelling and whatever whatever.  FaRDC come and instead to arrest they start shotting.  And so for some drunk idiot two people are killed.  Stupidities.
          He nods at me.
    -Stupidities.  All.  And you are black cat so this is making me extra little bit nervous.
    -I’m a black cat?  Why?
    -You remember first time we drove this road and we pass Indian battalion only few hours before attack there and soldiers are killed.  And you are my responsibility.  I know you are not wanting this,  but this is how it is.
    -If I’m a black cat that’s a big responsibility to take on, I say.
          He shrugs his shoulders.
    -I am genius. I simply must to think twice.   Look there is Nyragongo, he adds.
          I look to the right and see a smoldering red light hanging in the air.  As smoke rises from the lava it carries the light on its back making it look like a floating ridge of burning trees, or the end of a simmering cigarette in the night.  I’ve never seen anything so ferociously, naturally beautiful.
    -Eh, and look on the left there is Rwanda.  Eko Rwanda, says Dusan. 
          He switches into basic Swahili and points to the left of the car where there are tiny pricks of light.  Eugenie leans into the window and stares at the black mountain where she is from; a place she has no doubt heard about all of her life.  She turns back to the front of the car and her smile hangs in the air like the Cheshire cat.  Nyragongo doesn’t hold a red candle to her excited hope.
    -And there ahead is Goma.
          Dusan slides his hand across the front windshield.
    -Eko Goma.
          The lights of the city spread before us like a spider web after a rain and for a moment the car is silent.
    -She has never even been to a village the size of Kanyabayonga, says Goran breaking the silence.  Can you believe?  This is crazy.  This must to be crazy for her.  I flew over New York city once, not land just fly over.  First time I am seeing light like this. It is like one big light and then you fly 30 kilometers closer and it becomes even bigger and bigger light.  You cannot imagine this, what it is like.
        It’s true, I can’t.  I grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. and lived in Manhattan for a year.  The change from village to city and the fears and novelties that must come with are out of my reach.  We leave Eugenie at a UN camp for ex-combatants where she will go through a 45 day repatriation program and hopefully, be reunited with her parents.  She has no children, somehow, and she has the status of being married so maybe fortune will be with her and whatever life she has left will be overshadowed only by the good of this next one.
          Dusan and I spend a few days bouncing around Goma greeting people and Arranging The Things.  I meet C—and his film team in the UN café perched on Lake Kivu.  C—is an eccentric, slightly cynical, but kind and hilarious individual.  He spouts ideas as if there’s a bomb exploding in his brain, but one that feels good, and he can’t keep his excitement to himself.  There is another muzungu woman traveling with us, along with 50 thousand dollars worth of camera equipment so Dusan must be sure security is okay.

          We meet with The Guy, The Guy who must not be named, in a back road of a back road in the darkness of a small concrete house.  Inside, The Guy is sitting on a couch drinking a Vitalo—a soft drink that tastes like Grenadine.  The Guy is a fugitive and a Mai-Mai Colonel, so the curtains are drawn.  He has a kind but intelligent face and a white, faux-Louis Vuitton t-shirt stretching across a small pot-belly.  He greets Dusan with three taps of the head and bows his head in respect when he shakes my hand.  The walls are covered in posters of the Holy Mother, a Jesus calendar, and a large poster of American rap stars.  Jesus, Marry Ludacris, and Biggie stare down at us as we speak.
    -I am needing to arrange the things, this is not so good that you are in Goma because I think it is best if you are in the bush, says Dusan immediately. 
    -I am to bring myself along with a film crew to Muhanga, as well as Amy here and one other woman.  Because of this I am needing to be absolutely sure that security is good.  The film crew is not doing a documentary, I must stress this.  They are doing a film that is like art, and it is also about DDR/RR and this work that I am doing.  So it is not to be a problem for Mai-Mai and your faces will be hidden and blurred.
    -Why you to cover our faces?  Asks The Guy.  Maybe you are showing FaRDC faces and you hide our faces and this makes like we are ashamed or doing something wrong and want to hide.
    -No, not any problem.  It is not like this it is for art it is not something to say who is doing what.  You understand?  It is not this documentary type.
    -It’s a film utilizing fiction mixed with reality to show a point, I say in French.
          The Guy nods his head and leans back.
    -And as you see, Amy is to go with us into Muhanga, Dusan picks up again.  She is doing very important work this sexual violence stuff and she is collaborating with DDR/RR as she is doing very important job.  If you work with Amy, she can give report saying that you cooperated to learn about sexual violence.  It can show that you are not committing that what people are saying you are committing.  That you are wanting to suppressing this.
          The Guy lifts his eyebrows and juts out his lower jaw in agreement every few seconds, a common Congolese gesture of active listening.  When Dusan finishes, The Guy looks at me and remains silent for a moment.
    -You know, it is not us who are doing these rapes and such, he says to me in French.  It is mostly civilians who then blame it on us because they know they won’t get in trouble if they say they are Mai-Mai. 
    -No, I understand this fully, I say.
          It’s impossible to get an idea here for who’s doing what and who’s simply blaming it on each other.  Rape was once a weapon of war here, maybe.  Now, it’s a weapon of politics, a smear campaign, and collateral damage. 
    -You will speak with the head of the civilians, he continues.  He will tell you things and you will see.
    -I would like that very much.  My aim is not to blame anybody, simply to give information about the consequences.
    -I will have to be in Muhanga, otherwise will not be safe, says The Guy turning back to Dusan. 
          Dusan reaches into his pocket and takes out a few bills.
    -Here, use this to take picky-picky and we will meet you there.  Can you to be there before we arrive on Friday afternoon?
          The Guy takes the money but keeps talking.
    -I think I can to go with you in your car, he says.
    -No, this is absolutely not possible.  I am telling you, please believing me in this.  It is idea that will end in disaster.  I cannot do that.  You must to understand, I would like to transport you but it is simply not possible.
          The Guy doesn’t look too happy but he tucks the money into his pocket.
    -Okay, I think I can get to Muhanga before you. 
    -Great, thank you my friend.  We must go to arrange the  other things.
          Dusan stands up and picks up his packet of cigarettes and the black Manchester lighter.  Finest Virginia Tobacco.  The Guy walks outside with us and chats with me in basic Kinande.  Like everyone else, he finds it hilarious that I speak even a few words of his local tongue.  As we leave the house, I see several FaRDC soldiers walking only a few meters away from the house, completely clueless that the fugitive they're searching for is right behind a thin veil of flowered sheets, hanging as curtains.  Drinking neon red grenadine from a bottle.
        If all goes well, we'll be seeing him next out in Muhanga.  Where Mai-Mai and FDLR are allegedly "co-habitating." 

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