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Congo :

My home in Goma

I settle down !

So I arrived in Goma on Saturday, September 8, 1990.

Between Gisenyi's airfield and Goma, I learnt the basic principles of driving in Kivu :
(1) Floor the accelerator ; (2) Honk permanently (to chase away the pedestrians) ; (3) Pay attention to those that could (that one could) throw (themselves or not) under your wheels (to make a "living") ; (4) Do not stop for the police except when it is important (border crossing for example).

Arriving at Patrick's place, I learnt something else : arriving at home, it is also necessary to honk. To warn boys or boyesses to come open the gate. It is very surprising at the beginning, but you get quickly used to it.

We then waited in a very pleasant way at the edge of Patrick's swimming pool, waiting that (1) roads blocked for MESSRS. Mobutu and Mandela are reopened ; (2) that someone finds the key of my apartment.

My apartment in Goma, behind the Post office.
I had the whole second floor, also opened on the back.
To the right, the electric cabin which "exploded" several times.

My apartment

Patrick drove me then to the apartment I was provided with, lent me some local money ("Zaire"), indicated to me the city center with some small restaurants and gave me a last recommendation : "if one comes to see you, do not open and send them to me : there will be many swindlers who will learn about your arrival".

This advice turned out essential : from the next day I had numerous guests... Young people, old men, men, women, "policemen", "Taxes inspectors", etc. Often, after I told them to go see one of my friends, they insisted in writing. I shall not show you here the picture of "Mignonne" ("Good-looking") in small attire that is brother gave me, but here is a message among the others...

"Dear brother Dad

I my name is ALLY. I are you friend. Forgives I dad, as I call you dad cause here in Goma I have no father. I mother it too stays in Masisi. I study here in Goma it is already three time that I to leave not at the school cause I lack money and uniform cause the tourist who is here he buys nothing of Tam-Tam. I call you a dad, I give you the respect, here I tears a lot dad. Thank you very much. My name is ALLY. I waits for you... Am I poor. Misfortune. Cause I do not study. "

Breath-taking, isn't it ? Of course I did not remain insensible to all these calls, but I am not Mother Theresa either.

First evening

So here I am, at home : my first apartment ! It's now I begin to realize what happens to me : first intercontinental journey, first time in Africa, first flat, first job... All this in a few days !

I begin by undoing my suitcase (my trunks will arrive three weeks later) and by the most recommended activity : install the mosquito net over the bed. Daniella Liwali, apartment owner and mom of a pupil, left curtains and sheets, everything is well.

Ooops ! 6:00 pm : the sun goes down, let's quickly take a picture. Good, let's switch the lights on...

Eh ?! No electricity !

Ok... No panic, let's assess : I have a candle, two bottles of local sparkling water and a Belgian chocolate bar.

First sunset in Goma

Let's say openly : I had a moment of deep discouragement, sat in this big apartment without any means of contact (there had been no more telephone in Goma for a long time), sipping a bottle of sparkling water in the light of an old candle which I have to make last... "But... What am I doing here ?" At that moment, I would have burst in tears.

Every evening before going to bed, the rite is the same:
10 to 20 minutes of hunting mosquitoes in the room,
then lock the fortress !

Courage !

Is it the lively and joyful African music, coming from a cafe far off, that took me out of this torpor ? I surmounted my fear to go out alone in the dark in this unknown city, pocketed the money Patrick had given to me and steered myself towards the exit...

By groping, I managed not to break my neck going down the numerous stairs leading from my apartment to the trucks' store which was behind. I called the guard, who opened the huge steel gate to the street for me...

Hesitating, I left the security of his torch for the darkness of an unknown alley, in the middle of Africa...

My anxiety did not last much longer : two alleys farther, I saw the main street, lit and full of life. I settled down at random in one of the cafes, and I began to appreciate my stay with a good beer, sheep brochettes and foufou.

A little later in the evening, I met MESSRS. Mobutu and Mandela who passed there...

Daily life

My apartment was big (about 180 m²) and practical, reassuring because on the second floor, well equipped but regrettably noisy because of the nearby discotheque.

A big terrace in the front, another one in the back, and a parking spot in the trucks' store.

I also had an entrance with a staircase in the front (directly on the street) but I quickly had to condemn it during the first riots, by placing my fuel barrels against the door to defend the apartment. In fact this was not very smart : later, servicemen tried to enter and fired at the door, bullets went everywhere... I don't know if the diesel would have exploded, but I am happy that no bullet touched the barrels...

My living room and bar

Walter : cook, intendant,
cleaning man...

The Monday following my arrival, Walter came. He had already worked for my predecessors, so I hired him at once and in so made another new experience : I became a boss !

I have to admit it didn't cost me much, but it was nevertheless satisfactory for him too : former 1st grade schoolteacher himself (not, it's not a joke !) Walter preferred to work as "boy" (I do not like this term) because he had lighter schedules and earned twice more !

