VIEWS: 38 PAGES: 121 POSTED ON: 12/25/2010
LAKE KIVU JOURNAL A note to the reader: In March of this year, just weeks before packing up my life in Kigali, I decided to throw some ratty old shirts in a duffel bag, buy a few pens and notebooks, point myself in the direction of Congo, and hit the road. It was to be my last great east African trip before I moved to South Africa, and I wanted to do a sort of valedictory tour – to put my final sentimental stamp on a region that had occupied most of the past three years of my life. The plan was to do a rough circuit of Lake Kivu, from the Rwandan resort town of Gisenyi; down to Cyangugu, in the country’s remote southwest corner; over the Congolese border to Bukavu; and across Lake Kivu to Goma, a one-time playground of white colonials in the Belgian Congo, now the humanitarian hub of eastern Congo’s restive North Kivu province. I’d decided, in a fit of romantic pique, to leave my laptop behind in Kigali; and so, pen and pad in hand, I set off like a pith-helmeted Victorian in search of a jolly good adventure. What follows is the journal I kept during the nearly four weeks I spent on the road. Looking back at words I wrote just eight months ago, it’s amazing to think how much has changed in how we look at Rwanda: first, because of the turbulent election season, which cast such an unflattering light on President Kagame and his handling of internal dissent; and more recently, because of the leaked UN report detailing some of the widespread and systematic atrocities linked to the RPA during its post-genocide Zaire campaign. These things were, of course, hardly news to anyone who has been watching the region for more than the past 20 minutes; still, in terms of the battering Rwanda’s public image has taken, it’s hard to imagine things in our favorite east African autocracy ever being quite the same. What you’ll find below is not a hard-hitting inquiry into RPA war crimes, or a catalogue of the terrible atrocities being committed in the eastern Congo, but a simple account of what it was like to be in a particular place at a particular time. I tried, throughout those weeks of traveling, to look and listen with an open mind and heart, and I hope I managed, in some small way, to bring the life of that region – with all its joy, frustration, laughter, disappointment, uncertainty, fear, hope, sorrow, and above all else, dignity – to the page. It is an imperfect account: for much of my trip I was writing between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day, much of it unfiltered, most of it, I hope, factually accurate, some of it deeply flawed. I’ve largely left these pages unedited, for the simple fact that the prospect of fine- tuning some 70,000 words of travelogue right now sort of makes my stomach turn. I hope you’ll forgive my flaws and trespasses and feel, ultimately, that it was worth the trip. C.V. November 24, 2010 Livingstone, Zambia March 21 – Kigali to Gisenyi You have your problems. We have ours. In which our intrepid writer does intrepid things. The guy in the corduroy jacket gets off the bus and tells me he saved me a seat. It‟s the 13:30 Virunga Punctuel to Gisenyi, humid, packed. My ticket says 14h, but the guy in the corduroy jacket says it won‟t be a problem. “Umva! Umva!” he says to the conductor, who is young and can‟t be bothered. He wa ves me onto the bus. I wrangle my duffel bag down the aisle, maneuvering past the fat thighs that are spilling out from seats crammed with girthful men and women from the Congo. The guy in the corduroy jacket gestures from a seat near the back. He has beer on his breath and his name is Patrick. Kigali. This city – green, mild, easy, pleasant – which I‟ve called home for most of the past year. I‟ve spent more time in Kigali than any city south of the 42nd parallel, and yet it feels like I hardly know the place. Always a sense of returning or departing – Kenya, Burundi, Congo. It‟s a place where I switch off, stare blankly at the hills, move gently between different states of catatonia. For three weeks, sick and medicated and cursing my bad karma, I‟ve sleepwalked through coffees at Bourbon and karaoke at Cadillac and quiz night at Sol e Luna. We had some good parties here – I‟m going to miss this city. A place to which I‟ve grown accustomed to saying goodbye. Patrick lives in Goma and works for a security company, about which he is grateful and pleased. Jobs are hard to come by in eastern Congo, and for Patrick – an office-bound accountant, not one of the narcoleptic askaris dozing off with a billy club cradled in his arm – this good fortune just a year out of college suggests some very powerful juju. Or family ties. He is wearing a button-down shirt and designer jeans that hang loosely from his slender hips. His English is excellent, which is good, because my French is not. He is the fifth of seven children, born in Bukavu, and the brief glimpses of the life there he offers suggest a privileged life indeed. His father teaches statistics at the university. He remembers watching the September 11 attacks on satellite TV. He has lived through some bloody times in Bukavu. “You have your problems,” he says, “we have ours.” The Congolese men on the bus are loud and broad-chested and built like Easter Island totems. One wears an abacost – the Mobutu-era fashion still proudly worn by many Congolese – and another wears a flamboyant, sateen shirt in a bright floral pattern that suggests the very complicated relationship between the Congolese male and his masculinity. All wear sunglasses, the frames of which seem greatly distressed by the demands made by these oversized Congolese heads. Neck fat folds like an accordion. A woman fans herself, wearing more face paint than a geisha. These Congolese have apparently made the trip to Kigali for the weekend‟s tie between TP Mazembe, the Congolese powerhouse, and Kigali‟s APR – the Rwandan minnows – in the African Champion‟s League. APR scored a shocking 1-0 upset, about which one of the passengers has been loudly complaining into his phone for nearly 20 minutes. Patrick, having also traveled to Kigali for the match, glumly narrates the man‟s call. “The dog barks at home,” the man says sagely – the implication being that Mazembe just didn‟t look themselves on the road. We stop and a man bounds off the bus with the particular nimbleness and grace I associate with fat Congolese men – the quick birdlike movements of feet that can dance a mean rumba. It‟s a sort of spite to the ample waistlines and melon-sized heads. The man boards the bus with two bundles of eggs carefully wrapped in banana leaves, and a chicken wedged beneath his arm. The banana- leaf contraptions are ingenious: they look like sturdy little baskets. And the chicken proves to be surprisingly even-tempered, hardly squawking beneath the heavy forearms of his new owner. Rwanda speeds by. Little towns whose names I‟ll never know. Terraced hills, like temples to pagan sun gods. The roads are busy on a Sunday afternoon: families in church clothes, women tottering on uncomfortable heels, carrying colorful umbrellas. In Mukamira the whole town is gathered around a scruffy soccer pitch. We watch two teams of young boys chasing a ball across a bumpy field, and then Mukamira disappears from the rear window and is gone, gone forever. I‟ve described to Patrick my plans to travel around the lake, and then I ask about traveling in Congo. Has he ever been to Kisangani, I ask, or Lubumbashi? No, he says, but it is easy enough. From Goma you take a boat to Bukavu. Then a bus to Uvira. In Uvira you can take a boat down Lake Tanganyika to Kalemie. And in Kalemie – voila! – there is a train that will take you the rest of the way to Lumbumbashi. I am amazed at this intelligence. Is it possible that a train – some colonial relic – still carves a brave path through the jungles of Katanga? It does, says Patrick, though the security situation is never good. He laughs. “The reality of Congo, the security – you live with it,” he says. “For example, in Ruhengeri, if there is the army there, the bus must continue the journey. If you have the chance, you pass. If you do not have the chance – you have a rocket in the bus.” There are no rockets in Ruhengeri. No police checkpoints, no anything. Spend enough time in Rwanda and you can take for granted how easy it is to travel here. I worry if I‟m being lulled into a false sense of security. I am already on my guard for Bukavu, which has a reputation for hassles that borders on notorious. White travelers are few and far between in South Kivu – not like Goma, with its massive presence of international aid workers and UN peacekeepers. Bukavu‟s immigration officials and policemen and assorted dregs of Congolese bureaucracy all seem doubly inclined to milk the unfortunate few passing through. I express my fears to Patrick that the days will be a monotonous shuffle through the crumbling halls of officialdom in search of the necessary permits to travel in Bukavu. He says I‟m overreacting. “It is okay, as long as your paperwork is in order,” he says. This is hardly reassuring. On the outskirts of town a billboard welcomes us to Gisenyi – a cheerful white family playing volleyball on the beach. I am too tired and cynical to comment. In town the tarmac tapers off just where I remember: veer left, toward the upmarket hotels along the lake, and the going is smooth as a baby‟s bottom; veer right, Armageddon. By the market, where the bus deposits us, I exchange numbers and part ways with Patrick. He slings his corduroy jacket over his shoulder, hops onto a motorbike, and heads for the border. Picking my way through the street kids looking to carry my bags for small change, I head for the Auberge de Gisenyi, a budget stalwart, where the beds are hard, the showers are cold, but you‟ll at least get some change for your Rwf 10,000. My few visits to Gisenyi have been as either a point of departure to or arrival from Goma, and so my experience of the city has been purely utilitarian. My memories are of the auberge‟s spartan rooms, and of the misty silhouette of Nyiragongo looming over the marketplace. That this is actually Rwanda‟s best-known resort town only becomes apparent when I get down to the beach, where a long colonnade of towering palm trees shades an avenue of beautiful old colonial homes – some enjoying a second life as hotels or municipal buildings, others perhaps inhabited by latter-day elites, still others falling into colorful states of disrepair. There is a wedding on the waterfront – a swish affair with dozens of tables arranged under a great white tent. The men are wearing smartly tailored suits and the women have traditional dresses draped across their shoulders. Two stern men with walkie-talkies bar the entrance. A long line of SUVs stretches down the avenue. One can only imagine what RPF stalwarts are tying the knot this afternoon in Gisenyi. Further down, the beach is crowded with the young: adolescent boys with bare butts splashing around in the shallows, or young lovers sitting close together in the sand. Dusk is approaching. Hundreds of fruit bats are screeching and circling in the air. A gang of boys has gathered to throw rocks at their papery wings. The hills are green and tumbling down toward the water. The Congo is close enough to touch. On the way back into town, I meet a group of young Congolese boys on their way back to Goma. They want to know where I live, then ask if they can come home with me, back to America. The sky is purple and there is chaos around the marketplace – hawkers carrying their unsold bundles, taxi- motos circling in search of a fare. The city is built at the foot of a very steep hill, and the houses of the poor crowd the slopes. You c an see solitary figures slowly trudging up the footpaths. There is a single avenue running through the city, and it is crowded with people coming and going: old men on their way to the mosque, packs of children kicking at stones. Music pours from CD shops and brightly lit hair salons. Teenage boys hang about, gathered on street corners or outside barber shops, passing the time with the defiant purposelessness of youths the world over. Children are running through the gathering darkness, their little legs pumping them closer to home. On a dirt side-street there‟s a commotion like a carnival. A small tent has been built with plastic tarps and wooden poles. Inside dozens of women – husky, sweating, swaddled in colorful and elaborate dresses – are rhythmically thrusting their heavy haunches from side to side. They whoop and hoot wildly. It is a long way from the stiff formality of the wedding party I saw on the beach. A boy tells me it is a Muslim ceremony to prepare a woman for marriage. There are no men inside the tent. Just a few cluster outside, along with curious children and passersby. I‟d forgotten, after all these weeks in Kigali, how it feels to be a white man in small-town Africa. Everywhere I‟m met with hysterical greetings and cries. It is an effort just to make it down the street. One boy, a high school student, perhaps, pumps my hand frantically, his face breaking into a wide, nervous smile. “Welcome to Rwanda,” he says, his voice cracking. Walking back to my hotel, past the women who sit hunched over piles of onions and maize in the darkness, I can still hear cries of “mzungu” and “How are you?” shouted from the shadows. At the auberge they‟re showing English football on the TV in the back yard. This TV – along with the posh new umbrellas shading the yard – seem to be the sole improvements at a hotel that has jacked up its rates by 50 percent in the past few months. This trend – to dramatically raise one‟s prices, without any appreciable change in the quality of one‟s service – I‟d like to call, “to pull a Rwanda.” It is as if, by sheer force of effort and the careful manipulation of market prices, this country can just will itself into the developed world. I‟m reminded of the drive to Gisenyi today, where we passed hundreds of houses branded with a scarlet letter X on the front door or wall. The houses – admittedly in sorry shape – have been marked for demolition, as part of another ambitious government initiative to Make the Country Safe. Down go the crumbling old mud-and-wattle eyesores; up go handsome new brick or poured concrete homes – dozens of which were being built, on rickety bamboo scaffolding, in every town we passed. The effect has certainly been dramatic: the constant buzz of new construction gives a sense of industry and purposefulness to even the smallest Rwandan towns. But I wonder what provisions have been made for the owners of these crumbling homes. In Kigali, when hundreds of families were evicted from a crowded slum on the slopes of Kiyovu hill to make way for new high-rent developments, there was a full-on Greek chorus of complaints over the hastiness of evictions, and the unfair prices given to those who were forced to “resettle.” Who foots the bill for these rural poor being moved into new homes? Ending poverty and banning the signs of poverty are two very different things. I think of the foreign journalist who glowed with praise for the fact that she didn‟t see any Rwandans walking down the street with bare feet. She praised the government largesse that made this so – only a friend in Kigali, a long-time resident, told me the exact opposite was the case. The government, she said, had passed a law that made it punishable by fine not to put shoes on even the littlest pair of feet in your family. Suddenly, it became imperative to scr atch together enough money for those extra pairs of plastic Bata sandals. (I never investigated the truth of this claim.) I suppose you can‟t fault the end result so much as the over- determination of the government to get there. Back at the auberge I‟ve fallen into conversation with Robert Mugabe. Mugabe, a journalist for The New Times, had come to watch the tail-end of Chelsea-Blackburn on the big screen, and recognized me sitting with my Fanta. We‟d met, briefly, at a Kigali sauna nearly a year ago. (A separate chapter, some day, to be written about Kigali‟s sauna culture.) He never forgot the faces, it seems, of his journalistic brethren. Since we met he‟d been promoted to bureau chief of Western Province. From his office in Gisenyi, he covered the whole of Lake Kivu – with a colleague in Kibuye, and another in Cyangugu – as well as the latest developments in eastern Congo. Not long ago, he had been on patrol with MONUC forces in North Kivu. It was unsatisfying, from a journalist‟s perspective. MONUC tightly controls its image (or, at least, tries to); often, said Robert, security sweeps would be staged for the benefit of foreign journalists. Yet he knew MONUC had no business being in Congo, and that they only made things worse. He said he had proof that UN soldiers were directly complicit in the trade of illicit minerals, swapping guns for gold with local militias. He wanted to do more strenuous reporting in Congo, if he only had the resources. “I can go to an FDLR base and do my story from there, no problem,” he says. “You just have to have some money to pay them.” And what about Gisenyi? I ask. What was the latest gossip? Any interesting stories I can be on the lookout for? Robert pauses to consider this. “Another man drowned in the lake,” he says. “He did not know how to swim.” Such are the perils in Gisenyi today. March 22 – Gisenyi, Rubona It’s something I think or dream. In which a boat trip is planned, for no good reason. Before leaving Kigali, I made the decision to leave my laptop behind. For this three- or four-week trip, I wanted to be as unencumbered as possible – to not have to hesitate at the prospect of a boat ride into the unknown, or a stranger‟s invitation into his home, because of fears over the safety of my pricey electronic wares. Implicit was a desire, too, to leave behind my emotional crutches. I knew how easy it was, from past travels, to sink into a DVD or retreat into my iPod at the end of a long day. I wanted no such comforts now. Life in rural Africa, after all, means contemp lating boredom: acquainting yourself with the long hours after nightfall, when solitary diversions are few and the sound of silence is absolute. (No such luck in the Auberge de Gisenyi, where the chatter of Spanish league football goes on till after midnight.) I felt it was important, for these few weeks, to stay engaged to the world around me – not to escape into a Coen brothers flick or an old school playlist that might, however subtly, draw me back to my American life. Tuneless, flickless, my first night is a blessing: I sleep like a stone. At half-past eight the birds are chattering, the kitchen is dishing out omelettes, my first morning post-Kigali is bright and auspicious. How liberating, too, to know there are no deadlines on the horizon, no pressing emails to get to: nothing preventing me from just disappearing for a few weeks. It is like a spiritual lightness, as if I‟ve been set free from the weight of my daily routine. I feel more curious, more engaged. For a travel writer, I have the peculiar sense that I need to travel more often. By late- morning I am back on the beach, which today, a Monday, is almost empty. In the distance I see eight sets of pale limbs, eight swaths of khaki, eight back- and fanny-packs milling around the jetty – Belgian tourists, perhaps, getting reacquainted with their former fiefdom. Closer to me a group of Rwandans – overdressed for the beach, as ever – is watching a motorboat tugging a waterskier in wide circles. He is a Rwandan, and he can only go through one or two passes before losing his balance, flailing his arms, and crashing into the water. The lake is flat and inviting. Every few minutes a small transport plane buzzes overhead – the latest batch of Congolese minerals, no doubt, being whisked off the tarmac in Goma en route to foreign lands. On the beach I meet one of the young captains of the boat sputtering past us in broad arcs. On the weekend, he says, there is plenty of business from tourists: the wazungu weekending from Kigali, the Congolese escaping the clutter of Goma, the Rwandans holding their wedding celebrations on the lake shore. They pay a few thousands francs to get taxied along the coast, or rent the boat for the day to head further south. (A group of tourists, he says, have paid $600 to take the boss‟ other boat to Cyangugu.) On a Monday morning, though, business is slow. The boys waterskiing and flopping around in the water are all employees of the Serena Hotel next door. I suspect the boss – an anonymous businessman in far-away Kigali – wouldn‟t be too pleased to see his gas dollars going to waste. Fidele laughs and shrugs away the boss‟ concerns. It is a modest job, even by Gisenyi‟s standards. “It is something so I can eat,” he says. More often he will take his small savings and cross the border into Goma, where he can buy cheap goods and resell them in Gisenyi for a profit. He hopes he can make it to America someday. “It‟s something I think or dream, but I don‟t know to do it,” he says. He would like to go and make money and then return to Rwanda. “You know, Africans, we love that country,” he says. But it‟s not the same as having a home. There is a great sense of movement in this border town. Fidele‟s retail racket is a common one; others, handicapped men and women, cross the border with their wheelchairs stocked with petrol and cigarettes. The handicapped, through some loophole in Congolese law, are exempt from paying customs duties at the border. And so their hand-pedaled tricycles are loaded down with cigarettes and dry goods and wheeled duty- free across the border. Other, obscure goods are no doubt being shuttled across in some of the many SUVs with Congolese plates barreling around Gisenyi. And then there are the casual pedestrians: most of the youths I meet along the beach seem to be Congolese, playing hooky for the sake of a casual stroll in their peaceful neighbor. Despite the lazy pleasure of the waterfront and the languid decay of some of the old colonial homes, there is great energy around Gisenyi. After leaving the beach I walk the six kilometers to Rubona, the bustling little town that serves as Gisenyi‟s principal port. Along the way I pass a fish market full of the riotous cries of market women; on the beach outside, thousands of slender silvery fish lay on wooden racks, drying in the sun. There are women selling vegetables on the road, and women carrying great bundles and baskets on their heads, trundling many miles to sell their pineapples and cassava and tomatoes and maize, their voices singing shrilly as they chatter along the way. On the road a man stops me and gestures to a small satchel slung across his shoulder. It is too small to hold the statuettes and Congolese masks being sold by other hawkers in Gisenyi. I wonder if he is offering postcards; his accent is inscrutable. Only when he opens the zipper to reveal a few hunks of rust-colored rock does the word “Coltan! Coltan!” come into focus. I gently decline – conflict minerals are not my idea of a souvenir. Thus do I, in my own small way, give a tiny cry of protest at the atroc ities in the Congo. Half-way to Rubona, in a small crowded town clinging to the side of a hill, I‟m stopped by a group of youths listening to R&B ballads on a cell phone. They are polite, friendly, smiling easily; soon one – introducing himself as John – asks if he can accompany me the rest of the way. As in most of rural Africa, there clearly isn‟t much to occupy John on a Monday afternoon. He says he‟s just finished secondary school – last month? last year? – and I delicately side-step the conclusion of that thought, as it is probably the familiar refrain: no money to pay for university, no job prospects on the horizon. The rare chance to walk with a stranger through these familiar streets, the opportunity to both form a new friendship and boost his own cachet in little Kiroji, is not something to pass up. So off we go, followed by dozens of curious, eager eyes. The town is built along the road and there is a constant commotion of bodies: women selling pots and pans on tattered blankets, or crouching behind bunches of green bananas. Barbers are buzzing shiny domes in their tiny hair salons and carpenters are sawing at furniture on the roadside. “Everyone‟s a businessman here,” says John. And it is hard not to admire the entrepreneurial spirit as peanuts and boiled eggs and bottled beer and avocados and charcoal and hair extensions are being sold. By the time we reach Rubona my face and neck are sunburned and painful to the touch. We stop for Fantas in a small shop almost entirely devoted to hair care products. DARLING NEW LOOK – HIGHEST QUALITY HAIR ADDITIONS, says a typical package. LIKE HUMAN HAIR! HAIR THAT LASTS LONGER! Outside, with the sun high overhead, we can see the fishing boats clustered around the beach far below. The road has been steadily climbing since Gisenyi, and so John – as familiar with the town as if we were picking through his own backyard – gestures to a narrow path vanishing through the banana plants and begins bounding down the hill. Little Rubona is booming. The hillside is crowded with new housing developments – sprawling brick villas that, I suspect, will soon be touting the requisite Grecian columns and reflective windows that are the truest indication of ill- gotten wealth in the Great Lakes region. John gestures to one