Mangurajipa is inaccessible by road. While preparing to leave, Jay, Dusan’s translator, speaks with several truck drivers who attempted the road and had to turn back. I’m disappointed that we can’t go to the village I’ve been curious about since speaking with a gold salesman, but also glad we didn’t start the trip and have to spend hours digging the car out of the mud in an area where safety is never a certainty.
The next day Dusan calls me.
-We will go to Kaina, he says. To Arrange The Things.
I wonder to myself if I’ll ever be able to have a professional meeting without referencing The Things. Kaina is south of Lubero, so I head out on my motorcycle to meet Dusan and his team in Lubero. There is nothing like driving across the rocky, potholed, muddy roads of Congo on my motorcycle with music playing under my helmet. The country is beautiful no matter where you go, no matter how bad the roads are. Women carrying bundles of sticks and babies line the roads, next to men pushing goods on toothpick bicycles. Even when the rains threaten, there is something comforting about Congo. The country is a well-intentioned but cruel lover, and no matter how it hurts you or those around you, you can never stop loving it.
In Lubero, after Dusan smokes a few cigarettes and all phones are charged, Jay, Dusan, another team member named Kensy, and myself pile into the UN car. Kaina is only three hours away, a short distance in comparison to most DDR/RR trips. We hurtle through the countryside as Dusan gives history lessons and discusses The Things with Kensy and Jay. When we arrive in Kaina the sun is just beginning to set. I don’t know what Things we are arranging but we pull into the dirt courtyard of a small hospital.
-I think we should speak first with the Commander of FaRDC, says Jay.
My heart pops into my throat and I have to work hard to suppress it. With all of the rebel forces in Congo, the governmental forces frighten me the most. They have the “law” behind them, no matter how corrupt or non-existent that law is and thus they have more power than simply the power of a gun. They cause more chaos in this country than any rebel, but much less than any politician.
-We have to check The Things first, says Dusan.
All of us file out of the car.
-What are we doing here? I ask Dusan.
He’s wearing his black sunglasses to shield the sharp rays of the setting sun.
-We must to see a man who was shot.
-Is he FaRDC?
-No, he’s FDLR. He was shot in some ambush.
A man wearing a Doctor’s white coat comes out of one of the small concrete buildings to speak with Jay and Kensy. When they finish Kensy turns to us and translates.
-The man is having his wounds dressed, we must wait about thirty minutes.
-Okay, says Dusan puckering his lips. Let us go to take something to eat.
Back in the white vehicle, ten minutes up the road to a small concrete building where we stop often to take tilapia fish and Coca-Cola. Dusan immediately starts with a history lesson. His favorite topics are World War I, World War II, and of course, the wars for Independence of the former Yugoslavia.
-You know in World War II 80,000 victims were German. And about 30,000 were Russian, he says across a large wooden table as we wait for our food.
-I heard, even though it’s not normally a good thing to mention, that there have been more people killed in Congo than in World War II.
-I will not say like this. But yes, it can be true. You have over six million victims in Congo but it is over the course of more than ten years. In World War II it was over a few years, and then in Rwanda it was 800,000 victims but in the time of a month or so.
-Why is it so hard for people to admit that? The comparison of victims.
-You know, United Nations reports pushing governments to admit this is genocide, but Rwanda is furious because they must to have claims to that word.
-Well, I thought that genocide was ethnically based. And from as far as I can see, even though there are ethnical reasons and aspects to the conflicts here, mostly it comes down to money, minerals and power.
-What is genocide? He asks and leans forward knowingly. What?
I hesitate, as whenever he looks at me knowingly it typically means I will eventually be wrong no matter my response.
-Genocide is the attempted extermination of a group of people based on ethnic lines?
-Okay. What about religion?
-Um…. I think it means trying to exterminate an entire group of people. I'm not sure how they draw the lines that make people different.
-What about if it is ridding people in order to profit from what they have? Is profit enough to make differences?
-Uh… I’m not sure. I can look it up though.
I pull out my kindle, one of my most precious traveling companions, and open the The New Oxford’s English Dictionary.
Genocide- n. the deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. those of a particular ethnic group or nation.
-So, says Dusan when I finish. You are telling me this isn’t genocide? Deliberate killing of a large group of people? Baby. This is genocide.
-Yeah. That’s true.
-And baby, it will only get worse. Nobody can see this as genocide because it has happened over many years. But over six million victims, all deliberately killed. This is only genocide. Minerals or not minerals, this is genocide Chief.
I nod in agreement.
-Okay, I think we will to go, he says suddenly.
Back at the hospital we walk into a common room with beds and patients. Most are women, many are elderly. Only the young man wrapped in the blanket stands out. Dusan mentioned he is a war criminal, meaning he either partook in the Rwandan genocide or has committed atrocities in Congo. The guy looks vulnerable and nervous as the four of us surround his bed. The only part of him that pokes out of a brown patterned blanket is his face. He’s young but looks relatively healthy.
-Let us go to wait outside, Dusan says to me.
Jay and Kensy stay, as they speak his language. The point of the meeting is to find out if the UN can help him. If he’ll admit he’s Rwandan, he can be considered someone to repatriate and the UN can help him get back to Rwanda.
-He is saying he is Congolese, says Jay emerging from the room after only a few minutes.
-Does he know we can’t to help him if he does not tell the truth? Asks Dusan.
-Yes, we explained. But he is saying he is Congolese. He was shot many times, at least three, possibly up to eight. They are to amputate his leg.
I listen as he speaks and think of the absurdity of all of it. He can only be helped if he admits he’s Rwandese, even if he is in fact Congolese. And no matter his war crimes, repatriating him is better than having him in Congo to wreak havoc. His wife is still in the bush, supposedly, and nobody knows if he has children. He ambushed the FaRDC, allegedly, but wasn’t looting. He’s a member of FDLR but isn’t Rwandese. If he is Rwandese he’s helped by UN but potentially ostracized by his country of origin. I hate this conflict, I hate the complexities; I hate the never ending aspect of not being able to actually help or make progress. There are too many hands in the cookie jar.
As the sun gets lower and lower it permeates even the shade. I watch a little girl of about two years old imitate her mother. She looks like a sixty year old woman, in a dirty green frilled dress, with her squat little body and knowing face. She takes sticks and pebbles and dumps them into a little hole in the ground before pounding a rock into the hole and stirring with another stick. She’s making stew. I wish I could simply watch her forever and revel only in the perfection of her imagination.