settle down !
So I arrived in Goma on Saturday, September
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
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.
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.
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".
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. "
it ? Of course I did not remain insensible to all these calls, but I am not Mother
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...
?! 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
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
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
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.
little later in the evening, I met MESSRS. Mobutu and Mandela who passed there...
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.
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
My living room and bar
Walter : cook, intendant,
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...)
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 !
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...
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...
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
"Papa Tango to Papa Golf (that's me)"
"What's the situation, over"
a visit. They took my 4x4 and some money.
Left towards the former residence,
"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 !
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).
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...
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...
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...
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
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