half-built compound and says, “That is for a Nigerian,” as if no more needs to be said. We pick through small gardens and brush aside great banana leaves. Many of the houses are already occupied. An old woman hangs the laundry from a line. An ancient fisherman sits in the shade, mending his net. No one seems particularly surprised to have a white man tramping through the yard. The lake is blue, still, dotted with green islands. John skips ahead on fast, sure, nimble feet, now and then pausing to push an earphone back into his ear. On the beach the women are selling vegetables and breast- feeding and spreading their freshly laundered clothes over the sand to dry. The way they look at you is frank and explicit. John exchanges some words with them and is soon scrambling down a sandy slope, to where a long, slender, motor-powered boat is being loaded for the lake journey. There are negotiations, but they end in disappointment: the boat will be leaving this evening, a day or two before I‟ll be ready to say goodbye to Gisenyi. Nearby we find two more boats, these shaded by canopies made from heavy tarps bearing the WFP logo. Again, no luck: Monday, it seems, is the only day that passenger boats travel from Gisenyi to Kibuye. As we trudge off through the sand, bitter and defeated, John continues to ask hopefully for any mid-week departures. It is hard to describe what a strange and touching thing it is to see such fierce loyalty, such determination, in someone I‟ve only just met. If John himself were desperate to board the next boat to Kibuye, I couldn‟t imagine him putting any more effort into our search. At a local restaurant on the lakeshore, as we‟re waiting for our brochettes, John disappears in search of fresh intelligence. Minutes later he returns, looking conspiratorial and optimistic. There is a rumor that a cargo ship will be leaving the Bralirwa brewery on Tuesday on a southbound journey. John can‟t investigate the rumor any further. “At this time, it is a prohibition to go there,” he says, gesturing to the brewery with its great billowing chimneys nearby. “This night I will search the information.” He promises to contact an uncle who works for Bralirwa to see if there might be a way to smuggle me onto the ship. Suddenly, things have gotten very interesting in Rubona. Soon storm clouds begin to churn over the hilltops, and we scramble for the nearest motorbikes, hoping to beat the rain back to Gisenyi. I lose John along the way. The rain begins to fall in fat, cold drops; as we speed over the hills, they strike my arms and face like pebbles. Halfway to Gisenyi we stop and take cover under a shop awning. There is a crowd of young boys there; as the rain intensifies, others come to join us. A leathery old woman, carrying a massive bundle of firewood, muscles her way into our sanctuary. We stand there, talking softly, as the rain pelts the tin roof. Smoke rises from the blacktop. Villagers trudge by, hanging their heads. It is a great comfort, in its own way, to be stranded here, at the mercy of the elements. When the rain stops we get back onto our moto, scooting and skidding our way back to Gisenyi. In the evening, John calls: the Bralirwa boat, he reports, will be leaving at 8am. A few hours later, he calls with an update: the boat won‟t be leaving till the afternoon. Strange that I suddenly feel so compelled to leave a town I was just getting used to. But I don‟t want to miss the boat; I decide to pack my things tonight and be on-call throughout the day tomorrow. One way or another, I hope to be in Kibuye by nightfall. March 23 – Gisenyi, Rubona Everyone’s a businessman here. In which a young man dreams. The bags are packed in the morning, the musty shirts and socks of the past few days balled up into a separate compartment, awaiting a good rinse in Kibuye. Toiletr ies are carefully stowed, according to the likelihood of an explosion in transit. Books are packed away in reverse order of preference for the journey ahead. After breakfast I take care of outstanding orders of business: a quick visit to the Internet café; a less than quick visit to the bank, where, just two days after leaving Kigali, I‟ve reassessed my budgetary demands and realized that, at this rate, I‟ll never make it to Goma two weeks hence. The preparations move forward. I raid the forex bureaus around the market, unloading my $20 bills for small denominations – a must for Congolese officials on the take. I stock up on samosas and queen cakes in anticipation of the day‟s long journey. By noon, I am utterly in the thrall of the mood of heightened preparedness that grips me on any travel day. I am ready, as my mother would say, to get this show on the road. Only there‟s no word from John on the departure time of the Bralirwa boat, and when I call him, he can offer only a Zen- like injunction to sit tight and let the African transport gods sort things out at their leisure. He invites me to visit his home in Gitsimbi instead – untroubled, it seems, by the prospect of me missing my ride. The boat will leave when it leaves, he insists, and I‟m sure to be on it. I take him at his word. Outside the auberge I flag down a moto, haul my backpack onto my shoulders, and scoot over the green hills toward Gitsimbi. John is waiting for me in Gitsimbi, grinning, pleased at my arrival, at our budding friendship, earphones dangling around his neck. Nearby a sullen, barefoot old man watches me with bloodshot eyes, and the children are chirping, “Mzungu, how are you?” as their faces poke from houses and kiosks and treetops and the bosoms of husky mothers. Again I think of John‟s words: “Everyone‟s a businessman here.” And I record the inventory, the small piles of charcoal, the bunches of green bananas, the oversized heads of cabbage, the soiled third- and fourth-generation shoes, the brightly colored children‟s clothes – everything laid out on blankets, or on rickety wooden tables; or else spread out on the earth still damp from the morning‟s rains. The clouds are still heavy and they begin to break as we approach John‟s home. His is among a small group of houses clustered on the side of a hill, overlooking a long, narrow valley studded with the starburst shapes of banana plants. We negotiate a steep, rocky path, surprising the mothers who sit pounding grain in the doorways, and the children playing in muddy yards. A train of barefoot women, carrying bundles of wood up the treacherous walkway, erupts with joy and laughter as I greet them in Kinyarwanda. The oldest – a mirthful old bird with a face like a walnut – extols my praises in a high, hoarse voice as we skid and slide the rest of the way to John‟s home. It is a large, multi-roomed compound with rough concrete walls and tin roofs that rattle as the rain picks up. The living room is small and dark, with five stiff-cushioned chairs arranged around a coffee table, and a dim shaft of light falling from a narrow window. A red, tasseled curtain separates the room from the rest of the house; on the other side I can hear John‟s sisters – two shy, polite girls who shake my hand with downturned eyes – chattering away as they carry out their domestic duties. John sits slouched in his chair, smiling, pleased to offer his hospitality on a rainy afternoon. He is the last of seven children, he tells me; years ago his father took to calling him “Sept” – the French word for seven – a nickname, I‟ll later learn, that has followed him to this day. I ask after his parents and he disappears behind the curtain. Soon a woman presents herself – tall, handsome, vigorous in spite of her seventy-odd years – and greets me in the Rwandan manner: a clasping of shoulders at a polite but friendly distance, almost like a sumo hold. She vanishes; a man replaces her – tall and lean as a mangrove pole, wearing a vest and ill- fitting slacks and a smile of great warmth and generosity. We stand there, stiffly shaking hands and thanking each other repeatedly. “He is suffering very much,” John says, when his father leaves the room. I ask what ails him, and John gestures to his arms, his legs, his head – as if life, and all its symptoms, were the ailment. It is only later that I‟ll realize the oddity of that scene: an intact family unit, in a country where the normal chain of African greetings – the inquiries into the health of siblings and parents – is always fraught with peril. How often have I answered the question, “Do you have parents?” before pausing with dread, bracing myself to ask the same in return. But here was John, the youngest of seven (the first-born, he said, approaching 50), and here were his parents, in their 70s and 80s. Suddenly I am playing en ethnic game. Are John and his family Hutus? But then, his parents are so tall. Perhaps they are Tutsis who fled across the border, into what was then Zaire, to escape the genocide? There is no delicate way to ask these questions. Instead I wait, hoping the story of his family‟s survival might somehow tell itself. John‟s three-year-old niece – small, frail, shy – comes into the room and sits beside me, her bare feet dangling above the floor. I take out a bag of samosas, which I‟d brought for the trip to Kibuye; John hands them out to his niece and his sisters and his parents, coughing in another room. I wish I‟d brought more. We sit in amicable silence while little Alina makes a mess of her samosa and the rain pelts the roof. It is an African scene: sitting together, passing the time, which is always in abundance. John has spent many days like this. He left secondary school before senior six – his final year – because the family had no money for him to complete his studies. He wants to go back to get his certificate, maybe to continue on to university. He shows me a bundle of technical drawings sitting in a pile in the corner – houses he had designed “from imagination” in school. They are beautiful drawings, with soaring A- frames and massive bay windows and balconies overlooking, I‟m sure, tidy little imaginary gardens. The interior plan is drawn with careful attention to detail and proportion. Here is a master bedroom, here is a kitchen, here is a stairway. It is a beautiful home. “They have built that house,” says John, somewhere in Musanze district. “But they pay me nothing, because I am a student.” He laughs bitterly – at 24, already he knows to expect no better from the world. Every day he goes into Gisenyi, looking for work. There are many others like him. He passes the time in Gisenyi; or at a barber shop in Gitsimbi; or with his family, here, on their perch above the valley. When he can find some money, he visits his girlfriend in Musanze. “For me to get five hundred” – about a dollar – “I say thanks God,” he says. It is a long walk back to Gisenyi, but the rain has stopped – thanks God. John‟s uncle tells him the boat will be leaving in the morning; I can do nothing but sit and wait and hope he‟s right. At the auberge we share a Fanta before he returns home, promising to see me in the morning. I‟m beginning to grow restless, knowing both my time and money on this trip are limited. If there are more delays with the boat, I‟ll have to abandon my half-baked plan to reach Kibuye by lake and find another option – moto, perhaps, which was the original plan; or, failing that, by bus. At night, outside the auberge, there are dozens of motorbikes gathered at the gas station, where assorted night critters circle toward the fluorescent lights. I doubt there will be more than a handful of customers to go around on this soggy Tuesday night, and I suspect these guys are here as much for the camaraderie as for the prospect of finding work. I think of Jean Marie and Lucio, my Congolese friends in Bujumbura, who would go one or two days without eating, but found their hunger easier to bear because they were bearing it together. It can be hard for us to grasp in the West, locked away with our solitary comforts. I am glad I left my laptop in Kigali, with all its diversions. I am happy to sit on a bench outside the barber shop, listening to the laughter, the arguments over football and girls, waiting for the clouds to clear to get a look at the glowing tip of Nyiragongo. March 24 – Gisenyi to Kibuye It is like paradise. Almost. In which hell doesn’t look half bad. Two years ago, in Tanzania, I was marooned for three days in the little fishing village of Lagosa, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. I was waiting for the MV Liemba – a venerable old World War I-era ferry – which, on its return passage from Zambia, would scoop me up and carry me back to the scruffy port town of Kigoma. The Liemba had already given me fits: a week before, its departure from Kigoma had been delayed – first a few days, then a full week – when it had been commandeered by the UN to return refugees from Tanzanian camps to their homes in Congo. I caught it the following week for its southbound passage; when it deposited me in Lagosa, there was a parks department speedboat waiting to take me to nearby Mahale Mo untains National Park. I had timed my visit to the park, with its large population of chimpanzees, to coincide with the Liemba‟s weekly voyage. If all went well, I would be able to catch the ferry as it made its return trip up the lake. Of course, all did not go well. There were delays in Zambia – no one could say why. Each morning I would stand on the beach, squinting toward the horizon on which, I was sure, the figure of the MV Liemba would slowly come into view. I was great sport for the locals of Lagosa. Here was a village with no electricity, no phone towers – a place that, even by rural Tanzanian standards, was almost entirely off the map. And yet somehow, each day, word had already reached Lagosa through some mysterious bush telephone about the delay of the Liemba. “It will not arrive today,” a fisherman would say with assurance early in the morning. And sure enough, despite my frantic efforts to conjure the boat from the little wisps of cloud on the horizon, the Liemba would not come chugging down the lake until it was damn well ready. In the past two years, I have drawn many morals from the story of my stay in Lagosa. The most relevant today, though, is the utter unreliability of lake transport in central Africa. Though steamships and pirogues and great cargo barges are the lifeline of the countless little villages along the shores of Kivu and Tanganyika and Malawi and Victoria, it takes endless stores of patience to negotiate their prehistoric passage. Thus another morning spent in an anxious purgatory of packed bags, waiting for word from John on the fate of my Bralirwa boat. Luckily, Gisenyi is no Lagosa, and I can soothe my spirits over a cappuccino at the lakeside Serena Hotel. Where would Africa‟s whites – the journalists, the diplomats, the aid workers – be without the comforts of our luxury sanctuaries? The tables at the Serena are populated thusly: an Indian expat (soon to be replaced by an American executive), your intrepid reporter, two American aid workers (with matching Macs), and a pair of white tourists – one American, one ambiguously European – along with their Rwandan guide. The hotel is charmless, possessed of the upmarket corporate blandness of international chain hotels the world over, but the coffee – at just Rwf 1,200 a pot – is superb. It is also, after a few busy days in Gisenyi, a concession to my need for personal space. In the market, or the crowded garden restaurant at the auberge – its Rwf 1,500 lunch-time buffet the only bargain in the joint – I feel the constant weight of bodies, the stares of curious, solicitous eyes. Coffee at the Serena is about both caffeine and equilibrium. It is for this reason I understand the distant, abstract reverie of other Northerners lost in their laptops and iPods and Therouxs at hotels across equatorial Africa. It is the familiar look of a tribe not at home in the tropics. Two tables away the American and the German, or Swede, are having a very low- level discussion of Great Lakes politics. Minerals, Nkunda, MONUC. It is as unsatisfactory as picking up last week‟s newspaper. Then the conversation turns to tourism. Always the same line: how these Africans should do more to develop the tourism sector, how with a little vision, etc. It is a very First World way to look at things. Show me a beach in Africa and I‟ll show you a line of white men waiting to put hotels on it. “It is like paradise, almost,” says the Swede, or German, taking in the coastline with the expansive view of a man who sees great profits on the horizon. Already he is planning to sell Gisenyi‟s charms on the Rwandan tourism portal he is developing online. “No one knows about this place,” he says, by which he doesn‟t mean the Rwandans who have been coming to this resort town for decades. And what about his vision? In the three days I have spent in Gisenyi, I would estimate the hotel occupancy rate at somewhere under 10 percent. This, of course, takes into account the fact that I arrived on Sunday, when most weekenders will be packing up and heading back to their homes in (most likely) Kigali or Goma. Still, I have seen few foreign tourists – the holy grail of the travel industry – and the largest crowds – the wedding parties who flocked to the beach on Sunday – had most likely driven to Gisenyi for the day of the celebration. The problem for Gisenyi, and any plans to develop it even further, is the fact that it already seems to have reached its tourist potential. There are far more beds than there are bodies with the available resources to fill them. And this isn‟t likely to change dramatically, unless: a) Rwanda becomes substantially more popular among foreign tourists as a stand-alone destination, instead of just a gorilla-oriented add-on for a larger East African package; or b) the country continues to develop its growing middle class, so that there are greater numbers of Rwandans with disposable income, leisure time, and all the things we take for granted in the West. This is something you‟ll find in Kenya, where hotels and safari camps will aggressively pursue Kenyan clients for their holiday packages. But Kenya is still light years ahead of Rwanda in terms of economic development. Despite great gains in recent years, Rwanda remains a minnow in the East African sea. At the Serena, the Dutchman or Dane looks admiringly toward the bo rder, where the Congolese frontier offers another enticing opportunity for local businessmen. “To me, Goma is the closest you can get to the disaster and the chaos without pushing yourself,” he says. “You can cross the border, and if it is too dangerous, you can come running back.” He pauses and turns to the waiter. “I am trying to decide between the chicken curry and the tilapia with chips,” he says. And then, turning back to his companions, approvingly, “It‟s almost like a little visit to hell.” If Goma is hell, Gisenyi has been my own private purgatory. By mid-day John is again full of assurances, but this time, I decide to take the fateful step of bringing my things to Rubona. Better to wait at the ready in that little port town – the Bralirwa brewery and its tall chimney columns in clear view – than to sit on-call in Gisenyi, hoping for word from John. If nothing else, I‟d like to feel like I‟m a step closer to Kibuye. In Rubona the arrival of a white man with an oversized duffel bag stirs the town‟s listless hang-abouts to life. Whatever my story, it‟s sure to add an interesting wrinkle to an otherwise uneventful day. Soon I‟ve drawn the attention of a young man named Abdul, who, having heard my plan, has decided to become the custodian of my star-crossed fate. Unprovoked, he begins demanding details of the Bralirwa boat‟s passage from passersby, and offering to conduct a thorough investigation at the brewery. I explain that my friend John is already on the case, and Abdul seems wounded. “I want to save you,” he says. I didn‟t know I needed to be saved. The town skeptics and philosophers are out in force. Abdul engages a young friend in soiled overalls who launches into a long monologue, like the ancient mariner. The only two words I recognize – “mzungu” and “polici” – do not bode well. Abdul sits thoughtfully beside me, weighing our options. “Why don‟t you take the bus?” he says finally. It is not an easy question to answer. Mostly it‟s an ill-defined spirit of adventure that‟s made this Bralirwa boat so appealing. But I can‟t, of course, ignore the irony that when a white man in Africa talks about “adventure,” he usually means forsaking his iPod, wearing ugly convertible pants, and generally living under the sort of conditions that 700 million or so Africans – whether out of necessity, custom, or both – live under every day. Why go through all this trouble, Abdul implies, when a perfectly good bus can get me there in a fraction of the time, for just a few more francs? When John arrives he wears a look of affliction. Why did I come to Rubona without telling him first? Lord, spare me these sensitive African souls! After some nervous minutes of hand-holding and reassurances, our friendship is back on solid ground. We take my things to the Bralirwa brewery, which, despite John‟s fears over “prohibitions,” seems to be as secure as a public park. There are women walking their children, and others carrying bundles of sugarcane on their heads, and still others selling pineapples out of a basket. Goats are everywhere. Somehow, though, we manage to find the only secure gate in the joint, on the other side of which idles my ride to Kibuye. John sidles up to the fence, greets the guard on duty, and begins talking in clandestine tones from the corner of his mouth. It is a Hollywood performance. This goes on for some time, before we‟re shuffled off to wait, stage right. Minutes later the guard returns with a man in slacks and a neat polo shirt – the captain of the S.S. Bralirwa. Again, after greetings and small talk – you‟d think they‟d known each other for years – John lowers his voice and pleads my case. The need for secrecy, I suspect, is just a token measure of propriety (or else John has a theatrical spirit): by this point, there aren‟t many people in Rubona who haven‟t seen the white guy with the duffel bag on his way to the Bralirwa brewery. If subterfuge is necessary to get me on this boat, then the boat will be leaving without me. Finally John and the captain agree on terms, shake; we take my things back to the beach, where we‟ll await the captain‟s signal. (Another ambiguous, theatrical touch: can‟t he just call me on his phone?) We sit for an hour as the daylight dwindles, John struggling to tune into the BBC on his cellphone. A kingfisher dive-bombs into the water, and a magnificent fish eagle swoops from the top of a tree. Fishermen – donning bright orange life jackets, as required by law – begin pushing off from the beach in their rowboats, lashed three together with long, bending poles. Across the bay we watch crates of bottles getting loaded onto the boat, stacked a dozen high. The wait is endless. Suddenly the boat sputters to life, turns, sweeps across the bay. This, it seems, is the captain‟s signal. We take my bags and jog along the beach, where a few other passengers are crossing a wobbly gangplank. Across the bridge, onto a rusted old barge bobbing beside the Bralirwa boat, where we say quick, heartfelt goodbyes. Then I climb over the railing, hop onto the deck of the cargo boat, and wave to Rubona, where fishermen and laborers are gathered on the beach, laughing good-heartedly at the white man‟s flight. An old man thrusts a long mangrove pole into the lake, steering us through the shallows. Then the boat‟s engine throttles to full-speed ahead, and Rubona vanishes into the dusk. It is a relief, finally, to be on my way to Kibuye. I had been told earlier in the day that the trip would take six hours, but John insisted we wouldn‟t arrive till early morning. This was, I thought, preferable to pulling in at midnight without a place to stay. And a small part of me felt, ever mindful of my budget, that I might as well get my money‟s worth from a night on the lake. We leave Rubona in high spirits, with the last embers of daylight dying in the sky over Congo, and the other passengers – a gregarious bunch, two men and four women, with two children in tow – already chattering away, as if they‟d been childhood friends. Roasted maize is passed around. Children are gurgled and cooed at. The captain tunes his radio to a local station, fiddling with the antenna. “En-guh- lish,” says a man in a fleece pullover, to everyone‟s delight. It is the only word of English I‟ll hear for the rest of the journey. We‟re arranged in a half- moon at the front of the ship, sitting on crates and sacks and staring stiffly into the wind. The further we get from Gisenyi, its lights twinkling across the lake, the more of a metropolis it seems. Nyiragongo glows over the city. Night falls, plunging the hills of the Congo into a prehistoric darkness. Fishing boats paddle slowly across the water, lamps lit to attract the fish swimming beneath the surface. There are dozens of lamps glowing, like a floating city. The water slaps against the side of our boat, the moon is out, and I‟m brought back to so many other journeys by lake and by sea: in Kenya, in Malawi, in Mozambique. For the first few hours, lost in this pleasant reverie, I convince myself that there‟s no better way to travel from Gisenyi to Kibuye. The cold comes gradually, at first. I pull my fleece