In addition, he was sure to receive his salary as well as various advantages (medical care, paid leaves...)

In spite of the confusions and the war, we stayed in very irregular contact until now. I sent him some money, he gave me news of his 9 children and his life...

Besides me and him, the apartment had other occupants :
A cat, two parrots and... A bunch of chameleons !

One at first, then a second. Hey ! This one is a female ! I noticed it in the morning of... December 24 (cannot invent that one !) by finding the 18 chameleon babies she had dropped on the floor !

With cottons stubs and some water, I quickly cleaned them (not easy to wash them 20mm babies) and I was able to save some.

The most complicated part was to feed them : how does one teach to chameleon babies how to catch flies ? Impossible to describe here the hunting courses with them...

But I was proud: nobody in the city had heard about somebody having had chameleon babies in captivity!

Upon my departure, I loosened them in a well chosen quiet plot of land...

Mrs Chameleon

Agitated year

This apartment served me also as refuge during the floods ; and as entrenched camp during the riots. Several times I remained there hidden for several days, suitcase ready in case of evacuation, observing the situation from behind the curtains : fights among rebel, student, military, police, mischievous... I saw people being beat up with rifle butts, bats, machetes... Sometimes a friend lent me a "phonie" so that we could keep in touch and warn each others of the situation near our respective houses. That gave dialogues like :

"Papa Tango to Papa Golf (that's me)"
"Papa Tango listens"
"What's the situation, over"
"I had a visit. They took my 4x4 and some money.
Left towards the former residence, over"
"Got it Papa Tango. Sorry. Everybody is well ? Over."

It's in Goma that I became familiar with shots of various calibres, with the noise of the mortar and the cannon, mainly coming from the border with Rwanda -which entered war one month after my arrival, less than a kilometre from my home. There were some sleepless nights!

Curiously, one becomes used to all this : I sometimes got out in indescribable conditions to join the other expatriates and to party, with sometimes explosions noise in the background !
One will particularly remember our giga-party for Christmas (two days long) at Danielle's house, as well as a huge party at Lola's. Previously, in a more quiet atmosphere, there had been a great birthday party at my place (three days after the tornado and one month before the earthquake... See farther).


One day, this apartment also saw me back from the school, a little bit miserable, at about 9:30 am (it was on June 4). At about 11 o'clock, I was not just "miserable" any more : I was snuggled up under all the coats and pullovers I had been able to find, frozen in spite of the temperature of more than 25° C. Walter did not know what to do, and before I could realize I was having a malaria crisis, I entered a semi-coma. First luck : without knowing what was going on, Nymed (doctor at the advice center) came around midday at my home, to pick up something from Walter. She told me later what I do not remember myself : she found me in full frenzy, with 42.5 ° C of fever (I did not even know that one could go so high without dying) and administered the emergency care at once (pure quinine ... Wow !) It seems that if she had come a few hours later, I would have been good for the cemetary. I thought of suicide instead : during three days, I had the impression that my body was not more than an immense permanent cramp : it was horrible ! My second luck : I had a kind of malaria which one does not keep, and so I never had a crisis anymore, unlike some who have it for their whole life. You'll say : "you are crazy, you should have taken the preventive medecine !" And I would answer that I did take Nivaquine and Paludrine every day... Except two where I forgot, just before this crisis...


It's in Goma as well that I realized the importance of the good which we usually consider as simple and guaranteed in Europe : the electricity. In Goma, I had it about half of the week, but I was deprived of it several times for more than 5 days. Of course, it is the refrigerator and the freezer that give the biggest concern...

But it was not just a question of outages... On May 26 I saw a subterranean cable "exploding" and jumping off the ground, a few metres from my home ! As for the power cabin next to my apartment (see the pic at the top of this page) it "exploded" several times during the year, up to the final bouquet on June 29... From the terrace of my apartment, I filmed the technician who was once again replacing the big fuses by bits of steelbars. He probably put his hands in the wrong place... Suddenly there has been a big "flash" with an enormous noise of explosion which made the apartment shake. The "technician" was thrown several metres away and burned. Not his clothes, because the explosion had completely undressed him, it was his body which burned ! Of course I put the camera down... It is the only time when I gently waited for the restoring of the electricity without complaining.

Not bad, would you say... But that's not the end :
There are some more things to be said on the following pages...

Behind my home, the volcanoes : Nyiragongo, Nyamuragira, Mikeno...
It is the Nyiragongo, on the left, that erupted ten years after my departure,
on January 17, 2002, spreading its lava through the city...

( Panorama reconstituted from two separate photos,
The perspective is not completely respected)


It's on July 4, 1991 that I left Goma in secret, not to be robbed (military, customs...), thanks to Danielle. While she drove me to the airfield, Walter and some friends stayed at my home and made noise as if I was still there ;) I am not the only one to have gone out this way ! Hey, that makes great souvenirs :)

Next page : Goma city

Page créée le 5 mai 2001 -  Mise à jour le 7 juillet 2002

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