and my jeans from my duffel bag, expecting to get some use out of them before the night is through. The women, swaddled in innumerable layers, seem to have more and more lengths of cloth to wrap themselves in as the night goes on. They seem like flimsy protection, though, as the cold begins to bite. The men, meanwhile, are doing the chivalrous thing and abandoning the women to the elements. The first mate opens a rusty trap door, revealing a musty bed in what appear to be the captain‟s quarters. The captain shines his flashlight down the hatch and, it seems, offers me his bed. Everyone finds this hysterical. I decline with an emphatic no – “Hapana!” – which more or less brings the house down. (I‟ll repeat this gag – “Hapana!” – for the next few minutes, each time achieving the desired effect.) Then the laughter dies and the first mate, stretching and yawning, descends the ladder. The captain lays a few pieces of cardboard over some crates and then follows to the cozy bed below. The women laugh, hoot, chatter, and curl up on the cardboard. It has probably never dawned on them to expect any better from their men. The joy of this lake cruise is coming to a close. The cold is suddenly bitter, and the women – rising, as if through some unspoken agreement – retreat with their children to their cardboard mattress. They wrap themselves tight in their kangas and huddle together for warmth. The children are remarkably well-behaved. Cries are quickly silenced with clucking and shushing. Alone at the front of the boat, I curl up in my fleece and wrap my thin jacket around my head, to protect against the wind. Every few minutes I shift my position – to find some extra degrees of warmth, to relieve an aching muscle. Now and then I look up to see the driver staggering through the pale moonlight over a mountain of crates. Somehow I snatch a few hours of sleep: 20 minutes here, 10 there. It is a very long night. Some time around 4am we arrive at the brewery in Kibuye. A guard patrols its floodlit grounds, stopping to chat with the women or offer us a trip to the toilet. It is against Bralirwa policy, I suspect, to let us into the compound, though by this point, the prospect of a warm brewery floor to rest my head on brings a tear to my eye. Again I drift off. A light rain begins to fall. Finally, just a few minutes before six, as pale light colors the horizon, the women rise, as if on cue, and gather their things. Babies are bundled to backs; bags are passed in a daisy-chain onto the dock. I offer to help the oldest woman onboard – a shrill, middle-aged bird – with the bag of potatoes she has brought from Gisenyi. Only when I begin to strain with the effort do I realize she‟ll be strapping nearly 50 pounds of potatoes to her back with a frayed length of rope, then trud ging off into the hills of Kibuye. Outside the brewery there are no formalities, no warm partings. One by one we scatter, picking our solitary paths through the crisp morning. It is a long walk to the Béthanie – the church-run guesthouse where I‟d stayed once before –and it takes me a few minutes to find my legs. The pain in my back and neck, too, is tremendous. But having this early- morning hour to myself, with the birdsong filling the trees, is almost entirely worth the effort getting here. And the pay-off, too, comes when I finally collapse into my bed, set my alarm clock, think better of it, and spend my first morning in Kibuye huddled under the covers. March 25 – Kibuye The life is good, but it is a lot of change. In which memories are remembered. It‟s half-past eleven when I finally get out of bed. It feels like my body is slowly returning to me. I have five missed calls on my phone – John, periodically checking on me since just before 6am. His concern is of the overbearing variety. I take a hot shower and spend the next two hours working through a giant Thermos of coffee. Though I‟m paying close to twenty U.S. bucks for my room – a small fortune, on my budget – the narcotic pleasures of coffee by the lake remind me why this is one of my favorite places in Rwanda. Across from me, the green wooded hills of a peninsula jut into the lake; beside it, Amahoro (“Peace”) Island; beyond that, Napoleon Island – so named because it is said to resemble Bonaparte‟s hat. From here, it looks like any other island on the lake – its slopes covered with trees, a denuded hilltop. Beyond it are still more islands, tiny and picturesque, so that you want to pack a picnic basket and spend the day exploring every one. This, of course, can be arranged. There are boats shuttling tourists between the islands; at the lunch hour they idle beside the jetty at the Béthanie, hoping to attract some clients. One boy, Haybarimana, a spindle in oversized clothes, offers to take me to Napoleon and Amahoro Islands for Rwf 20,000 – a steep price for an hour- long tour, considering I just spent ten hours traveling half the length of the lake for a fraction of that price. I tell him I‟m waiting for friends to arrive from Kigali – Andrea & Co., escaping the capital for the weekend – and that we‟ll talk when I‟ve found a few more passengers. Or when he‟s cooked up a more favorable rate. Walking into town, with the cries and splashes of children rising from the lake, I compare images of Kibuye with memories from my last visit, nearly two years ago. Here a small vacant lot where women sell Fantas and ndazi beneath beach umbrellas – this I remember. There, on the hillside, the skeleton of a new building – no doubt a gaudy business hotel, soon to be welcoming the budding technocrats of Kigali. It looks like they just started building it a few months ago. Closer to town, the biggest change: a sprawling new “Regional Centre for Blood Transfusion,” sponsored by the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Next to it a maternal health care c linic, which is showing its years. Dozens of women in colorful wraps and dresses sit in the shade, cradling infants to their chests. My first great shock comes at the stadium – one of the few places I vividly recall in Kibuye. It was here, in 2008, that I came to watch screenings for Hillywood, the traveling leg of the Rwandan Film Festival. That day there were hundreds of people crowding the grandstand – sitting, standing in the aisles, dangling from the railings. Mai and Ben, two friends from Uganda, had come down to Kibuye for the weekend. There had been heavy rains, and we picked our way through the mud to find places closer to the screen. It was slow going; at places the mud came up to your ankles. We watched a man with a lame leg navigate the field on a single crutch, poling himself like a gondolier. The main feature that night was We Are All Rwandans, a 20- minute short film by the English director Debs Eugene-Gardner. It was based on events from a village near Kibuye in 1996, at a time when Interahamwe who had found refuge in what was then Zaire were staging periodic raids across the border – attacks to sow chaos in rural regions, and to test the stability of the newly formed government. In one such attack – the basis of the film – gunmen raided a boarding school and, seizing a classroom, demanded the students separate into Hutus and Tutsis. The students refused; one girl, defiant, insisted, “We are all Rwandans,” before she was killed. It was a story that was little reported at the time – Philip Gourevitch mentions it on the final pages of his famous book – but was seized upon as a seed of hope for a new, united Rwanda. I had watched the film at screenings across Rwanda, and the effect was always dramatic. It is, by Rwandan standards, a graphic film, and there was much shock and grief as the students were gunned down in their classroom. (Six died, many more were injured.) In the end, though, amid the head-shaking and tongue-clucking, the film was powerfully received. It carried a message, I thought, that many Rwandans wanted to believe in. It was a message, though, that seemed to win few fans that night in Kibuye. There was a sense of restlessness, and growing unease; before the film finished, the mood was outright hostile, with hisses and jeers directed at the screen, and many throwing up their hands with disgust as they left the stadium. Something to remember about Kibuye: it was this town and region that saw some of the worst killing in 1994. Tutsis were almost entirely wiped out from this prefecture; by some estimates, nearly 60,000 were killed – more than 90 percent of the Tutsi population. So how to interpret the hostility of the crowd? Was it a reaction against the film‟s message of a unified Rwanda? Or against the violence depicted – sure to upset the sensibilities of a rural audience? Or was it that particular story – drawn from a village just a few miles down the road – that hit too close to home? Was this predominantly Hutu crowd tired of being reminded of its crimes? Were they hoping the ghos ts of the genocide might finally be put to rest? Two years later, here is what‟s left of that stadium: the overgrown grass of a soccer field, the crumbling remains of the grandstand. Packs of children scamper across the pitch, kicking a ball, or whatever bundle of rags and strings passes for a ball. Goats are chewing at midfield – chewing and chewing, in the manner of their kind. And yet the sight of that crowded grandstand, the hissing old men, the fat drops of rain that fell like silver dollars in our headlights – the memories are as vivid as if they‟d happened just last week. Across from the stadium, as a fresh rain begins to fall, I duck into a small restaurant for lunch. It is typical of rural Rwanda, with plastic tables and chairs arranged here and t here, and a small TV flickering in a corner of the room. A menu is taped to the wall; the name of the restaurant, it says, is Sport Restaurant Long Life. Two short, stout young women bustle about the place – almost comically busy: there are just two other diners. There is a confused exchange between us in a mixture of Kinyarwanda, English and French. “Come, I show you,” says one of the girls, leading me into the kitchen. There is a large bowl of cassava, another of beans, two empty basins with grains of rice sticking to the side. She says something else, in Kinyarwanda. “In French, they say „chou,‟” she says. “Chou,” I say. “Cabbage.” “Cabbage,” she says, enjoying the feel of the word on her lips. She breaks into laughter. I order rice, beans, and cabbage, and we have another good laugh as she begins to fill my plate. It is a good meal, served with a bowl of sambaza – tiny, silvery lake fish – in a watery tomato broth. It costs about a dollar. Brazilian telenovellas are playing on the TV, beamed in by satellite from Mozambique. The waitresses are rapt. Outside the rain falls heavily, then lightly. I stand in the doorway and look at what‟s left of the stadium across the street. There is still some sport going on, but so much for the “long life.” I ask the two men sitting by the door, finishing off their Sprites, what became of the stadium. One of the men, speaking in slow, cautious English, says they are tearing it down to extend the maternal health clinic next door. He mentions the American NGO – Peace something – which is funding the project. A new stadium is being built, he says, further down the road. The man is young, in his late-30s, I guess, and neatly dressed. He says his name is Jean Baptiste Ntimehuka, and he is a bailiff at the high court in Kibuye. He takes from his pocket a small lanyard with his name and photo, about which he is very proud. How many Rwandans, I wonder, dream each night for such a job, such a lanyard! Jean Baptiste points to his surname and translates: “God is good.” He was born in a village not far from here and studied at the Université Libre de Kigali. He has now been living in Kibuye for nine years. He has two small children, a boy, five, and a girl, three. His wife was raised in the Congo; her family returned to Rwanda after the genocide. “And then she met you and she fell in love,” I say. Jean Baptiste laughs uproariously, the words “not exactly” implicit in his body language. I ask him about the life in Kibuye now, and he says, “Kibuye is the development. The life is good, b ut it is a lot of change.” For this small town, the changes have probably been dramatic. Beside the gas station, where I remember there being rows of wooden dukas, there are now two construction sites: future homes, according to the signage, of new commercial plazas. There is a new shopping complex nearby, with a long arcade where the jobless youth of Kibuye can wait out the rain. It is full of small shops, a FINA Bank, a restaurant with two long tables over which are hunched lean men eating large plates o f potatoes and rice. Outside the boys are milling, pushing, arguing, laughing, passing the time. Tanzanian R&B plays from a barber shop. I pop into a smart little supermarket for a Fanta to revive my flagging strength. The rear wall is covered with liquor bottles – Ugandan waragi, Malibu rum. There are a few staples of the Rwandan diet – Zesta brand fruit jam, Blue Band butter – as well as imported luxuries like Pringles and Cadbury‟s hot chocolate. There are also five-gallon cans of vegetable oil sporting the USAID logo – relief supplies that at some point made their way from the international aid food chain into the parallel market of Rwandan commerce. Parked in front is a truck from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda. The message on the driver‟s side door exhorts Rwandans, “It‟s Time to Deliver!” On the way back to the Béthanie I‟m caught in a steady shower. The rain is like a part of the landscape here. On the side of the road is the St. Jean Catholic church, site, like so many Rwandan churches, of countless genocide atrocities. Outside is a small memorial site – a shapeless slab of concrete, hasty, artless, as if designed with all the thought and care of a traffic pylon. (Better, though, than the Marxist tributes to the “povos” and “la luta” in Mozambique – fine examples of memorial kitsch.) The church door is locked; I can just make out the forms of wooden benches through the dusty, stained- glass windows. The views of the lake from here are stunning. As always in Rwanda, you have a hard time channeling the horrors of 1994 when so much of the world around you looks like Eden. On my way to the road I am met by two men, one in an ill- fitting coat and large sunhat; the other clutching a sheaf of papers and wearing a rosary around his neck. They are choirists at the church, here to practice songs for Sunday mass. (Jean Baptiste, too, had said he sings in the choir. I suspect there are no shortage of hymns to get you through the week in Kibuye.) The talk, as one might expect in a churchyard, quick ly turns to religion. Am I a Catholic? No, Greek Orthodox. Ah, says Jean Marie – the man with the rosary – that is almost the same thing. Here is where my French fails me. I try to explain the differences between the two religions: the Great Schism (“Il y a cinq, six sant ans” – my history as bad as my French), at which point Catholics began following the Pope (“Avec la pape,” showing a fork in the road with my hands, and Catholics going to the left), and “les orthodox” following something I call “l’archbishop” (hand shooting to the right, “comme ça”). I mention Rome and Constantinople, which draws satisfactory nods. “Constantinople,” says Jean Marie knowingly. They are practically in the same time zone, after all. Jean Marie, seeking one last reassurance, asks if the Orthodox believe in Christ and Mary. We do. Rapture. We are practically brothers now. Jean Marie pumps my hand and we part on the best of terms, footsoldiers in the Lord‟s vast and varied army. On the way down the hill a young boy joins me. He has a small tire and he is beating it down the hill with a stick. What simple, Victorian pleasures you find in rural Rwanda! The boy‟s sandals scuff the pavement; he is holding up his pants with one hand. He beats his little tire into a ditch, pulls it out, and starts again. There is a look of furious concentration on his face. Nothing could matter as much this afternoon as the successful completion of his mission, which is to chase his tire down the hill and all the way home. The rain has finally ended. The sun is out. The lake is bronze and the boats are drifting slowly, silently across it. I‟ve realized, since leaving my laptop and its distractions back in Kigali, that the day is long, with many hours to kill. It is no coincidence that I‟ve filled two notebooks in just five days. I‟m writing more than I‟ve written in months, and it‟s with no small regret that I think back to past trips – my Kenyan odyssey to Lake Turkana, for example – wondering how I passed those long hours, if not with my pen and pad. I could‟ve written a small book about that endless truck ride from Maralal to the lake‟s shores. And then the political circus in Loyangalani: the president and prime minister, there to launch an emergency relief effort with the WFP in the drought-ravaged north. They arrived on separate airplanes – too proud, too besotted with rank and protocol to carpool. The great tribes of the north, the Turkana, the Rendille, the El Molo, sang and jangled their braceleted legs on the runway. Probably the president, fat, gray, softened by years at the public trough, didn‟t know what to make of those barebacked warriors singing their archaic songs. The prime minister danced a clever little jig. The heat was unbearable. All that feels now like a story from someone else‟s life. In Kibuye I listen to the rain outside my window. I sing to myself – softly, at first, then less so. Appreciating for the first time how the sound of one‟s voice, the bold notes sung in solitude, might fill the emptiness that wraps around the hours of rural life. If I were a Rwandan farmer tilling some vast country tract, I might sing thusly. (Though probably not the Smiths.) The sound of the rain picks up, and then the sound of my voice does, too, until the two songs blend in perfectly imperfect harmony. It is the first time I remember singing myself to sleep – another oddball habit, perhaps, to take home from my African life. March 26 – Kibuye, Bisesero The life of the collines. In which we find the girl with the key. It is hard to get an early start at the Béthanie. Morning coffee on the lake, with the birds crying hysterically in the trees, and the water slapping rhythmically against the jetty, is a two-hour affair. It‟s half-past eleven when I finally leave the compound, compelled only by hunger – I had just a few flimsy samosas for dinner last night – and my reluctance to fork over five grand for a mediocre lunch. Instead it is another plate of riz and haricots and legumes and viande – the scenery changes, but the meal stays the same. Years from now, I will look back at my time in Africa as one endless lunch buffet. It has spoiled me, in a way: I‟ve come to expect a heaping plate of hot food at the ready as soon as my stomach demands it. And what terrible preparation, too, for those interminable dinners at the Béthanie, with the sluggish service and hour- long waits for tepid soup. Better to stock up on samosas again – which I do, greedily, abundantly – so I can nibble away in peace and solitude in the comfort of my room. After lunch I‟ve planned to visit the memorial site at Bisesero – easier said than done. My trusted Bradt guide (true to form) describes this evocative hilltop site near Kibuye; it makes no mention, though, of the hour- long drive over rocky roads to reach it. This prompts lengthy negotiations with half the moto fleet of Kibuye, most of whom won‟t budge from a Rwf 10,000 asking price. (Never mind when I ask about the cost to Cyangugu – they just laugh.) In the end, though, I‟m introduced to a friendly young guy named, fittingly, Aimable, who settles for a rate of Rwf 8,000. For the trip to Cyangugu, too, he is enthused – the cost, at Rwf 20,000, more than I‟d planned, but probably, in retrospect, about what I should have expected. Off we go, Aimable chatting amiably in French, me struggling to follow along with the wind rasping in my ear. The road climbs steadily as we leave Kibuye, and the views are sublime, endless. The hills are green and tumbling down to the water, which is laced with peninsulas and dotted with little wooded islands. Everything seems to be in perfect proportion to the landscape. Whoever made this place had a masterful eye. In the distance more islands, and beyond them only the blue- gray line of the horizon. Beyond that, Congo. Beyond that – Congo, still. We scoot and skid over the gravelly road, here passing a small village, there surprising a group of women carrying bundles of wood on their heads. “Mirwe,” I say. “Yego,” they say, smiling. We climb another hill – even the hills have hills here – and suddenly, in the distance, a sprawling city comes into view. It is a Congolese refugee camp, says Aimable. I can see the sun glinting off tin roofs; the whole place has an air of permanence. It has been here for 15 years, he says, with some 27,000 refugees to call it home. I remember the stories of the Rwandan refugee camps in Goma, built in the weeks and months after the genocide, when the Interahamwe and the Hutu refugees – killers and innocents alike – crossed the border and established themselves in Zaire. Along with the UN tents provided for refugees, they built general stores and hair salons, movie theaters and mechanics. This they did in a matter of weeks. It is impossible to imagine what 15 years can do to a refugee camp. But already we‟ve scooted off, goodbye, the camp is far behind us. It is beautiful country here. Little country homes crown the hills – the tiled roofs, the soft earthy palettes, have a Mediterranean air – and there is a constant commotion of farm work. I can see villagers swinging their hoes on the hillsides – even the steepest slope is home to a little vegetable plot – and there is endless traffic on the road: men with machetes on their shoulders, women carrying charcoal and wood. Narrow footpaths zigzag through the fields, crowded by village women walking single- file. I remember a passage from African Laughter, by Doris Lessing, still echoing in my head: The people living here are poor. Their lives when the rains fail are hungry. But surely it is better to be poor here, in this sunlight, this beauty, than, let’s say, Bradford or Leeds. There ought to be different words for poverty that grimes and chills and darkens, and this poverty where people live in splendour, lifted up on to the Altitude into ringing windy sun-scoured skies. I think of these words as I watch a woman, barefoot, sitting in a small patch of sunlight on a hill, staring off at the sunlight on other hills. But then, this land, this beauty, is already overcrowded. There is not enough to sustain the rapidly growing population. I t was a reason, too, for the killings in ‟94. Peasants were promised the cattle, the land, of their dead neighbors. I think of these things, too, as we go speeding over the hills. This is the life of the collines – so attractive, as you drive past, the modest, tidy homes, the sweat and sunlight and industry. But it is in these collines that so much of the fear and suspicion of Rwandan life is bred. A man described to me in Burundi how his countrymen would never talk to you straight, how everything was told cautiously, circuitously. It was how word traveled between the collines: never in a straight line, from hilltop to hilltop, but twisting down into the valleys, following the winding paths, bending, distorting. It is easy to see how rumors could spread here – how plausible a story might sound, how a lie could become truth as it made its false, winding way between the collines. Now there are tea plantations on either side of us, as far as I can see – a picture-book greenness, a greenness that shames and shuns the dark, shadowy greens of the trees. Here women are plucking the leaves and carrying them in baskets on their heads. Always there are children nearby – sitting on a mound of dirt, like young sentries, or playing in a gully on the side of the road. Now and then we pass weighing stations – a venture, no doubt, of some American NGO, or the EU. Here there is a festive, communal air. Leaves are being weighed, bagged, to the great delight and pride of the farmers. At some of the stations the bags are being loaded onto trucks; at others, wiry, barebacked men are taking the bags onto their heads, trudging off to some distant market. The farmers are organized into cooperatives, says Aimable. Their lives are better today than they were a few years ago. Now the temperature is dropping, the road carries us along a high mountain ridge. On one side, plump cumulus clouds, sunshine; on the other, a cool, damp fog blows across the valley. It is like being in two places at once. The road tunnels beneath a canopy of pines, conifers. The air is brisk, alpine. Storm clouds are brewing distantly over the hills. We reach the memorial site in an appropriate atmosphere of gloom – even the green hills look gray as they vanish behind the fog. Bisesero was the site of one of the most defiant stands by Tutsis during the genocide. In April 1994, more than 50,000 had gathered on the hilltop. For six weeks they repelled their attackers with machetes and sticks, fighting, too, the hunger and the cold. It was the rainy season, and there must have been little solace in the gray skies and muddy slopes. Many were undoubtedly weak and sick when the killers returned in mid-May. This time they were well-armed and determined – the killings went on for days. By the time French soldiers arrived at the end of June, just 1,300 survivors remained, scattered across the hilltops, hidden in the forests. It was the most complete ethnic cleansing in all of Rwanda. At Bisesero the doors are locked, the memorial is empty. Aimable scoots off to a small nearby settlement, looking for the custodian of the site. It is a somber place, but I know this is all in my head: on a sunlit day, facing the valley, I imagine this would be as cheerful as any place in Rwanda. Ten minutes pass, and Aimable returns with the guide: a pretty, petite girl named Odette, in a long skirt and a heavy overcoat and a pink kerchief wrapped around her head. She is an orphan of the genocide, both her parents killed, she explains, during “la guerre.” I would like to know how the task came to her, to be the custodian of this site at Bisesero, but we struggle to communicate in French. She opens the door to a long, narrow shed; inside are skulls and bones, hundreds of them arranged neatly on tables, with pale shafts of sunlight falling through the windows. Odette asks if I have any questions, but where would I begin? She shuts the door and we walk outside, toward a path that zigs and zags up the hill. There are small houses – odd oblong buildings made of brick – regularly spaced along the path. They are, I take it, from what I can understand of Odette‟s explanation, works in progress as the memorial continues to grow. I ask if many tourists come to Bisesero. She says the last one came about a month ago. I ask how she spends the rest of her days; she shrugs. She has no money to continue her studies. She gestures vaguely to the road, which ribbons toward her small village, where she passes the time until another tourist arrives, asking for the girl with the key. At the top of the hill the tombs: plain tiles laid across the earth, beneath which lie the remains of 50,000 bodies. We circle the place, our feet crunching over the gravel, the birds in the trees. Here is a cairn to commemorate where men and women were killed with machetes and spears. We walk back down the hill, Odette pausing to lock each building behind us. She and Aimable are talking easily, laughing – even here, life goes on. At the bottom, in the visitor‟s center, I sign the guestbook. I notice that the last visitors had come just a day before. But these were Rwandans; Odette seemed to take my question as, “Do you get many foreigners here?” I find it ennobling – important even – to see page after page of the guestbook filled with Rwandan names. Outside the rain clouds are almost above us. Aimable is impatient to go. Odette reaches up on the tips of her toes, struggling to throw a bolt across the door of the visitor‟s center. It is a grim little thing, concrete, formless; I imagine it is how Stalin would have dreamt up a commemoration to the killings at Bisesero. Before we leave I ask if I can take Odette‟s picture. She smoothes her skirt and stands rigidly, eyes wandering off to the treetops. I show her the picture, and she is pleased. She stands on the side of the road and waves as we drive off for Kibuye. We take a different route back to town. Aimable has no doubt weighed the probability of rain each way; the other road, I suspect, has already been drenched. He revs the engine and pushes our little moto forward, looking anxiously over his shoulder, as the clouds continue to gain on us. Soon the first drops catch our helmets; a steady, light rain is falling. It is not unpleasant to drive through, though Aimable is forced to tighten his grip on the handlebars – the road is slick. In the villages we pass, everyone is huddled joylessly under awnings and overhangs, any protection they can find under the rusted eaves of a general store. The road is still busy with men carrying bags of charcoal, or driving their goats with a stick. Women walk slowly with bags on their heads – they must get to a far-away village, to the house of some relation, rain or no. A boy uses a broad banana leaf as an umbrella. Another chases a bull uphill, its nostrils flaring, its horns like scimitars. Aimable does well: we‟ve escaped the rain. The clouds seem to sit and brood over the hills as we race down toward the lake. The road wraps and bends, past the wagging leaves of banana plants and the small steep plots of villagers. The hills jut into the lake, they grow and recede as we round each bend. It is one of the most beautiful roads I‟ve ever seen. By the time we reach Kibuye, the rain still dragging its heels, I am convinced of my plan to take a moto to Cyangugu. Aimable is thrilled; we set a departure date for Sunday. I wave as he goes scooting off through town, buoyed by his sudden good fortune. The restaurant at the Béthanie is crowded by early evening – weekenders, I suspect, coming down from Kigali. Andrea, too, is making the trip from the city. She has never been to Kibuye, and with just a few months left in Rwanda, she thought it would be a pity to pass the town by. But now her bus is delayed; the timing couldn‟t be worse. Just after dusk a fierce storm blows across the lake, lightning ripping across the sky in terrible bolts. It is a beautiful, frightful storm. Even after it passes, I can follow the lightning as it flashes further along the lake. An hour later the rain returns. It will keep on like this for the rest of the night. Andrea rolls in, soggy and flustered, after eight. She is wired, breathless. She‟s just come from a village school about an hour‟s drive from Kibuye, where she listened to the school nurse giving a talk on sex ed. The students – teenagers, in Standards four and five and six – were frank, curious. Andrea – who has spent almost two years in this country already – was shocked to see such a candid discussion about sex, in rural Rwanda, of all places. This is noteworthy; Andrea has seen much in Rwanda, she doesn‟t shock easy. Often I envy the richness, the variedness of her life here. Last year, in that same village, she had watched as a friend‟s parents – killed during the genocide, buried in a small family plot in the yard – were exhumed and reburied in a national burial site during a formal ceremony. It was, she said, a great honor for the family: they carried pictures of their parents at the head of a procession, saw them interred with elaborate rites. But she wondered – we both wondered – whether all survivors felt the same. Bodies across Rwanda were being exhumed, reburied in national burial sites commemorating the genocide‟s dead. Did all the families consider it an honor? Did they feel they were being exploited – their private grief made public in the name of “national healing”? The conversation, as always, takes off on tangents. The struggles of New Times journalists to square the demands of their consciences with the need to earn a paycheck. The impending visit of Canada‟s governor-general and assorted dignitaries. And always, of course, the intrigues in Kigali, where her house – the house where I spent the past three weeks – saw a constant flow of foreign journalists, here to train Rwandans on the ethics and demands of the media industry. It is a fickle business, handling the needs o f a half-dozen journalists under the same roof, like a poor- man‟s Big Brother. Always a fresh problem to handle, new needs to deal with. Listening to her tired monologue, I get the feeling that this short “vacation” is hardly enough. Not until Rwanda is be hind her, I suspect, will Andrea be able to sleep with a clear head. Beer, dinner – we leave our problems for another day. Hundreds of bugs – crawling, slithering, flitting on filmy wings – have assaulted the lighting fixtures. It‟s like a buffet for the lizards prowling along the walls. We watch them scuttling, tongues flicking, giving chase. We are rapt. I‟ve seen this same scene repeated in dozens of hotels across Africa. With a few weeks, or months, or years, a neglected home would be completely overtaken by invasive weeds, by night creatures. I can think of no better advertisement for man‟s irrelevance in the greater scheme of the earth‟s history. Amazing, too, that we can do so much harm in so little time. March 27 – Kibuye The mystery of the swimming cows. In which cows can swim. In the morning, no signs of insect carnage in the restaurant. Walls that were covered with little black bugs and predatory lizards look as if they‟d been scrubbed clean. The lake is calm, the sky is pale and cloud-covered. So begins the end of my first week on Lake Kivu. At nine the restaurant is already full: a German couple, a French woman, two British women, an American. Then the Rwandans arrive: a church group, most likely, here for a conference or a weekend retreat. They‟re a handsome crowd – close to a dozen men, a few women, all immaculately dressed, freshly laundered, ironed. Bless these Rwandans, who bring their formalities even to a lake retreat. They negotiate with a boat captain who‟s offering trips across the lake. Probably the first price, the second price gets rejected. Negotiations are long, complex, informal. There is lots of laughter. A couple strolls off and whispers intimately under a tree. Some of the hotel workers have come over now, to join the negotiations. Everything is good-humored. A price is finally agreed upon. More laughter. Still, no sense of urgency. The men slowly, unsure of their land legs, board one by one. The women with their shoes in their hands. Life vests secured over their neat collared shirts and blouses, they motor across the lake. You can hear their laughter long after they‟ve left the shore. At the Presbyterian-run Béthanie, these weekend church functions seem to make up the bulk of the business. (Foreign aid workers, too, pale, petite American girls on weekend liaisons with their Rwandan boyfriends.) It is the closest they ever come, I suspect, to filling all these empty rooms. It is a beautiful compound, dozens of small villas swallowed by the vegetation. Outside my room is a papaya tree and poinsettias and a pine tree and a baobab. There are palms shaking their shaggy heads over the water, and birds everywhere. It‟s as perfect as any place I‟ve known in Rwanda. In the afternoon, Andrea looking well-rested and stress- free, we have lunch in town: again rice and cabbage and a bowlful of sambaza. The girl who dishes our food cooks, cleans, serves, clears the tables. I wonder if Rwanda would grind to a halt without these sturdy, hard-working women. On the way into town we passed two women, young girls, hardly out of adolescence. They were carrying bundles of wood on their heads and babies on their backs and jerry cans in their hands. And still they greeted us joyfully. “Mirwe,” they said, their voices high and musical, as we wagged our hands in greeting. Back at the lake now, looking for a way to spend a warm and sunny afternoon. Down the road from the Béthanie is a new hotel, the Moriah Hill Resort; Andrea had seen them advertising a pair of well- maintained kayaks in the local press in Kigali. A little physical exertion, we decide, would be a welcome break from beers on the terrace at Béthanie. The walk to Moriah Hill is pleasant, too, down a scenic road framed by pines and palms – those incongruous pairings of Kibuye! – with water birds grazing their breasts against the lake‟s surface. Despite the changes in town, the health centers and shopping complexes, Moriah Hill is the only new tourist development I‟ve found, nearly two years after my last visit to Kibuye. It is an arresting sight: a block of gray concrete, a strange, modernist (cubist?) box, so out of place amid the graceful contours of these Rwandan hills. No doubt this architectural atrocity, with its spa treatments and motorboat tours of the lake, charges executive prices to the Kigali elite who escape here for the weekend. Andrea and I – no executives, to be sure – frugally order a couple of beers from the restaurant. Then we rent a two-person kayak and put our muscles to work, paddling our hearts out until the Moriah eyesore is out of view. It‟s tempting to get carried away in a kayak: the sun-crested water, the islands strung across the horizon, etc. But our progress is slow – the islands in the distance refuse to budge, despite our paddling – and we decide to hug the shore, rather than setting some perilous course for open water. It is a beautiful afternoon. The hills are full of birdsong, and the shore is overhung with palm trees and tropical flowers. Even if the churches and the houses and the massive power stanchions of Kibuye never leave our sight, the calm and solitude of the lake makes it feel like seeing them through a thick pane of glass. In a shallow cove we find the skeleton of a boat – an abandoned project by some local shipbuilder, perhaps, whose money had run out. To see it half-submerged in the water is like discovering some sunken Spanish galleon washed up onshore. It fills us with joy and wonder, and we lift our paddles from the water, as if to give it its due reverence as we drift silently by. I‟m using muscles I haven‟t used in months, and there is a good, vigorous burn in my arms and chest. Andrea – an expert paddler in her day, full of stories of northern Ontario‟s lake country – has excellent form. We paddle across a channel – storm clouds threatening over the hills – and draw a wide, lazy arc around a small island. Suddenly, a surprising sight: first one cow, then two, lowing and swishing their tails. It is like some small bit of magic – we‟re hundreds of feet from the shore. Did some intrepid herder, desperate for land in the crowded hills around Kibuye, row them out to this deserted island to graze? Did they swim here themselves? Can a cow even swim? (It turns out they can – really well, according to Francine, the receptionist at Moriah Hill.) Mystery pervades their presence here. While the cows, unfazed by said mystery, unmoved by our curiosity, chew placidly at the hillside. We round the island and steer back toward Moriah Hill. Now thunder is rumbling. Far out to the west, over the Congo, we can see a curtain of rainfall. Our muscles are sore, but we strain our oars. Sun spangles dance over the water. Somewhere far away, voices cry out from the hills. It is a beautiful feeling to exert ourselves like this, with the sun warm on our arms and faces. We put all our weight into rowing back to shore, knowing the storm clouds and the growing thunder are chasing us to the hotel. After last night‟s apocalypse, though, tonight‟s rainfall is meek as a lamb. Back at the Béthanie the lake is beating against the shore, but the threatening, grumbling clouds surprise us with just a mild shower. It is a disappointment for Andrea, who had canceled her plans to leave for Gisenyi this evening. Instead she arranges a 6am wake-up call for tomorrow morning; if all goes well, she‟ll be on the back of a moto and in Gisenyi by 9 o‟clock. I, meanwhile, have my own problems to worry about. During dinner I get a text from Aimable, whose moto “vient d’être prise” by the traffic police because of “retard des tax.” I‟m not entirely sure what to make of this – retard tax? – but the point is clear: I‟m on my own for the trip to Cyangugu. It‟s a headache I was hoping to avoid; tomorrow is a Sunday, after all, hardly the time to be making convoluted travel plans in pious, Church- going Rwanda. Andrea, though, is sanguine: she‟s sure something will come together in the morning. I decide to show some faith, too: if nothing else, three years of traveling in Africa have taught me that things always work out in the end. But never the way I‟d planned. March 28 – Kibuye to Cyangugu Political unrest and what have you. In which white people do white things. With Aimable having bailed on me last night and no certain prospects ahead for the trip to Cyangugu, I‟m up and anxious early. The morning plan – a quick coffee, a long walk into town, an endless round of negotiations with moto drives – is a far cry from the leisurely mornings I‟ve enjoyed since arriving in Kibuye. I am dreading the day. But suddenly, a surprise: Andrea calls just a few minutes shy of eight; she‟s in the parking lot with Emmanuel – her ride to Gisenyi. They‟ve found another moto driver who‟s offered to take me to Cyangugu. Rare are the transportation surprises in Africa that are of the welcome variety. We meet and negotiate briefly; the agreed-upon price – 20,000 francs, close to forty U.S. bucks – is what I‟d offered to pay Aimable. That Andrea is paying the same amount for a quicker and more comfortable, tarmac-ed ride to Gisenyi is unremarked upon. I fork over ten grand in gas money, give Andrea a quick hug and a “Safari njema,” and retreat to my room to pack my things. It‟s an inauspicious morning – gray, cool, with a light drizzle left over from last night‟s storms. I‟m hoping the day will clear by mid- morning, but for now my spirits are low, they continue to sink as I wait for my driver to return from his petrol run. Fifteen minutes become twenty, twenty become forty – still no sign of him. Soon my doubts grow. Who was this friend of Emmanuel‟s, anyway? And why did he need ten thousand in gas money? I begin to imagine they‟ve struck some prior arrangement – that this friend will disappear, 10,000 francs the richer, while Emmanuel denies they‟d ever met and I get stranded in the parking lot of the Béthanie. A feeling of he lplessness sinks in. How often have I felt this way in Africa – left to the mercies of strangers, never sure if I‟ve invested my trust in the wrong guy? Now I‟m blaming myself instead. Why did I tell him to come back in 15 minutes? Why couldn‟t I just grab my bags while he was right in front of me? How could I fork over 10,000 francs, no questions asked? It‟s just as my pulse begins to throb in my neck and my fleecing seems assured that the guard trots up the stairs to the reception desk and returns with a number scribbled on his hand. Relief! Suddenly, my doubts vanish. A number! To go with it, I‟m sure, a face and a name. The guard calls, and with an emphatic “Umva!” lets it be known that the white man is waiting. “He comes,” says the guard, shaking his head with sympathy. Now my sympathies, too, are engaged. Maybe I was being too harsh. Probably this driver needed the money – for what? To pay some debt? To help his mother, his girlfriend, his brother? Who knows what desperate errand he had to run this morning, 10,000 francs in hand? I‟m feeling more charitable by the time I hear his engine sputtering down the path. It is 9am on the dot, and my ride is here. We grapple briefly with my duffel bag, settling on a dubious side-saddle arrangement that promises a long and interesting day ahead. Then, with a brief wag of the hand to the guard, we‟re off, hoping to make Cyangugu by early afternoon. The air is brisk, the sky gunmetal gray. I eye the clouds with ambivalence. An overcast day is probably preferable to long hours in the sun; but a single downpour – especially in the early going – would make this journey unpleasant at best, treacherous at worst. The road is already in rough shape. In rural Africa, the going is only as good as yesterday‟s rains allow, and just a few kilometers from Kibuye we‟re sputtering through the mud and skidding across rivulets streaming down from the hilltops. Already I‟m discouraged. I‟m trying out different arrangements to keep my duffel bag balanced on my thigh, but my arm muscles are straining, and the prospect of shifting grips every few minutes for the next five hours seems like a kind of madness. The driver, Aloys, appears to have a particularly sadistic streak to him. Often I‟ve ridden motos with my duffel bag balanced on the gas tank, between the driver‟s legs; while it‟s hardly the safest arrangement, this is Africa, and it can be done. Aloys pooh-poohed the suggestion from the start, without explanation. With each bump in the road, though, with each rock that jolts our tires – and my sore backside – I wonder just how long I‟m going to last. Not long, as it turns out. Forty minutes from Kibuye, Aloys pulls over. He begins fussing with plastic bags and ropes and straps on the back of the bike. Suddenly – voilá! – a rubber hose is produced. He lashes it violently across my bag, once, twice, and gives it a few mighty tugs. The bag, for now at least, is secure. Cautiously we rearrange ourselves on the bike and speed off, my spirits lifted. Cyangugu suddenly seems like it‟s just around the bend. For now, the going is easy. If there was a reason behind this mad project – a motorbike trip to Cyangugu that would take a greater toll on my body and wallet than the Otracom bus – it was a desire to feel some sort of closeness to the country passing by. So much is lost on those crowded buses – the windows sealed against the fresh mountain air, the bodies pressed on top of each other in sweaty congress. I wanted to feel the joy and openness of the road; and I wanted, too, to see the delight and awe and confusion on all those Rwandan faces as a white man came barreling around the bend, waving his hands in greeting. And along the way, I‟m treated to such marvelous, welcoming gestures. An old gent doffs his cap and sweeps it grandly through the air; an old woman throws her arms up and calls out “Muraho!” grinning like a schoolgirl who‟s stolen her first kiss. I take great pleasure in these country greetings, and in all the rural sights of the hills. Though we pass few cars, the road is always crowded: villagers hauling banana leaves and charcoal and firewood in massive bundles, or jerry cans full of water, or baskets and plastic containers full of fruits and bread. Twice we‟ll pass youths carrying car batteries on their heads. How I would love to know the stories of those car batteries! And always the same smile and cheerful greeting. “Muraho,” I‟ll call out. “Yego,” they‟ll say, grinning, emptying their bellies with laughter. “Amakuru,” I say. “Yimeza,” they say. This goes on and on all day. Women swinging their hoes in the fields will pause to wave their hands. In sprawling rice paddies, where dozens of men and women labor, doubled over at the waist, they pop up one by one at the sound of our engine, like a game of Whack-a- Mole. Cheerily they watch and wave as we vanish around a hill. In a small village – a collection of huts and mud-and-wattle homes, arranged around a single general store – we stop at a bridge that is being repaired. It is wooden, rickety, unsure of itself. A group of children surrounds our bike. “Good morning, teacher,” they say. “How are you?” I say. “I am thank you,” they say. They crowd close to the bike, all toothy grins. Aloys shoos them away and pushes ahead, the bridge creaking beneath us. Then we are back on solid ground, the wheels spinning with confidence as we climb another hill. These small, shapeless villages. No signs to greet you, to fix these places on a map. The larger ones might have a row of poured-concrete shops – a restaurant, a mechanic, a general store – and these are weather-stained and faded many shades drabber than when they were built. Sometimes you will see a store with a fresh coat of paint, and almost always these will be yellow or blue: yellow for MTN, the cell phone company; blue for Primus, the beer. A shopkeeper will be paid to turn his store into a giant advertisement; I imagine this is a mark of great prestige. The smaller, poorer villages – and there are many – will often have just a few wooden stalls lining the main road. Always, in these commercial centers, you will see youths, the unemployed, sitting outside a shop, or under a tree – on this rainy day, wherever they can stay dry. The towns, paradoxically, seem drained of life. They don‟t have the vitality and industry of the hills, where ever ywhere you see farmers planting, tilling. I suspect few people live in these small settlements; they‟re simply trading centers for the surrounding area. Here the people live on every hill and in every valley. Often you will enter a village and leave it just as quickly, as if the whole vision – the slouching mud huts, the weather-beaten storefront, the riot of vegetation – were just some trick of the light. We are more than three hours out of Kibuye now, and the rain is falling steadily. The road has grown more treacherous; skidding down the hill Aloys will suddenly lose control, wrench the handlebar to the side, right the moto. I am having unpleasant visions of plunging off these scenic cliffs, meeting some picturesque demise in a grove of banana plants. The rural charms of this country road, by now, are forgotten. I am cold, and wet, and mud-spattered, and grumpy. Aloys, for his part, is picking up the pace. Never mind that these high cliffside roads have grown more dangerous. For him, there is still a long return journey ahead. Better to get this over with – one way or another. Suddenly we come to a stop. Around us a forest of blue gums – tall, silver-barked, shivering in the wind. Aloys says something in Kinyarwanda. He points to a tree. Scuttling up the trunk are two vervet monkeys, quick, playful, their black pinched faces taking us in with a whimsical sort of curiosity. I cluck my tongue; they pause, then panic. Off they go, leaping and tumbling between the highest branches, until they disappear into the treetops. It is almost four hours now since we left Kibuye. Every rock, every rut sends a jolt through my whole body. My ass is numb beyond words. At each turn, at every hilltop summit, I expect to see the lake spreading beneath us. Aloys, too, has a se nse of expectation about him. He makes a call and hands me the phone. A voice is beaming to me – from Cyangugu? Kigali? – speaking English and French. He wants to know where I‟m going – a point, I would‟ve hoped, that was by now apparent. I say Cyangugu. Yes, but which hotel? My knees tremble – I can almost feel the hot shower on my back. I hand the phone back to Aloys, who concludes a quick dialogue in Kinyarwanda. Then we are off again, the quaint coastal charms of Cyangugu, I‟m sure, just minutes away. It is the worst sort of torture. Still we wind along these bumpy rural roads. Still the villagers grin and wave and show more good nature, I‟m afraid, than I can bear. The road is endless. We come to Nyagasheke, a large town with rows of shops and a smart new health clinic – no doubt a lifeline for miles around. In the center of town we stop beside a shrine to the Virgin Mary, draped with blue and white pennants. It is Palm Sunday, and dozens of people pour from a nearby church, clutching palm fronds to the ir chests. It seems fitting, what with my Biblical passage through the Rwandan hinterlands, to be greeted thusly. But we have no time for Nyagasheke; we are off again, the rain batting coldly against my face. It is another 20 minutes before we come to a miraculous sight: tarmac, as the rough lake road finally meets the paved road joining Cyangugu to Butare. For the first time all morning, we‟re both relieved. This is marvelous country, with its hills and valleys covered with emerald-green tea plantations as far as I can see. But a cold wind is blowing, and the rain has gathered force. It is another wretched hour to Kamembe, the busy modern town overlooking rundown Cyangugu. By the time we arrive my legs are caked in mud, my muscles aching in places I didn‟t know they existed. Down the hill we go, past an old villa decaying in the forest, like a Roman ruin. The lake is a flat silver plate in the distance. Suddenly, the border. With a little carelessness, I think, we might‟ve driven straight through it and up the hill to Bukavu. Instead we are at the hotel, I am paying Aloys and pumping his hand with gratitude, and he is already getting back onto his motorbike for the long journey home. It has taken almost five hours for us to reach Cyangugu, and if it weren‟t for my sore-assed protestations, I doubt Aloys would have stopped at all. Before going he puts his number – “Aloys Motar” – into my phone. In spite of it all, he is eager to make this trip again, for the 22,000 francs I‟ve just paid him. To one side of the road is the aging Hotel du Lac; to the other, the church-run Home St. François. The nuns are busy about the place, their crisp white habits bustling through the garden, and I‟m greeted instead by a cheerful young man named Bernard. He is eager to practice his flawed English on me. “I am happy very to see you,” he says, beaming, as if he‟d just invented the words himself. I am, after this long day, happy to see him, too. I entrust myself to him, and he is soon sitting me in the dining room – thrifty, spartan, a few crucifixes and church calendars on the wall – bringing out plate after plate: potage and rice and beans and frites and viande. I eat like a refugee. Even in my famished state I can only get half- way through the meal, but I‟m afraid to let good-hearted Bernard down. So I will myself to get through the rice and beans and salad, and when dessert comes – two passion fruits and an orange – I force it down, too. It is the first and last thing I‟ll eat today. Then a short, brisk nun – Sister Miriam – enters, bustles me toward reception, expresses dismay at my long journey, smiles at my French, asks me to sign here and here, takes my money, and shows me to my room. It is all a tired traveler can ask for: a hot shower, a large bed, and the desk on which I write these words. There are two Bibles in four languages – Kinyarwanda, French, English and German – and a crucifix hanging on the wall above my pillow (which, I‟ll later learn, glows in the dark). By the time I‟ve washed and shaved and massaged the kinks out of my legs and lower back, I feel slightly revived. Across the street is an Internet café – my first since Gisenyi – and a lakeside restaurant at the Hotel du Lac which promises some much- needed caffeine. The phone rings before I make it out the door. “Home,” says the caller ID. What a quaint concept here, just 100 meters from the Congo! On the other end of the line, tidings from a normal, New York life. Mom on her way to Florida for a week; dad worried if I‟ve filed my taxes; my oldest brother, Nick, with his two-year-old son gurgling in the background. Strange how easily I‟ve put thousands of miles between us. My mother is anxious about my trip to the DRC. “Why are you going there again?” I‟m not sure if there‟s a short answer. She wants me to be careful. “I see the Congo is in the news again – political unrest and what have you,” she says. (This, I‟ll later learn, has to do with a Human Rights Watch report about a large-scale attack by the Lord‟s Resistance Army in the volatile northeast last December. It‟s like me warning my mother to bring an umbrella to work because it‟s raining in Boston.) She is full of love and worries, my poor heartsore mom! I tell her to be careful, too: it wasn‟t long ago that political unrest was gripping Florida. The hotel has come alive now with guitars and tambourines and festively done up families. Minibuses fill the parking lot – there is a church on the third floor of the guest house, and the Palm Sunday mass has attracted worshipers from miles around. It‟s a bit too much for me. Instead I cross the road, order a coffee on the patio of the Hotel du Lac, stare blankly at the hills of Bukavu, just across the Rusizi River. Houses are perched on the edge of the hill; smoke pirouettes into the air from cooking fires; there a re the cries of roosters, birds, children. It could be a scene from anywhere in Africa. And yet the knowledge of what lies beyond it, in the dark, forbidden places of the interior – it fills me with a cold, clammy dread. I drink my coffee and try to gather my strength. It will be an interesting week ahead. Beside the hotel, the Rusizi – gray, green, depths unknown – moves briskly. There is a small island in the river, and a man in a thin red windbreaker sits in a pirogue by its banks, casting his line into the water. He is huddled against the cold – it is no day to be out on the water – but he sits there, patient, casting his line again and again. His boat is the weathered husk of some ancient tree – it looks like it was carved from a single majestic trunk. Something about that noble battered pirogue, about the fisherman‟s stiff resilience, seems to augur what awaits me in the Congo. When he finally casts off from the shore, he waves in reply to my greeting, then tips his head back with a gesture to show his thirst. I am just finishing my coffee – I have nothing to give him – and I offer an apologetic shrug. He smiles, nods, turns back to the water, and continues to row his lonely boat home. March 29 – Cyangugu, Kamembe Little by little. It is very nice. In which we take a short cut. Glow-in-the-dark Jesus notwithstanding, I sleep soundly. This is, of course, a talent of mine. Years ago, in New York, I was a restless sleeper, an insomniac. Most nights I would be up until three or four, sleeping until mid-day. But then, that was a different life. For nearly four years I was un- or marginally employed. I slept under my parents‟ roof, in the same bed I wet as a child. I kept odd hours: working at a restaurant in downtown Brooklyn; canvassing one ill- fated month for a grassroots political party. It was a restless life, it lacked equilibrium. There were all the distractions of home, too: high-speed Internet, hundreds of TV channels, my brother‟s wall of DVDs in the basement. It was easy, in all that modern tumult, the confused chatter of endless entertainment, to be a nocturnal beast. Now I sleep like a stone. Earlier this year, in Burundi, traveling in volatile rural areas, I twice woke in the morning to excited chatter from the other guests. Did I hear the gunshots in the night? No, in fact, I didn‟t. A part of me – the ambulance-chasing journalist – felt like I‟d missed out. But it is a gift, I guess, to sleep so well. In the morning, it feels like I‟m being roused from some ancient depths. Coffee is a solemn, life- giving rite. I wonder if yesterday‟s moto ride would have been less grim with a full tank of coffee to get me started in the morning. Today I‟m less sore than I‟d feared, but still lethargic. It seems less a physical than a spiritual thing: it‟s been a long week. At home in Kigali, in this sort of mood, I would spend the day catching up on the news, emailing friends across the time zones. I don‟t know if I‟ll allow myself that luxury here. My time is short in Cyangugu – a day, maybe two – and I feel compelled, if I‟m going to continue filling these pages, to find some odd character or story that will bring this ramshackle town to life. And so, again, the Hotel du Lac. It‟s easy to see how this place, in its colonial-era heyday, made a smart getaway for a few days. The balconies with their views of the hills, the restaurant with its pleasant riverside terrace, the swimming pool – empty for years, I‟m sure – with its optimistic tariffs for month- long memberships. How many families – the Belgians, the French – would come to escape Kigali, the tiresome halls of officialdom, for a few days‟ rest? And how often have I seen this same hotel – the dusty rooms, the peeling paint, the empty swimming pool – in Kenya and Uganda, in Malawi and Mozambique? In Bukavu, long past its colonial prime, I expect to see a whole city swallowed by tropical decay, languor. And still, a different, modern, African vitality persists. The family that came to take Fantas on the Hotel du Lac terrace on Sunday afternoon, the mother in her church dress, the little boy in his smartly buckled vest, the daughter in her pretty white shoes: they had probably never known the Hotel du Lac as anything but what it is today. You won‟t find them pining for the glory days of the Belgians! And still it is a place to admire the birds in the trees, to watch the pirogues gliding gracefully with the current, to come with your family on a Sunday afternoon, to spend the week‟s thrifty savings and enjoy a few Fantas by the river. It is an overcast day, cool, though I‟m sure not for long. I leave my dirty clothes from yesterday‟s trip to soak in a bucket of warm water and Nomi detergent, and then I‟m off, past the bustling border post, up the green hills toward the sprawling modern town of Kamembe. It is not long – I didn‟t expect it to be – before two men begin matching my strides. They are on their way to Kamembe – too poor for transport, they explain, the 200 or 300 francs (50 cents) it no doubt costs to ride in a minibus. They ask if they can join me, and I say I would be glad for the company. The older of the two is named Faustin; the other, Lazare. Neither speaks very good English, and I take it as a challenge to see how far my French will get me. We walk on the road‟s shoulder, stopping now and then to admire Bukavu spreading up and down the hills across the lake. I ask Faustin if he knows the population, and he laughs. Who could know such a thing? He lived in the city for ten years and knows it well. From the roadside he points to different quartiers along the lake, famous houses – here where a rich Congolese lives, there a Belgian, here some other whites, there the endless sprawl of the poor. It is obvious, even from across the lake, how much wealth is in Bukavu. Everywhere you see massive villas and modern hotels, and still more developments in the city‟s choicer areas. But the living is difficult there, says Faustin. Many of the women we see on the road, carrying baskets of vegetables and fish, are Congolese, doing their shopping in Kamembe. They buy food for their families, and goods to sell in the markets of Bukavu at a profit. “Here there is many things to eat,” says Lazare. “There is house, house, house. They only build.” All this movement between the two cities seems natural – what is a border, really, but something the whites put here? The people here share a language – Kiswahili is most commonly heard around the border – and the constant movement of goods gives this place the feel of one great marketplace. Congolese francs change hands as readily in Cyangugu as Rwandan ones. And livelihoods, too, are built on the belief that nothing so trivial as a border post will get in the way of business. It has taken me some time, because of the language barrier, to fully understand the story of the two men I‟m walking with. But when Faustin unfolds his identity papers – two pages of heavy cardstock, covered in stamps – I suddenly see: the two men are studying in Bukavu, and each day they leave Rwanda, spend a few hours at their university in Congo, and return to their Rwandan homes. The daily crossing is free, says Faustin; a year-long visa would cost a steep 5,000 francs – about nine bucks – which Faustin pronounces with a heavy sigh. So every day they leave their homes at 5am, and because there is no money, they must walk all the way to their university on the other side of the border. “Only on foot,” says Faustin. “No lifty, no car.” He laughs and shakes his head with good humor. It is the laugh of a poor man without a choice. We stop to admire the remains of a villa swallowed by vegetation. It is the same house I marveled at from the back of my moto yesterday – the walls covered in creepers, the roof long gone, the bedrooms and salons now thick with plant life. It was once the house of the king, says Faustin. “Mille neuf sant cinquante sept” – 1957 – he says, with great significance. I do not know if this is the year the king died, or was deposed; my knowledge of Rwandan history begins with the 1959 revolution. Now tidy little bean plots have been planted along the outside walls. I begin taking pictures, and a woman offers a stern, if ambiguous, warning. Perhaps she‟s afraid the king‟s spirit still inhabits his home. We turn from the main road and begin to climb a steep hill. “Shorty cut,” says Faustin. The path is still slick from yesterday‟s rains, and I try to picture Lazare and Faustin – both wearing their smart, impractical shoes – negotiating the muddy embankment and exposed roots each day. It is a long way to the top (only later, when I take the tarmac road back from town, will I appreciate how much time we‟ve saved). As we huff our way uphill, Faustin – still neatly buttoned at the cuffs and collar – explains that when he is not studying at the university, he is a pastor. He preaches at a Pentecostal church in Kamembe; he is trying to find a foreign sponsor who can help expand his church. “Je suis visionaire,” he says emphatically. I find it hard to debate him on that point. Imagining this same weary slog day after day – empty pockets and the sun on his back and the slender, worn briefcase filled with the day‟s assignments – I think of what devotion and vision it takes to carry him up that hill. Near the top we pause to catch our breaths. We‟ve climbed through a cool, breezy forest of pines, and now we‟re on a dirt road flanked by tin-roofed houses – tidy, well-kept homes, flowers in the yard, sun on the windows. Children come racing from their yards to greet us. Lazare, as delighted by their attentions as I am, greets them with proud, halting English. “How are you?” he asks. “What is your name?” Below us I can see mothers hanging laundry in their yards, or standing in their doorways, hands on cocked hips, watching in mock despair as their children bolt from the house to see the white man passing by. Faustin is telling me again about his life. For ten years – from 1990 to 2000 – he lived in Bukavu, having fled at the start of the Rwandan civil war. Here, he explains, you always had people fleeing. They began leaving Rwanda during the ethnic pogroms of 1959 and ‟62; they left during the civil war and the genocide. And now, too, you had the Congolese fleeing their own bloodshed, taking refuge in Rwanda. There was the camp I saw last week, near Kibuye. And here, too, close to Cyangugu, there is another camp: not Congolese, he explains, but Rwandan returnees from South Kivu. He shakes his head and laughs softly. It is too much even for him to make sense of. At the top of the hill we come to a poor, crowded quarter, the houses slouching under rusted tin roofs held in place by large stones. The way is muddy; there is a smell of cooking fires, the sounds of women‟s voices. “Il y a mauvaise vie ici,” says Faustin softly. And then, in English, “Here it is a bad life.” It is something he says with great feeling – a man well- versed in hardship. Suddenly we are on the streets of Kamembe, beside the market. Color, noise, chaos. Faustin picks through the crowd, exchanging greetings. I‟ve offered to take the two men to lunch, and they lead the way through streets congested with motorbikes and market women, school kids and street kids, the energetic din of a money- making border town. Lazare stops: he wants to introduce me to his father. He takes me to a large covered market where, just inside the entrance, sits a short, pleasant man on a wooden bench. Beside him is a shop neatly arranged with pens and pencils and notebooks – a tower of stationery rising toward the roofs. He greets me warmly. I tell him he has a good son – “Vous-avez un bon fils.” He accepts this with a laugh. Next to him another man sizes me up and asks for money. It is a serious plea, but everyone laughs – I wonder if soliciting white guys is his schtick. I shake Lazare‟s father‟s hand again and off we go, dodging bicycles and motorbikes and wheelbarrows as we cross the street. The restaurant is down an alley, and there are beggars outside: a boy and a young man in wheelchairs, an old woman with crutches, another with a deformity of the back. Faustin greets them with jokes, laughter. They grin, tease him, call out with mirth. We pass through a beaded curtain and into two small, crowded rooms. Sunlight pours through a window running the length of the back wall. A small TV set plays music videos in the corner. My presence is noted by curious faces. We join a man sitting by himself at a table – no preamble needed, we just sit. His shoulders are hunched and his head is down and he is making his way gravely through a plate crowded with rice and beans and frites and spaghetti. We order three of the same. It is a lively place, the voices are loud and boisterous, there are shouts, threats, oaths, laughter. The waiters are tall, good- looking young men – they are possessed of a certain ease and self-confidence I‟m not used to in Rwandan waiters. Back and forth they go, carrying heaping plates, or small tin bowls full of a watery tomato broth. An older man, cautious, well-dressed, circles the room like a foreman. He has a small parcel bag slung over his shoulder – he handles the money. When a customer pays, he carefully counts out the change. The food arrives with three lukewarm Fantas, and we give the plates our undivided attention. Even in this cheerful restaurant, the food requires a certain care and solemnity. There‟s no telling for Faustin and Lazare, I‟m sure, when such a meal will come again. Around the room there are many men like them: lean, fastidiously dressed, heads lowered to their plates, attending to each bite with religious devotion. There are women, too, as bright as tropical birds – more than I‟m used to seeing in such a restaurant. And other men, vigorous and well- fed, for whom such a meal is no great occasion. As the food diminishes on our plates, the conversation strikes up again. Faustin, smiling marvelously with contentment, pats his stomach in a gra nd, gratuitous gesture with both hands. Lazare opens his briefcase and removes a stack of photocopies: the study guide for his biology class, he says. There are skulls, and muscles, and reproductive organs, each meticulously labeled in Latin and French. It is probably the closest his school comes to a textbook. He takes out a sheet of blank paper and begins to write: his name, his father‟s name, his contact details. “Lives in Kamembe,” he says, and writes: Lives in Kamembe. He apologizes that he doesn‟t have a phone, but I say it‟s okay: my number changes with each country I visit. It is better that we stay in touch through email, I assure him. At this, he seems greatly pleased. Outside we walk through the streets, the sun is out for the first time today. I t is a cheerful, bustling town. There are dozens of forex bureaus, and the ubiquitous hair salons – “saloons” – with names like New Texas, and American Boys, and Number One, and Dream. This is the saloon preferred by Lazare; Faustin, almost apologetically, says he doesn‟t have the money to cut his hair often. I explain that I cut my hair myself: “Je coupe les cheveux moi-même.” This amuses them greatly. Africans, I say, don‟t know how to cut mzungu hair. I make a buzzing noise as I run an imaginary trimmer across Lazare‟s head. They laugh, nod sagely: the white man has a point. Now we‟ve stopped outside the Dream Saloon, and Lazare says he will continue up the hill toward home. I‟m ready to return to the terrace of the Hotel du Lac – my French, I explain, has abandoned me. Faustin reassures me. “Little by little,” he says. “It is very nice.” We part with Lazare and turn back down the hill. Briefly we pass through the market; I‟d explained that I was going to walk home – “Je vais marcher” – but Faustin thought I wanted to see the “marché.” Piles of children‟s clothes on the ground, rows of shoes and sandals. “My friend,” says a man, gesturing to his stock of Chinese- made running shoes, “you are welcome.” Further down the hill, buses in a dirt lot. I suspect Fa ustin has done enough walking today, so I offer to give him money for the bus. He is smiling, grateful. I plunk two coins in his hand, and he hesitates. The full journey home will cost 700 francs, he says – there is the bus, and then a boat. I realize how much I‟ve probably missed in our conversation – boat? – but I am glad for the company he gave me, and I give him the money with gratitude. We part warmly. “À la prochaine,” I call out. Until next time. Faustin waves, crosses the road, and then disappears into the station‟s throngs. Walking down the hill, relieved to be free of my French, pleased at my encounter with Faustin and Lazare, the sun warm on my face, my spirits high. It is a long walk back to Cyangugu – some 30 minutes pass before I reach the place where we turned off for our shortcut. At the border, bedlam. Buses, motorbikes, porters with rickety wooden handtrucks, hoping to help some weary traveler with his cargo. Bicycles pedal toward the border post, laden with charcoal, jerry cans (these I sa w pedaling down the hill from Kamembe – full of petrol, I suspect, to be resold in Bukavu at a profit). And women – so many women, with their baskets and bags and bundles, with great sacks of potatoes strapped to their backs. Brave, tireless, tough as a bag of screws: these women keep the economic engine thrumming. And then all the household duties: feeding the husband, dressing the children for school, keeping the home tidy. The day starts early and ends late. And yet to see them in groups – loud, laughing, chatting happily – is to appreciate what joy there is in such overworked spirits. In a small shop near the hotel, where I‟ve stopped to buy water, a gaggle of women sits, bags straining and strewn around them, drinking milk, eating sweet loaves of ndazi bread, wiping the children‟s noses, arguing with good humor. Always there is money changing hands between these tough, shrewd women. (Bundles of wrinkled, soiled bills wedged between their breasts.) Through some mystic calculus they keep the house running on the day‟s small earnings. And always some wry comment, a frank stare, a bit of sexual humor, for the white guy, the mzungu. Outside, along the waterfront, there is constant clamor. The Otracom bus stops, deposits and picks up passengers. Everyone carrying things, nylon sacks, boxes, households balanced on their heads. Further down the road is a warehouse, men bagging flour, their arms and faces covered in chalky dust, pale as the moon, as if the spirits have come back to stalk Cyangugu. Women everywhere – with their children at the health center, at a small busy marketplace, coming and going, coming and going. Further up the road, a shiny new duplex is being built, facing the Congo. I ask an old man in a baseball cap if it will be a hotel. No, he says, a house for a Rwandan man. Government? Phones, says the man. I appraise the house with its reflective windows and sparkling, white-washed walls. “C’est bonne travaille,” I say. It is good work. “Oui,” says the man. Before I go he asks for a sip of my bottled water. On the way back to the hotel I meet one of the nuns, Sister Regina. She is making the rounds – the Home St. François runs a guest house, a health clinic, a center for the handicapped – and she asks if I‟d like to join her. We enter a small gated compound, four buildings arranged around a tidy green courtyard. Women sit on the benches, talking softly, watching the children. There are three, four children with different handicaps – an autistic boy, a 15- year-old who shouts and claps when I walk in; a small girl, five years old, who hardly looks 18 months – and they are sitting on the floor, laughing, shouting, hobbling awkwardly on their crippled legs. The mothers greet me solemnly. Handicaps are not viewed with great charity in most of Africa. Grate ful for the work the sisters are doing here, I wonder if they look at their strangely afflicted children with sorrow, fear, anger, regret – wondering if the devil‟s work is in those twisted limbs. Sister Regina shows me to another room, where three teenage girls are sewing and folding clothes. With a word from the sister they rise and politely greet me. The sisters are teaching these girls to be seamstresses, says Sister Regina. A useful trade. The girls are modest and avert their eyes. I can‟t tell if they‟re handicapped, too, or perhaps orphans, or girls abandoned by their families because of some unknown shame. We leave them to the hum of their sewing machines, the soft chatter of their voices. Next door is a dormitory, with six beds crowded into a small room. An autistic girl sits on one bed, squealing with joy as we enter. Near her an infant – hardly more than a year old, I‟m sure – lies on a blanket, looking up at the ceiling. The sisters have few resources here. The very fact of this home‟s existence is a small miracle. Outside, near the entrance, a nurse is helping a young man with lame legs – a polio case, perhaps – as he takes his first brave steps with a walker. The women laugh, encourage him. Nearby a small child crawls across the floor. Sister Regina lifts her and hands her to me. I cradle her against my chest; instinctively she rests her head against me, sensing affection. Her tiny fingers clutch at my shirt. Our earliest instincts to be cared for, loved. I wonder if she can hear the beating of my heart. There are more shouts, a frantic waving of the arms, by the autistic boy. He hobbles to his feet and staggers after us as we go, his eyes bright and joyful, everyone laughing and cheering. Outside Sister Regina tells me that there are a dozen of these homes around Rwanda – in Kigali, in Butare, in Gikongoro. The sisters are strong, industrious, their long days filled with cares over the physical and spiritual well-being of their charges. Sister Regina herself is kind, even-tempered; she struggles to speak English, laughs self-deprecatingly, returns to French. At the gate of the hotel she thanks me and excuses herself. She has more work to do – she gestures ambiguously up the road – and with that, she bustles off on her short, quick legs. The day has worn me out. I take a Nescafe at the Hotel du Lac, then spend a few hours browsing online – the hotel‟s Internet café, just across the road from the Home St. François, is a reprieve from the disconnectedness of Kibuye. At the hotel, I‟m wary of another multi-course feast – bed, I suspect, is just an hour away. I have a bowl of soup, and then another. I‟m in my room by half-past nine and in my bed by ten. Mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, Jesus on the wall, I sleep fitfully, waking every few hours with a sta rt, until the day‟s first sunlight comes into the room. March 30 – Cyangugu The je wel of the Black Continent. In which our writer faces the Congo. It is a slow morning. I don‟t know what restless spirit got into me during the night, but there I was – at midnight, at 2:30, at half-past five – snapping my head from the pillow, reaching for my phone to check the time. Maybe it‟s the Congo, already, gnawing at my nerves. When I pull myself from bed just after seven, I don‟t feel rested. Rising this morning is like a duty. One must get up and start the day. Other problems, too: I am down to my last few Rwandan francs, reluctant to make another bank run, planning for a thrifty day. Worse still is the irritation, the dull stinging in my left eye. I have suffered from conjunctivitis before – in Zanzibar, in Lebanon; my suffering is always picturesque. Both cases were remedied easily enough; in the developing world, where eye infections are like the common cold, any pharmacy will carry the necessary drops. But that would entail another trip up the hill to Kamembe, and more money spent – more headaches to preoccupy me as I plan for the Congo. Not surprisingly, my mood is gloomy. I decide to let the day take its course, giving myself over to my downcast spirit. It‟s been a long ten days since leaving Kigali, and even at my most optimistic, I have to expect a difficult day at the border tomorrow. I can have a day to myself, I suspect, without admitting defeat. And so I spend the morning at the Internet café, hopelessly contemporary, catching up on the news, reviving my online flirtations with girls I‟ve met on my travels. There‟s a certain sort of pathos in this, I think, and I have to ask myself if I‟m lonelier than I‟d like to admit. Drifting along, generally occupied and pleased with my work, with my traveling, I enjoy my solitude. More often than not I crave it, and respond to threats to it the way a mother bear treats threats to her cubs. But I wonder, too, if this is self-defense – if solitude, as comfy as a well- worn pair of jeans, is just easier for me than the alternatives. Can backpacking across Africa by myself be the safest route ? Is Congo – the horror! – the easy way out? More emails. How‟s the weather in Amsterdam? In Riga? In Rome? In the afternoon I have a quiet lunch at the Home St. François, another parade of dishes I can barely put a dent in. A pastor named Abraham approaches me, introduces himself, stands beside the table, neatly dressed, laptop case slung over his shoulder as he prepares for the long trip to Kigali. We‟ve hardly spent three minutes in conversation when he asks for my email address and phone number. How quickly in Rwanda, in Africa, a perfect stranger will latch onto these brief encounters, hoping a friendship will grow from it. Yesterday, too, in the restaurant with Faustin and Lazare, a man who sat at our table as we prepared to leave asked for my email address. I was too polite to say no – but what could we possibly have to say? In the time it took to push back my chair and get up from the table, he had already opened to a fresh page in his day planner, uncapped his pen. I imagine, in a few weeks, I‟ll be reading another email from a stranger, asking for my help in some small enterprise, or inquiring about the health of my parents in New York. In the afternoon, overcome with fatigue, beat up physically, beat up spiritually, a financial basketcase, I return to my favorite table at the Hotel du Lac. In the time it takes me to order my coffee a fantastic storm has blown across the lake. Flashes of lightning, loud cracks of thunder. The rain blows across the hills in sheets and pounds on the tin awning. For thirty minutes, the rain is catastrophic. And then, again, the river is calm, the birds are singing. Somewhere on the hill across from us, I can hear the beating of drums. For ten days I‟ve skirted the shores of Lake Kivu here in Rwanda, but tomorrow, crossing into Congo, it will be a different chapter – maybe a different book. These Great Lakes states, steeped in blood, sharing so much of their troubled pasts. But here, in Cyangugu, just a few steps from another imaginary border drawn up in Brussels, or Paris, or Berlin, you appreciate how greatly, too, their histories have diverged. In how many places in the world, along how many seemingly arbitrary borders, are chaos and order so neatly divided? In Rwanda, they take such pride in the fight against corruption; at border crossings from Burundi and Uganda, a billboard greets you with the slogan, “Corruption: NO! Investment: YES!” In Congo? Already I‟ve begun to stash small denominations on different parts of my body, unsure how many payoffs will be necessary to get me safely into Bukavu. For 16 years, Rwanda has rewritten its history – a willful effort by a nation to decide for itself how the rest of the world will see it. I think of the story of President Kagame, after a speech to a crowded auditorium in Boston, snapping at the young man who had praised him for the safety and cleanliness of Kigali. “What did you expect?” said Kagame. “That we are dirty and live like savages?” The West – the whites – have been writing the history (literally and figuratively) of the developing world, the Third World, the non- white world, for decades. What chance does Rwanda – does any country – have of picking up the pen and starting on a fresh page? This week I‟ve exchanged some emails with my friend, the journalist Jina Moore, about the legacy of the genocide. Jina, like so many foreign journalists, had arrived in time for the genocide commemoration week in April; unlike the others, though, she would be spending the next ten months in the country, reporting – as she so often does – with deep thoughtfulness and insight on the challenges Rwanda faces. What we both wondered was whether there were still fresh ways to explore the genocide, whether there was anything new to be learned from the formulaic stories that would soon be filed by dozens of foreign correspondents in Kigali. Was there anything to be gained from more survivors‟ stories, from the reopening of old wounds? [As a brief editorial aside, I have to note that, six months later, there’s been quite a lot to add, indeed.] The most interesting stories – at least, to the extent that they‟re so rarely told – would be, I think, the Hutu stories. It was Gerard Prunier, in Africa’s World War, who compared the genocide to Damocles‟ sword, forever hanging over the heads of the Hutu population, reminding them of their guilt, ready to strike if they – the overwhelming majority – were perceived as a threat. What does it mean to be a Hutu, still vilified in your own country, still regarded with suspicion, sixteen years after the genocide? What does one do with the resentment, the anger, the fear? Does a Hutu man feel he has a common stake in Rwanda with his Tutsi neighbor? Can Rwanda ever find a way across its deepest, widest divide? I wonder, too, what the legacy of the genocide is within the different Tutsi communities. It is reductive, after all, to treat Rwanda‟s Tutsis as a single, unified ethnic group. Wha t‟s the relationship between the genocide survivors and the “Ugandan” Tutsis who dominate the government? Do the survivors feel exploited by their leaders? And how many of Rwanda‟s Tutsis are survivors, how many returnees? Are these commemorations equally in everybody‟s interests? A tangent to all these thoughts: how is the genocide being taught today – both officially, in classrooms and commemorations, and unofficially, in Hutu and Tutsi homes? Thinking, too, of the demographic explosion in Rwanda. Take the number of children of both ethnic groups who were born after 1994, add the large numbers of returnees, and you have a significant portion of the population – half? more? – whose knowledge of the genocide comes secondhand. What is the story, I wonder, be ing handed down to them? And for those hundreds of thousands, those millions, what does it mean? At night, lying in bed, I flip through an old Traveler’s Guide to the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi, dated 1951. Take away what 50 years of independence have taught us about the colonial era and you see such hopefulness, such innocence – if such a word can be used to describe the colonizers – in the descriptions of this ample tome. “The region bordering Lake Kivu and its outlet, the wild and torrential Ruzizi, is one of the most unforgettable beauty spots of central Africa,” we are told. “To all those who have visited it, it remains the jewel of the Black Continent.” Here, in painstaking detail, are described suggested tourist itineraries for visitors to these Belgian colonies – across which, we are told, run “72,266 miles of highways, of which 11,130 miles are main highways, 54,150 miles local roads, and 7,350 miles private roads.” The meticulousness is a wonder to behold; so, too, is the lost world described. Here is a railway schedule for the twice- weekly trip from Elisabethville to Port Francqui; there the fares for the regular Sabena flights from Albertville to Kigali, from Leopoldville to Brussels. Should you want to cruise the Congo River aboard the Lake Leopold II Line from Leopoldville to Kiri, you would do well to note that service is every 21 days. Should you have nine days to kill around Lake Kivu, a day-by-day itinerary – including hotel recommendations – will guide you along the way. Thinking of this snapshot of a dimly remembered past. Thinking of Bukavu, a favorite playground of the Belgian colonists, once described, with its fertile, scenic surroundings, as the “Switzerland of Africa.” You‟d be hard-pressed in 2010 to describe anything in the Congo as remotely Swiss. Instead, you‟re likely to find a place that is – for better and for worse – richly, unmistakably Congolese. March 31 – Cyangugu, DRC border Me no money, me no go. In which French would come in handy. Another restless night. Not surprising. When I wake, heart racing, just after six this morning, I‟m already juggling through unpleasant scenarios at the border. Bribes, detentions, angry interrogations. Demands for imaginary fees: a camera fee, a tourist fee, a fee for carrying an extra pair of sneakers. Dear Lord, don‟t let the word “journalist” come up! I‟ve made my preparations, most of which involve stashing bundles of various currencies on different parts of my body, not sure how many bribes – and in which currencies and denominations – might be necessary to get me across the border. I‟ve punched some phone numbers into my phone, too – friends who will, I hope, be able to get me out of a tight spot, should things not go according to my admittedly half-assed plan. With a few cheery waves and brisk goodbyes, I leave Cyangugu just after nine. The Rwandan official – a tribute to her countrymen – stamps and scribbles me through, and then I‟m crossing a rusted bridge over the Rusizi and trudging uphill. There is commotion on all sides: porters pushing loaded wheelbarrows up the hill, women carrying boxes and tough nylon sacks on their heads and backs. A police box – an empty shipping container – sits halfway up the hill, and a small health clinic further still. I reach the border post and stroll merrily toward the nearest window. No dice. Foreigners, of course, get the special treatment – far from prying eyes – and so I‟m ushered through first one, then another doorway, into a small, congested room whose stifled air suggests the long, unp leasant hours ahead. Two men, broad, bespectacled, cheerless, sit behind two cluttered desks, hunched like Talmudic scholars over their ledgers. The man in the far corner looks up, gives me a discouraging once-over, and says, simply, “Oui?” I have been preparing for this moment. I hand him my passport and $35 in crisp American bills, smiling nonchalantly, as if I do this sort of thing all the time. He gives my money a dirty look and asks, “Que’st-ce que c’est?” I suspect a long, delicate dance has just begun. I explain that I‟d like to buy an entry visa, and both men sit upright, push themselves back from their desks, as if to get a vantage point from which to better appraise me, and exchange a significant look. A long, heated, mostly one-sided debate ensues, in which my well-rehearsed pleas are brushed aside with an admittedly masterful display of bureaucratic stubbornness. Americans, they explain, must receive their visas from the Congolese Embassy in Washington, D.C. I protest that I‟ve been out of the country for close to a year; then, they explain, with perfect reasonableness, I should have written to Kinshasa. I can only imagine what the creaking machinery of Congolese bureaucracy would do to such a letter. I say that I‟ve twice visited Goma and bought my visa on arrival, but I can quickly tell this is a foolish gambit: I might as well explain how things work in China. They make disparaging remarks about their North Kivu counterparts, suggesting a less than brotherly bond between the Kivus; and besides, they say, a new law has come into effect – of course! – as of the first of this year. It is impossible for them to issue me a transit visa at the border – simply impossible! That would be against the law. Fortunately, finally, getting to the crux of the matter, there is a convenient loophole in this law, through which I can jump for just three hundred American bucks. The finer points of this argument are, unfortunately, lost in a barrage of indignant French. Still, it is a brilliant performance. I can tell I am up against higher powers here: the complex mechanisms of the State, the mythical rule of law, the bureaucracy which the Congolese treat with the same gravity and respect the rest of us show colon cancer. I realize now that my hopes for a quick, painless border crossing were foolish ones; and I realize, too, that I‟ll need whatever help I can get to make it into Congo. I dial Etienne, a Rwandan tour operator I‟d met in Kigali earlier this month. At the time he‟d assured me that the Congolese visa was a breeze: $35 in American bills at the border, just as I‟d done it in Goma. How simple everything seemed in Kigali! Etienne claimed to be well-connected with immigration officials on both sides of the border; he knew the rules, he said, as if these things in the Congo weren‟t entirely negotiable. Over the phone I explain my case to him. He is attentive, sympathetic. His friend in Bukavu, he says, is unfortunately traveling to Kinshasa at the moment. I ask if he can try to talk some reason into these recalcitrant officials, and he offers to give it a shot. The man nearest me has returned to his paperwork, and when I call to him – once, twice, “Pardon? Pardon?” – his brilliance becomes evident. I wait for one, two, three beats as he dutifully records the latest entry in his ledger. Trappist monks could not go about their work with such religious devotion. Finally he raises his eyes, a master of his craft, almost feigning surprise that I‟m still here. He takes the phone and, at great volume, explains the situat ion to Etienne. The situation, to borrow from the French, seems to be merde. Etienne, in my ear again, is unconvinced. He promises to make some calls to friends in Goma and urges me to sit tight. In the mean time, he says, I should leave these men to their devices. They won‟t want a mzungu around, he says, during whatever complex negotiations might ensue. Outside, sunlight, brilliance. I am put off, but not wholly discouraged, by the morning‟s proceedings: really, I should‟ve expected as much. I find a spot in the shade, sit on my duffel bag, watch the bustle of this busy crossing. Women are packing bags, stuffing sandals and clothes and cheap Chinese electronics into them, heaving them onto their backs. When they walk they‟re almost doubled over, the muscles in their necks straining, their upper bodies parallel to the ground. I imagine they‟ll make this same trip back and forth each day to sell their goods in the market. The day‟s profits, a bundle of soiled, rumpled bills, will be buried somewhere in their bosoms. At home, there is a secret place they have for safekeeping. There are the handicapped, too, weathered, shrewd, battered, defiant, straining their way uphill in rusted hand-pedaled tricycles. Because of some quirk in the customs law – a rare piece of beneficence, perhaps, in the cutthroat Congolese world – the handicapped are exempt from paying duties at the border. And so these crafty cripples, spurned by the world, often shunned by their own families, make a dozen trips a day, transporting jerry cans full of gasoline bought cheaply in Kamembe. For the tough uphill climb there is a young boy, barefoot, dressed in soiled rags, pushing from behind. Probably he will get 500 Congolese francs – about 60 cents – for the effort. These young boys are everywhere, their feet cracked and blistered, in filthy shorts and oversized t-shirts, keeping the border economy going. They are porters carrying sacks of flour up the hill, or vendors selling whatever cheap nutritionless fare – plain white rolls, glucose biscuits, chewing gum, waffles – count as sustenance here. Most, I suspect, have never set foot in school – from an early age, they had to contribute to the family. And yet I suspect these young swift hustlers are learning more valuable lessons here than in some understaffed, underfunded Congolese school. (These Western pieties!) Near the border post a handsome adolescent – he is 15, or 16 – washes the Land Cruisers and 4Runners of Bukavu‟s nouveau riche. He is fast, diligent; he charges 1,500 francs – almost $2 – per car. In his employ are two younger boys who carry jerry cans down the hill, filling them with lake water. On a slow day, this young entrepreneur probably takes home ten, fifteen bucks. This is an impressive amount even for a man his father‟s age. He wears a smart, buttoned shirt and a pair of crisp denim shorts. He looks wise beyond his years. A boy approaches me, smiling, his pants torn at the knees, a jerry can tied with a dirty rag over his shoulder. “Mzungu, how are you?” he says. His name is Abdullah. He orbits my small encampment, grinning, grateful for my proximate whiteness. “Me no money, me no go,” he says. I‟ve been sitting outside for close to an hour. Join the club, I think. Now my friend Justin arrives, looking sharp in a blue collared shirt and blue jeans and a bright white pair of New Balance sneakers. We greet each other joyfully – it‟s been more than two months since we met in Bujumbura – and exchange the news. We‟re interrupted by a call: Etienne has reached his friend, the chef of immigration in Goma, and wants me to send him my passport details. Suddenly the day has brightened. Things are moving forward, it seems, and it‟s only 10am. We stand and talk in the shade, the border circus whirling around us, Bukavu just fifty feet away. When I‟d met Justin – briefly, at our hotel in Bujumbura – he had been visiting Burundi to apply for a passport at the Congolese Embassy. This had seemed illogical at the time. But then, I didn‟t really know Congo. “Everything is too much money here,” he explains, gesturing with his chin to the country on the other side of the border control. The cost of applying for a passport in Bukavu was too high – there were too many officials asking for too many bribes. It was easier and cheaper to travel to Bujumbura, where he had studied and lived for five years, than to deal with the bureaucratic hassles in Congo. He laughs, recognizing my similar plight. “Once you get in, it is no problem,” he says. “There is no control.” Such is the situation for young Congolese in Bukavu, who find a better, easier life waiting as soon as they cross the border. Justin does his shopping in Kamembe; it was corruption at the university in Bukavu that drove him to Buja. “The teacher will call you and say, „I am marking your exam. What do you have to give me?‟” he says. In Congo, he had no way of knowing what his talents were as a student. As with so much in Congo, it was just a question of how much he could pay. Now he‟s waiting for his passport in Bujumbura, so that he could begin the lengthy process of applying for an American visa. He is already 28 – old for a Congolese bachelor – and he knows how hard it will be to travel once he starts a family. The application process is difficult, though; it all depends on how much money he can show for himself. Already he has thought his expenses through: one hundred dollars a day for a hotel, fifty dollars a day for restaurants, money for transportation. Clearly, Justin is not a typical young Congolese of limited means. But not even these p reparations will help his cause. “If I go to show them these calculations at the Embassy, it is not enough!” he says. “If I show them I have five thousand dollars, it is not enough!” And yet how easily he passed between these African borders. Etienne, now, is on the phone again. No news from Goma. Patience, he counsels. I have nothing else to rely on. We stand and watch the border traffic pass us by. More women, husky, laboring – all day they flow back and forth between the two countries. Some wazungu, too. The UN and NGO staffers pass quickly – probably they are negotiating this border each day. An SUV idles outside the office, a white woman sitting in the back, suitcases piled behind her. Tourist? She doesn‟t leave the car. Her driver, a tall, well- dressed man of solid build, carries her papers inside. Even this smooth customer, it seems, is rebuffed. Now he is on the phone. Now another man gets out of the car, confers. Soon they, too, are allowed to pass. Not even a look of pity as they go. The officials, it seems, have come outside to stretch their legs, and they‟re not too pleased to see us here. They have harsh words for Justin and shoo us further down the road. We find a bench, a thin plank of wood, in the shade of a pine tree. Our friend the carwashe r is working diligently on an SUV. The owner, handsome, immaculately dressed, watches with intense curiosity. His shoes are spotless – he must have floated over all that mud. Justin greets a friend, a cousin. A student from the university approaches, smiling. Apparently I‟d met him a few days before, in Kamembe. He gives me his email address, waves, trots off to catch up with his friends. I have no idea who he is. We are talking about the Congo, me and Justin, and it is funny to hear him talk about Kinshasa, that far-away place. It is like hearing news from a foreign land. Justin has only heard stories from two brothers who had studied in the capital. It costs nearly $700 to fly to Kinshasa one-way from Bukavu – more than half the cost of a round-trip ticket to New York. To travel overland, of course, is impossible – it would take weeks, even if he could do it safely. But Justin follows the news. He is a keen critic of the president, Kabila the Younger. He says there is a saying in Kiswahili, “Sehemo yangu?” – “Where is my part?” – that explains the Kabila style of governance. Following in the footsteps of his father, and of Mobutu before him. “When I compare here to Bujumbura,” says Justin, “I regret too much.” He gestures to the tarmac road, which, he says, tapers off on the other side of town. The Chinese have been contracted to rebuild the roads in Bukavu – they‟ve signed massive infrastructure deals in exchange for minerals all across Congo – but Justin says the quality of their work is poor. The government has no interest in developing the country. “We have money, but no conscience,” he says. In Congo, it is like the age of the American robber barons. Worse – at least they gave us functioning railroads. The plunder of the Congo has been going on for so long, it has built so many lavish fortunes – in Congo, in Belgium, in France; no doubt in South Africa, America, China, too – that it‟s impossible to see a way out. Justin sighs at his country‟s wasted riches. “In our soil we have gold, we have diamonds, we have minerals,” he says. “But it is for nothing.” He says he has dreams of becoming president some day. He would like to turn the Congo into a functioning country, one that would work for its people – not against them. Across the road, up a narrow dirt path, is a grand two-storey house. It belongs to Justin‟s uncle, a local politico; on the ground floor he‟s built a small restaurant, umbrellas and plastic tables facing Lake Kivu. Now, with storm clouds gathering over the Rwandan hills, Justin suggests we sit on the terrace: the umbrellas, at least, will keep us dry. We climb the muddy hill. At the top a busy youth, the houseboy, is washing laundry in a plastic basin. Justin goes to greet him, to search for his aunt. From the terrace I can see a long line of traffic, bodies and bodies, trudging across the border. We sit under the candy-striped beach umbrellas and wait. My spirits are deflating. It‟s been three hours now, and still no encouraging news from Etienne. He calls again. The Bukavu immigration chef, it seems, has switched off his phone. Etienne is sorry, sympathetic. “I know how it must be for you,” he says. I thank him with great feeling: already he‟s done more than I could have expected. He promises to keep trying throughout the day. I assure him dinner‟s on me when I make it back to Kigali. Justin is standing beside me and we are watching the road. The early- morning traffic of market women and traders is being replaced by students – dozens of Rwandan youths who, like Faustin and Lazare, the two men I met in Cyangugu, cross the border each day to study in Bukavu. Now a man passes, legless, a muscular torso, with sandals tied to the stumps below his knees. He has a walking stick in one hand and a jerry can propped on his shoulder. Justin says he lost his legs to a bomb during the war – the big war, Mobutu‟s war, when Rwandan troops stormed across the country to topple the old dinosaur. The fighting in Bukavu was bad. Each day gunfire, bombs, grenades. “That one,” says Justin, pointing to the legless man, “he decided he could not live asking, „Do you have money? Do you have money?‟ He said, „I can still walk, so I can do something.‟” The man carried a jerry can full of gasoline up the hill, hobbled back down, carried another. Day after day, this was his life. He might make a $5 profit on each one, says Justin. And there would be other deals, arrangements with people trying to get their goods through customs without paying a tax. “You see that one?” says Justin, pointing to a fretful woman standing in the road with a jerry can beside her. “She is trying to see how she can pass that border without paying a tax. Now she will ask that man to help her.” Sure enough, just seconds later, the woman is negotiating with the legless man. The conversation is brief – probably his asking price is too high. The man stumps off down the hill, taking brisk powerful strides, and the woman, trying her luck, picks up the jerry can and walks slowly toward the border. The clouds blow in. They part. The road is drenched in sunlight. I‟m starting to get hungry – I haven‟t eaten all morning – and I know this won‟t help my mood. I‟m weighing our options when the choice is made for me: blustering down the road, gesticulating wildly, is one of the gruff immigration officials. I‟m not sure how he spotted us – we must be 200 feet from the border control – but he is in no diplomatic mood. He wants us clear of the border, back in Rwanda – his whole manner is full of belligerence, threats. I take up my bags and we trundle off; things here can only end badly. Soon we are back at the Rwandan border, sitting on a bench, waiting. I am tired, my mood is sour. And then the rain starts to fall. This is the low point of the day. If the war is far from over, this battle has been decisively won by the Congolese bureaucrats: I‟m back where I started five hours ago. Outside the Rwandan border post, full of pathos and desperate entreaty, I ask a pretty Spanish girl – her manner confident, vigorous – how she plans on crossing the border. But she already got her visa in Spain – no hope that her handlers might be able to spirit me through. Finally, standing in the rain, I admit defeat. I ask the Rwandan official to cancel my exit visa – she is sympathetic, full of harsh words for her Congolese counterparts – and then me and Justin slouch our way to the Home St. François, where at least a hot meal is waiting. Over potage and piles of rice and beans, I weigh my options. Etienne remains my best bet; Justin‟s uncle – some ruling party functionary, no doubt – might prove to be a worthy plan B. There is apparently another border post – Rusizi deux – some 10 kilometers down the road, but I have my doubts. Justin assures me I‟ll be able to pass without a hassle, but Justin has never been a white guy in the Congo. There‟s a chance, too, that these stubborn bureaucrats will let me bribe my way through – Justin suggests approaching them as my intermediary with a hundred bucks – but this move seems full of potential peril. I might be angrily rebuffed. I might be shaken down for more money. I might spend the night in a Congolese prison, wrapped in the arms of a 300-pound convict whispering hoarsely into my ear, “C’etait bonne, non? C’etait très, très douce.” The last, least desirable option – the one that even I, with my particular taste for black humor, find hard to swallow – would be to board a bus in the morning, backtrack hundreds of miles via Kigali to Gisenyi, and cross the border into Goma. This tragicomic journey would involve more strength than my tired bones could probably muster; and yet how different I‟ll probably feel, come morning, if all the other doors have been slammed shut on me. All these things circle in my head, synapses firing, as we finish our lunch. It is after two, and I can see that the window of opportunity for this day is closing. It seems pointless to keep Justin here – bless his heart, he‟s already spent a full day fretting along beside me. We part with great laughter and warmth and gratitude – it‟s been a memorable day – and then I‟m again checking into room No. 6 at the Home St. François, exchanging dollars (another headache! most seem to be counterfeits I picked up in Gisenyi), and heading back to the Internet café across the road. There‟s a sort of luxury in this: I am relieved, after this long day, to be back in familiar surroundings. Etienne calls again, promising to pursue things on his end throughout the evening. Justin says he will take things up with his uncle. Tomorrow is another day, full, I‟m sure, of its own promises and failures. April 1 – Cyangugu to Gisenyi The weather is not good for the m. In which we meet an April fool. Coffee, again, at the Hotel du Lac. After yesterday‟s catastrophic failures at the border, I‟m oddly at peace with myself this morning. I‟ve faced, I think, the worst of my demons. Today, my fate is in the hands of Etienne and Justin – both of whom had promised to lobby on my behalf throughout the night. For this first hour of what will turn out to be a grand April Fool‟s joke on this particular April Fool, I can tell myself I‟ve done about as much, so far, as I can possibly do. Justin calls just a few minutes after ten – he is on his way to Cyangugu. Soon we‟re sitting together on the terrace of the Hotel du Lac, and he‟s sharing the bad news. “I do not know what the problem is in Bukavu,” he says, shaking his head. South Kivu‟s internal politics have been simmering; the province is a mess. The governor has been summoned to Kinshasa to explain himself. In Bukavu, the opposition is agitating for power. “They are trying to get the commandment of Bukavu,” says Justin. His uncle – some low- level cog, I suspect, in the ruling party machine – is afraid to cause trouble at such a critical moment for the party. Justin sighs. “The weather is not good for them,” he says. His uncle can‟t step in on my behalf. Justin has done all he could. When bad news comes, I prefer to take it all in one dose. By half-past ten, with still no word from Etienne, I decide to play what I suspect is my final card. Etienne‟s voice is strained when he picks up the phone – I know the news is not good. The director in Goma has been trying his colleague in Bukavu throughout the night – still no answer. The message, for Etienne, is clear. “I think he is working with those men,” he says. His voice is deflated; my spirits sink. With the failure of this powerful maneuver, I know I‟m out of options. Etienne wishes me luck with whatever I decide. “I‟m sorry I have failed on my side,” he says. Justin can see my mood has soured. He, too, is out of advice for me. With the door in Bukavu having slammed in my face, though, I‟ve shifted from despair to resolve. It is hardly eleven; I can still make Gisenyi by nightfall. The day would be wasted – a grim daisy-chain of bumpy bus rides through the Rwandan hinterlands – but there‟s nothing stopping me from strolling into Congo tomorrow morning. I share my plan with Justin. It‟s clear this is the only way. Now I find myself trying to console him. He‟s taken these past few days awfully hard. Though he knows better than I do the headaches and hurdles of life in the Congo, his pride in his country has been wounded. “It is a problem with Kabila,” he says. “A guest comes to knock on your door, you have to open first. This is not good politics.” He is not surprised, but still: the Congo has let him down. We embrace with great warmth – it is humbling how hard he and Etienne have lobbied for me – and say goodbye to the Hotel du Lac, to Cyangugu. I promise to keep him posted on my progress – despite the change in plans, I should still be in Bukavu some time next week – and off he goes, his bright white sneakers beating a path up the hill. Now I‟ve shifted into travel mode. It‟s close to eleven: if I want to reach Gisenyi by nightfall, I probably should have left two hours ago. My mood is brisk. Money is exchanged – my stack of U.S. dollars has been dwindling all week – sweet loaves of ndazi bread are bought for the long journey, and soon I‟m on the Horizon Bus to Kampala, by way of Kigali, the seats all but empty as we chug up the hill toward Kamembe. Leaving Cyangugu, the bay glittering, sunlight glinting off the roofs in the slums of Bukavu, a powerful feeling catches in my throat. This has been a memorable week, and I‟m oddly at peace as Bukavu disappears behind a bend in the road. For all the moronic waste of today‟s journey, I don‟t regret having come all this way only to be turned away at the border. Yesterday was educational; these, the border official might have said to me, are the facts of life. (Thinking of that legless man, the force of his shoulders, the short brisk strides and the powerful thrust of his walking stick. Thinking of the shrewd old woman wheeling her way uphill, the effrontery of that much put- upon face, the indignities of age, of her handicap, of the flesh.) A week from now I‟ll be looking across the same bay, from the other side. A certain sense of dark comedy is, I suspect, a necessary survival skill in the Congo. The bus is barreling now from Kamembe. Adieu, Faustin, Lazare! There are only five, six of us onboard, and I suspect this is an unscheduled journey – that the driver of the Kampala-Kigali line, in cahoots with some associates, has tacked on a side route for his own benefit. Why else would Horizon – a shuttle service between the major East African urban centers – Kigali, Kampala, Juba, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam – why would Horizon extend its route to Cyangugu, of all places? We stop along the way – sacks of charcoal, of potatoes, are tossed under the bus. Small money changes hands. Yes, this is probably a profitable racket. We stop in small towns – a solitary passenger, an old man with a battered suitcase, boards, smiles, looks around, settles fussily into a seat. In Ntidenzi, schoolgirls are skipping rope outside a primary school. They stop, smile, stare. Some classmates join them, everyone laughing and waving vigorously as we leave little Ntidenzi behind. We pass for miles with nothing but tea plantations on either side of the road. Then a forest of blue gum trees – tall, slender, silver-barked, rocking in the wind. These you‟ll find now all across Africa – non- indigenous, as native as yours truly. The blue gums grow quickly – it takes just five years, a man once told me, for a tree to reach maturity. In Rwanda, as in much of Africa, with its forests taxed by a rapidly growing population, these blue gums are planted to counter the effects of deforestation. In just a few years, a barren hill will be covered with trees – these become charcoal, firewood. But the effects, I‟m told, will be disastrous. A South African farmer once described how quickly these selfish trees drink the water from the soil. The earth here is being depleted. But what else do you tell the villagers, who only know that they need these trees for survival? Now we are entering Nyungwe Forest, the national park – the road cuts through one of Rwanda‟s last pristine places. The mountains are covered in dense forest, lit by patches of sunlight. The climate changes. The clouds are low, rain begins to fall. Through the thick jungle cover we go, the trees draped with liana and creepers, vines hanging from the branches. It is a picture-book jungle, Curious George – the kind you see in cartoons with swinging monkeys and apes. It‟s rare to see such wild places in Rwanda, with its carefully cultivated landscapes, its terraced hills. Thousands of years ago, the whole country must have looked like this. Our ancestors beating their chests and howling violently in the treetops. We stop. Villagers gather on the roadside, waiting for a lift. Somewhere in all that forest, still you find some settlements. They board, small bills clutched in their hands. Some wait – for a free ride, maybe, a passing friend. Others sell oranges, rough-husked fruits. In places we slow: a landslide has blocked part of the road. Piles of rock, mud, branches, sediment. A lorry passes, huffing slowly uphill and dragging a second trailer behind it. Across the windshield are the words, “Jesus is Life.” Now the trees begin to thin, here and there you see hilltops denuded and trees stripped bare. Suddenly, more of those alien blue gums, and you know you are close to human populations again. The forest vanishes. Villages, small vegetable plots, farmers in their fields. The sunlight is bright – the clouds seem to hang over Nyungwe. Then more towns, bigger, rows of shops, banks. We are approaching Butare, and now we pass tourist hotels, cars, new constructions on the side of the road. You are impressed, coming out of the forest, to see the freshness and vitality of these towns. So muc h development along the road from Butare to Kigali. A difference from the neglected backwaters on the rough lake roads. The day is growing long, too long. We are four, five hours out of Cyangugu – the landscape is monotonous. I read, doze off. We stop – dozens of secondary school students board. Suddenly the bus is full. Laughter, flirtations, the smell of body odor. The girl beside me reads from a book of hymnals. I close my eyes, open them, begin to count the mile markers. We pass rice paddies – scores of gacaca convicts, in their pink shirts and shorts, bending, working. More rainfall. The scene of an accident. A bicyclist, a prone body, on the side of the road; a bunch of bananas. My seat is hard, and I can‟t find a way to arrange myself comfortably. Someone in front of me leans her head out the window and vomits. I close my eyes. When I open them, we‟re in Kigali. The city continues to grow on me – a place so sleepy and scrubbed that a friend once dubbed it “the Morgantown, West Virginia, of Africa.” But after two weeks upcountry it seems livelier, fresh, more boisterous than I remember. The streets are crowded, buses and motos, bodies dodging traffic, the rush-hour swarm. We reach Nyabugogo – craters, puddles like vast inland seas. It seems remarkable that a government which can lay hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable across the country can‟t build a decent fucking bus station. Women clutch at the hems of their dresses, step daintily. People waving, calling, an ecstasy of partings and reunions. The bus has finally stopped; outside, an angry crowd. They are going to Kampala – the bus, I suspect, is way behind schedule. We made terrible progress through the rain. Now they are thirsty for blood; we have to push our way through the crowds. I flag down a moto. On the back of the bike, weaving perilously through the traffic on my way to the Virunga Punctuel offices. The duffel bag is perched on my knee, my arm strains to keep it from pulling me off the bike. The first bus is at half-past six; I have half an hour to kill. I am, in fairness, glad for the extra time. I stock up on samosas and congealed pizzas for the ride, make a bathroom run at the UTC. The place is packed – the crowds look so prosperous here. Cufflinks, sunglasses, high heels, earrings. Men who, if asked, would describe themselves simply as “businessmen.” So much noise and commotion, after the silence of the lake. As charmless as this place is, I realize how much I‟m going to miss it: my thrice-weekly visits to Bourbon Coffee, my late- night runs to the 24- hour Nakumatt, the tall, slender university girls and preppily dressed boys strutting on their Friday-night promenades. The feeling swells as our bus leaves Kigali, the lively streets, the constellations of lights strung across the hills. All day, since leaving Nyungwe, with the sun pouring its blessing on the hills and town after energetic town scrolling by, I‟ve had an odd sense of faith in this country. In Kigali, too, with all the optimistic bustle, it struck me that maybe, for all my skepticism about reconciliation in Rwanda, this country really can pull through – that with enough jobs and development, enough growth trickling down to the collines, this country might actually get past the politics of genocide, divisionism, hate. The optimism, this high feeling, catches in my throat. Along the road to Gisenyi, thinking about these past two weeks, I realize that I‟ve never felt as strongly about Rwanda as I do right now. After all these months – stretching back to my first visit two years ago – Rwanda has finally grown on me. Silently, I pour out my heart. The honeymoon is brief. An hour from the city, on a high backcountry road, the bus begins to rattle, a flat. This day – fittingly, April Fool‟s – will never end. A lesser or more superstitious man might have gotten the cosmic hint and headed back to Kigali. We stand on the side of the road; the lights of the city cast a luminous dome over the hills. Together eight, ten of us stand in the mud, pushing against the side of the bus so the driver can remove the flat. The night is brisk. Men and women, villagers, appear, briefly passing through the headlights. An old man, short, friendly, greets me, shaking my hand. “Me hungery, me hungery,” he says, still smiling. I tell him I‟m sorry, I have nothing; he laughs, shakes his head, wanders off. The road is pitched in darkness. I stand 20 feet behind the bus, staring at the stars, imagining myself all alone here, lost in the world. What a strange thing, this 21st-century soul. Bound to the earth. Wheeling around on our curious revolutions. Lassoed to an indifferent galaxy. Confronted on all sides by cosmic laughter. And believing ourselves somehow noble and brave and good. Soon two bright headlights – an empty bus, sent to retrieve us and take us the rest of the way. We transfer our bags, settle into our seats. Everyone has arranged themselves in the same order from the first bus, and for some reason, this surprises and impresses me greatly. My window seat is vacant, waiting for my tired behind. I sit, bury my head in my hands, try to will the day to completion. There are too many twists in the road to nod off. Dark, silent towns pass in the night. We reach Ruhengeri – hotels, cheerful and welcoming; bars strung with Christmas lights. The moon comes out from behind the clouds. Mist fills the valleys. Mountains silhouetted against the light of the sky. This day has had some magic, too. The bus stops in villages left off the maps. People depart, walk stoically into the darkness. Men tug at their collars. Wo men kick off their heels, hoping to catch some sleep. Finally, Gisenyi. It has taken close to twelve hours to get here from Cyangugu. Looked at differently: after nearly two weeks, I‟m right back where I started. I slog down the road, surrounded by street kids – they are more aggressive, more demanding after dark. At my cheery little auberge, a group of young ex-pats, aid workers, most likely, looking blonde and convivial by the bar. A beer and a good lay – did Stanley have such simple hopes on his great African expeditions? But then the day‟s final indignity: the rooms are all booked. As if Rwanda has prepared one last kick in the ass to send me into the Congo. I haul my bags back down the road, ignoring the catcalls of the street kids, thinking uncharitab le thoughts about these goddamn orphans. A shifty youth greets me at the door of the grim Gisenyi City View Hotel, as disreputable a place as you‟ll find in this lakeside resort town. We have to wake the manager, asleep in what will soon be my bed. He emer ges from the room, sleepy, shirtless, smelling of booze. I am prepared to sleep in the garden if I have to. Then the lights go out. I take out my flashlight, muttering, bickering, insulted that I‟m paying close to fifteen U.S. bucks for this stuffy, wretched room. Briskly the sheets are changed, tidings for the night – good or otherwise – are exchanged. This long day is finally over. It‟s approaching midnight as my head hits the pillow. It‟s practically tomorrow already. April 2 – Gisenyi to Goma This is not the real Africa. In which there are wonders. Despite the thin, musty foam mattress at the Gisenyi City View, I sleep like a prince. I feel fresh and revived in the morning, refusing, even, to let the scuzziness of the bathroom get to me. It is a brilliant day, the air sharp, Nyiragongo‟s blue-gray profile looming over the market. At the auberge, in its cheerful garden, coffee and a much- needed plate of gatogo – the banana stew I‟d grown so hooked on in Burundi. It‟s the most I‟ve had in my stomach in nearly two days. It is the first time, too, that I‟ve felt a sense of confidence all week. I know Goma, I know this border. Congo doesn‟t scare me today. My bags are packed. I make a quick bank run – my stash of U.S. dollars has been woefully depleted this week – and then I am at the border, clearing Rwandan customs, and finally – finally! – stepping into the Congo. What a difference, what briskness, after the hassles of Bukavu. The traffic all day – UN staffers, humanitarians, casual tourists, journalists – is such that the sight of a white face in Goma doesn‟t excite Pavlovian impulses. No lengthy interrogations, no shameless shakedowns. I hand my passport and $35 to the official. She smiles. I wait. Another group of tourists is nearby, chatting amiably. We could be at any border crossing in the world. A man approaches, dour, a face full of flesh. “What is your job?” he asks. (English!) “I am a student.” “You are here to do some research?” Sure! Why not? “I am,” I say. “I am doing research on the Great Lakes.” Not entirely false. He nods and walks off. Minutes pass. An American friend, Rachel – an aid worker in Goma – arrives with her passport in hand. She is spending the day in Gisenyi – as easy as a trip to the corner store. She begins to dish out advice to the other tourists – what company to see the gorillas with, how much to climb the volcano. She hands them a business card for the tour company she prefers. Quite a useful one, that Rachel. I‟m called inside – another short consultation over the length of my stay. I ask about Bukavu, and the woman‟s eyes go wide. The eight-day visa, it seems, is only good for North Kivu province – lucky that I asked. If I want to go to Bukavu, she says, I‟ll have to pay for the full, month- long Congolese visa – less than the $300 asking price at Rusizi, but still, a hefty hundred and fifty bucks. This will require some consideration. I thank the woman – so helpful, these North Kivu Congolese! – and see Rachel off to Gisenyi. Then I am slinging my bag over my shoulder, waving off the money-changers, and trudging my way into Goma. This is a place that excites powerful and complex memories. I had walked this same road five months ago, had come with Steve Terrell – good-hearted, self- righteous, oh-so- American Steve! – a sort of freelance do-gooder who had been bringing medicine to a group of IDPs living in a squalid camp outside of Goma. We had met in Kigali; I was interviewing him to replace me in the house I was about to vacate in Remera. He had told me a tragic tale of lost IDPs – 6,000 Congolese, he said, neglected by the international community – and the next day we were in the back of the Virunga bus, racing toward the border. Steve was on a mercy mission; my reasons were more ambiguous. This might be The Story, I told myself – the one that would finally propel me from the bottom- feeding ranks of travel writers into the world of Serious Reporting. (Oh, the Congo would show me a thing or two.) On the bus Steve warned me and Lindsay, a roommate from Kigali, that the border would be overwhelming. It would be best to get behind him, he said. I gave him a frank look. I was full of anxieties before that trip, to be sure; but in my time, let‟s face it, I‟d seen a few things myself. In Goma, just past the border, the money-changers swarmed. Holding their bricks of Congolese notes, colorful bits of play money. Steve wanted to handle the negotiations, but he had the exchange rates all wrong. He was making a mess of things – some savior! Then the moto drivers surrounding us, young, aggressive, in the manner of their kind. Steve‟s warnings were ill- founded – I‟d seen this sort of thing before. Then we were barreling through the dust and grit and free-wheeling derby of downtown Goma. The IDP camp would indeed be tragic, but this – the noise, the traffic, the energetic hustle and chaos – this was something to marvel at. The IDPs had pitched their ragged tents in a field behind a church. They used plastic tarps and garbage bags and canvas sacks emblazoned with humanitarian logos to build these clumsy shelters. UNHCR, UNICEF, USAID. A strong gust of wind might have blown the whole place away. Steve introduced me to the camp leaders – again, these rigid hierarchies of Congolese society. There was an IDP president, a vice-president, a treasurer. Solemnly they took us around the camp, explained that the situation was dire. These people had fled fighting near their villages in North Kivu; they had come from Masisi, from Walikale, they had walked with whatever modest possessions they could carry, holding their children‟s hands. The international community had abandoned them, they said. They were barred from the UN camps. They had no food or water. Steve, nodding, as grave as a crucifixion scene, carried out rudimentary check-ups on the young and old. He promised to bring eye drops for a young boy with a severe infection. On the bus back to Kigali, we were all on the verge of tears. Now, five months later, I flag down a moto, balance my duffel bag on one leg. We zip through the streets, my driver chatting amiably in a French I only partly understand. Past the old ex-pat haunts – Chez Doga, Coco Jamboo – past the Soleil Palace, the hotel/restaurant/nightclub I stayed in when I returned to Goma a week after visiting with Steve. I had brought my friend and translator, Prudent, a journalism student at the university in Butare. It was forty bucks a night and I was on the tightest of budgets, I had almost nothing, and so there I was, sharing a bed with my translator while American hip- hop rattled the windowpanes. There was no running water, the electricity was sporadic. The living room was furnished with the gaudy opulence – the chintz curtains and gold fixtures and oversized leather sofas – of the African nouveau riche. After four days I was desperate. I was hemorrhaging money and the story was going nowhere. The 6,000 IDPs, it turned out, were more like 600. The Norwegian Refugee Council said that no, actually, they were being fed. The UN said they had refused to move into UN camps. The Congolese government said many weren‟t IDPs at all – they were residents of Goma, trying to take advantage of the humanitarian aid being offered. And besides, they said, the security had improved: the IDPs would be sent back to their villages with a small living stipend, as soon as the government could prove they were who they said they were. We were running in circles. And still my heart ached for these people – the sick old man with his frail, wheezing chest, the little boy whose rheumy eyes might never see again. We watched a middle-aged man, a father, making doors out of scrap metal. He sold them to the other IDPs for 400 or 500 Congolese francs – 50 cents for half a day‟s work. Crouched outside his tent, hammering at rusted five-gallon cans of USAID beans and cooking oil. I knew there was a story in all of that, but what was the story? All I could think about was how much money we were burning through. I apologized and put Prudent on a bus back to Kigali. And for the next few days I wandered the city on my own, relieved of the burden of reporting a story I didn‟t understand, marveling at the sheer improbabilities and incongruities of life in the Congo. Now my driver is whirling us around town, the road buckled and potholed, the traffic swerving, crawling, jockeying for some small advantage. Yes, here you know you are a long way from Rwanda. The dozens of SUVs – UN, MSF, IRC, NRC, ICRC, the whole alphabet soup – the police pickups, the lorries full of gaunt shivering soldiers, the perilous weaving motos, the wooden chukudu scooters, piled high with every imaginable cargo. The dust is thick – it stings your eyes. And an endless procession on the roadside: women with buckets of onions on their heads, barefoot children, men with briefcases, people selling, shouting, hustling, living. Oh yes, this is Goma – this is a brave new world. At a fork in the road we turn left, darting through oncoming traffic. We stop outside a small hotel, the wall painted: Hotel Cirezi. I had called at the border; they had single rooms for twenty U.S. bucks a night. I pay the driver and heave my bag to the reception desk. The hotel is rundown but, it seems, well looked-after – that peculiar African ability to ensure that even if the paint is chipped, the windows cracked, the roof rusted and weather-beaten, there is still someone near at hand, endlessly sweeping the floors. My room is a stiff queen-sized bed and a wobbly desk and a wooden rack over which I drape some shirts. There are pegs on the wall, and I hang my linen pants. It is homely – homely enough. Outside the volcano is hidden by clouds: a storm is approaching. You can see the black sheets of rain in the distance. A dark, tumultuous mood, suitable for a city built atop black volcanic rock. With the low gray clouds sitting over this ashy landscape, you‟re reminded of certain unsavory passages from Revelations. But the comparison doesn‟t hold up: there is so much life – too much life – on the streets. We‟re a long way from the dark days of 1994, when Rwandan refugees poured across the border, a nd a cholera outbreak took tens of thousands of lives; or 2002, when a volcanic eruption sent rivers of lava flowing through the city, displacing thousands; even 2008, when General Nkunda and his rebels threatened to take Goma by force. These things, you want to think, are fading from proximate threat to memory. Something like peace and stability has taken hold in Goma since – even as the war in the hills waxes and wanes. It was something I heard over and over the last time I was here: slowly, somehow, life is getting better. Walking down the Sake road, thumbing texts into my cell phone, I dodge the traffic that has spilled in all its chaotic abundance onto the roadside. New shops are being built, trenches dug to lay a new water main (this drawing dozens of idle, curious youths). Near the university, an old man is stooping and pulling up greens in a grassy lot. Already he‟s filled his plastic bag – this wily old cat, spying which of the dusty shoots might be good with a bit of salt after a long boil. Strange to think of my father here in Goma – my father, with his taste for wild dandelions growing in the baseball fields and public parks of Brooklyn. What must he look like, I always wondered, to a stranger passing by? Near the roundabout, now, and the first cold, hard drops beginning to fall. Suddenly the sound of music – a marching band, a full ensemble of trumpets and tubas and drums and trombones, the horn section braying, swaying from side to side. Women carrying a banner: “Campagne d’Evangelation,” it says, from something called the “Federation Urbaine des Femmes.” And here they are, dozens of women in bright dresses and headscarves and t-shirts bearing the logos of their sponsors. A group passes with hymnals, laughing, singing; they smile at me and wave. Now the rain is picking up, and the women are trotting, trying to keep the tune. I take a moto and just barely beat the rain to Chez Doga. Inside, just a few tables taken – a group in UN vests having lunch; a few Congolese sitting in a dark corner, silent, staring at their laptops. Only at night have I seen this place draw a crowd – the French and Italian aid workers, the Pakistani peacekeepers with their bristling moustaches and slender waists, the prostitutes with their magnificent coiffures. During the day, with the tables empty and the TV playing softly by the bar, it is a depressing place to be. But then, I only have coffee on my mind; and besides, there is the rain. I sit with my notebook and pour the burnt coffee into my mug, thinking of my last vis it to Goma. Doga was an educational experience for me: the menu with its $10 pizzas and $15 steaks, aid-industry prices, with those inscrutable dollar signs which, after so much time in Africa, looked like Egyptian hieroglyphs. Dimly I began to perceive the parallel economies, the parallel worlds of Goma. (The UNOCHA compound across the street seemed to glare with significance.) Next door, the Doga shop was fully stocked with top- shelf liquor and imported condiments. At night, the prostitutes would smile at me, test the water, lose interest: there were other, older johns with UN money to burn. Down the street, after I‟ve finished my coffee, I grab a snack at Kivu Market – Lebanese- owned, bursting with abundance. They‟ve expanded since last year: the electro nics section is full of flat-screen TVs; in sporting goods there are nautilus machines and treadmills. Say what you will about the humanitarian industry, but in Goma, it sure is good for business. The bakery is warm and smells of fresh bread; the shelves are stocked with imported cheeses. At the checkout, a big-headed, hirsute Lebanese circles like a pit boss. Outside, groups of Congolese men sitting at tables, using the WiFi. Money- changers holding stacks of Rwandan and American and Congolese bills. Around the corner, a new takeaway joint, part of Kivu Market. In just a few days, their hummus and schwarmas will become a crippling addiction. Back at the hotel I change out of my wet clothes, rest, write. I have plans to meet Rachel later in the evening, but it‟s early, just after four – I don‟t want to wear myself out with aimless wandering. Boisterous voices coming from the hotel restaurant: they are off to an early start on this Friday afternoon. I lie down, stretch. The mattress is stiff and there are two plump pillows. It really is a marvelous bed. By the time I leave the hotel just after five the air is crisp, patches of blue between the clouds. The Sake road is bristling with energy. Rush hour in Goma has a certain dark comedy – the endless processional of Land Cruisers and Prados, antennae jumping, all the logos of the great humanitarian stew, the UN jeeps and cargo trucks and armored personnel carriers. The Congolese are unmoved by all of this. They push their chukudus, walk briskly through the traffic, get muscled to the side of the road. They part as I walk past and close around me, like a wound. Outside a supermarket, the Champs Elysee, a crowd is watching videos on a 17- inch TV screen – Kenyan gospel, merry Christians swaying on a manicured hotel lawn to the heavy accompaniment of synthesizers and keyboards. There must be two dozen bystanders watching, motionless, silent, eyes fixed to the TV. A woman with a plastic wash basin full of maize on her head. A man in an ill- fitting coat, holding a laptop bag. Others, as solemn as funeral mourners. A one- legged man hobbles over on crutches, asking for money. He has red eyes and beer on his breath and teeth like a broken Steinway. I apologize, pat my pockets for emphasis, and tell him I have nothing, nothing at all. More faces, bumping bodies, men with deformities, women built like cement mixers. Down the road I‟m joined by a youth, studious- looking, in a light blue Kangol and matching pants spattered with mud. He introduces himself as Jerusalem – it‟s like meeting some latter-day prophet on these Congolese streets. We walk together, trying to keep our stride through the crowds. A man brushes us aside carrying a bookshelf on his shoulder. Jerusalem says he has been six months without a job; would I be able to help him out? “I know the UN is sometimes looking for translators,” he says. A longshot, but why not hope the white man works for the UN, has powerful connections? I tell him I‟ve just arrived in Goma, I‟m passing through. He takes this with no hard feeling. He has been eight years out of secondary school and has struggled to find regular employment. It is a problem for the Congolese, he says. “We have spent all this time in school, but for what?” he says. The country is adrift – there is no leadership in Kinshasa. I ask about President Kabila, and Jerusalem shakes his head. “If he was a good president, I would not be without a job,” he says. The traffic is like some micro-organism, infinitely replicating and sub-dividing. Two lanes become four, four become six, six become Cannonball Run. Suddenly we‟ve stepped into oncoming traffic, dodging motorbikes and minibuses. Walking in Goma is a sport. We leap across puddles and dodge chukudus. We climb piles of dark gravel and volcanic rock – up and down, up and down, like a pair of mountaineers. Jerusalem wonders now if I can‟t find a job for him somewhere else – in South Africa, or Europe, or America. His eyes glitter as he pronounces that magic word. It has the power of ritual, of incantation. He knows America, of course – from music videos, from movies. Getting him there, I explain, would be no easy task. And even in America, I say, so many are out of work. He takes this news as if it‟s been delivered from the heavens on the back of a thunderbolt. “I did not think it was possible to have a white with no job,” he says. Clearly, this has been a day of wonders. At the roundabout we exchange numbers and part. “We are together,” says Jerusalem, beginning the five kilometer walk toward his home. The clouds have parted, the volcano is out. Jerusalem dodging motorbikes and dashing through puddles. The road seems to stretch to the foot of Nyiragongo in the direction of his home; in the other, traders are packing up shop at the market, a group of young men are sitting on sofas on the side of the road. Lean men, secondary-school dropouts, perhaps, with a lifetime of shuffling between odd jobs ahead of them. A city full of Jerusalems, hoping to find that golden key: a job with the UN, some NGO, a driver or security guard or translator for an organization with bank accounts in Europe, a headquarters in London, or Geneva. At an Internet café, someone has left a PDF open on the screen – an invoice for the shipment of a C-Class Mercedes (“wine red”) from Kobe, Japan. This, too, is part of Goma‟s story. Dusk. I have time to kill. I poke my head into Soleil Palace – a dozen guys sitting around, watching TV. Doga is empty. For all the expats here, for all the stress of the day‟s work, happy-hour culture hasn‟t quite made it to Goma. A crowd of Congolese, a few hundred, are making their cheery way down the road. There is laughter, singing – a church has just let out. It‟s not exactly the happy hour I had in mind. I find a seat outside a shopping arcade beside the Hotel des Grands Lacs, watch the to- ing and fro- ing. A boy on a motorbike cruises beside two girls, chatting, working for a smile. The girls are uninterested; they cross the road. Standing under a tree, the unlucky suitor‟s friends burst into laughter. Soon a boy comes to join me. He is short, slight, red-eyed; he wears a Muslim prayer cap which he takes off and twists in his hands. His name is Patrick. Sitting, sighing, shaking his head, he says, “Papa,” and begins telling me about his life. He came to Goma in 1994; he left Rwanda with his family – part of the hordes of refugees who came pouring across the border after the genocide. He was only four. Now his father is gone, his mother is gone; he has three young sisters to look after. He has no work, he‟s never finished schoo l – his tale of woe is endless. Passersby slow, stare; a few other youths began to rib him – whether because he‟s a little conman, or because they all know his misfortunes, they‟ve seen him sitting here with other wazungu, wearing his heart on his sleeve – whatever the reason, I‟m not sure. But after awhile even I begin to smile at his theatrical flourishes. “Je suis avec beaucoup de souffrance,” he says, lightly touching his breast. “Pas en peu – beaucoup!” He wants to make sure I‟m clear on this point: he has not had a little suffering – a lot! Finally I‟m rescued – Rachel calls, she‟s on her way. I give this little long-suffering hustler 1,000 francs – a princely sum, even I can‟t say why I do it. The transaction has been observed by a security guard nearby; soon he, too, is asking for money. I laugh this off. “Je ne suis pas banque,” I say. There is a lesson, I‟m sure, to be learned from this. A toot of the horn; Rachel and her driver pull up, in their IRC truck. I climb into the back and shut the door, and like that, I‟m transported to another side of Goma life. We‟re meeting her friends at Petit Bruxelles, a genteel outpost of European charm founded, the story goes, by the former head of OXFAM as a gift to his Congolese wife. It is lively, the tables are filling quickly. All of Goma‟s expat community seems to be here, along with a few Congolese gathered around the TV at the bar. Rachel‟s friends arrive in pairs, in threes. By the time we join them they‟ve filled a long table – Italians and English, and a few of us Americans, sitting at the end. Rachel introduces me as her “friend from the Internet” – we‟d met after reading one another‟s blogs. This draws appropriate laughter. It is a good crowd, young, spirited, talkative. Maybe it‟s the Italians who have this effect on us. Two balladeers move between the tables, strumming their guitars. More people arrive – white, attractive, well-dressed. The air of First World salaries. Everyone knows everyone. Laughter, greetings, kisses. Two young guys at my end of the table – from Hong Kong and the UK, both Josephs – swap stories about life in Kinshasa. British Joseph has lived there since last year: he works for an NGO that makes braces for polio victims. Hong Kong Joseph spent two months in the capital before moving to Goma. He works for Catholic Relief Services – CRS. Everyone here is known by their acronym. Rachel is IRC Rachel. I‟m introduced to an attractive Russian woman – Julie, or Jenny. An acronym is supplied. Only I seem to float around as a free radical, a journalist. Two of the Italians have propped their walkie talkies on the table. They seem to give the dinner an air of urgency, of impending flight. The talk at the table is of the MSF party – MSF, MSF, for Médecins Sans Frontières. The party is being held at a lakeside villa 30 minutes from town, and it seems that the whole of Goma, after finishing dinner at Petit Bruxelles, will reconvene there. Rachel is ambivalent: she will be up at 4:30 in the morning to see the gorillas. Everyone else is saying, “MSF! MSF!” like some talisman we use to keep evil spirits at bay. Here you begin to get a sense of the stories I‟d heard about Goma in Kigali: of a bacchanalian frenzy of UN staffers and loose aid workers and strapping MONUC soldiers desperate to unwind after their stress- filled ops in the bush. It is an odd sort of life you lead here. No doubt the work leaves most feeling like an emotional punching bag, and everyone in Goma seems to have done hard time. They have spent years in Congo, or other war zones. (“We‟ve already done Darfur,” a couple tells me.) Friday night, Saturday night, is when you trade your flak jacket for a strapless dress, you touch up your helmet hair with a bit of pomade, and you let your discomfort over the incongruities of Goma life – the Versailles- like villas and chauffeured vehicles and inflated salaries – recede until Monday morning. The fabled MSF party is in full-swing by the time we get there, just after eleven. A dozen SUVs are parked outside; the music is probably rattling the windowpanes in Gisenyi. The house is massive, set against lawns that stretch 100 feet down to the lake. The significance of an MSF party soon becomes apparent. This is one of the humanitarian world‟s most respected and well- funded organizations. Not for MSF bottles of lukewarm Primus and Fanta. The bar on the back porch – manned by two cheerful, gyrating, middle-aged Gauls – is well-stocked with top-shelf liquor. I suspect Lake Kivu will run dry before the MSF house does. Inside, the living room has been cleared, dozens of bodies moving on the dancefloor in 4/4 time. The soundtrack has no doubt been picked by our two French friends: „90s dance tracks mixed with Michael Jackson and disco standards. It is a good crowd. Pretty girls flit about in city clothes. He els, lipstick, earrings – not a frumpy peasant skirt in sight. Couples slip into the garden. Small-talk shouted over a “Billie Jean” bassline. Someone‟s colleague had to be evacuated from her post last week after soldiers looted the city. “She‟s hardcore,” they say admiringly. Everyone crowds the bar for more drinks. It is a very good party which goes on a little too long. The car I came in has left. By half- past two I‟m sheepishly milling around, looking for a ride. No one is going my way, no one offers. Finally I‟m rescued by the Italians – part of our dinner group from Petit Bruxelles – who are on their way into town. Already I‟ve warmed to them – they are gregarious, welcoming, in the manner of most Italians. They‟re also the only ones to offer me a lift. Outside, waiting for the others to join us, we talk about the humanitarian community in Goma. Stefano, who works for Caritas, makes a face like he‟s swallowed something bitter. “This is not the real Africa,” he says, referring not just to this party, b ut to everything it signifies. He works in the countryside, rehabilitating former child soldiers. In Goma, he says, everything is polluted by money. It is the first thing people ask for when they see a white man on the street. (Beaucoup de souffrance!) The people in the interior are kinder, more generous. “You see the real Africa in Walikale, in Masisi,” he says. The rest of the group has come, we pile into the car. It is half-past three on the morning of my 32nd birthday when we reach the hotel. The nightclub next door is raucous; the music is loud, the street crowded with idling motos. “Be careful,” Stefano warns, as I pick my way through the crowd. The gate is locked and I wait three, four minutes, rattling the door to wake the askari. I‟m about to start scaling the gate when he emerges, sleepy, shuffling his feet. The Italians drive off with a toot of the horn – arrivederla, amici! – and it‟s with visions of Italian girls and gyrating Frenchmen filling my head that I drift into my 33rd year. April 3 – Goma First, you must buy a chicken. In which the armes are most definitely interdites. My 32nd birthday – the morning of it, the daylight hours – starts with headaches and regret. The usual drinker‟s remorse. At half-past eight my head is throbbing, my tongue is fuzzy. It‟s been awhile since my last round of heavy boozing. Only as the cobwebs clear does it start to make sense: the grand Mützigs at Petit Bruxelles, at least three stiff drinks – rum and Coke! – at the MSF house. This would be a morning best spent in bed. But my time here in Goma is short – the thought of a wasted morning, a wasted day, stings my conscience. Slowly I swing my legs from the bed; the rest of my body catches up with them. Footsteps outside the door, voices, sweeping. This is Africa. Even when the night ends late, the days begin early. What I want most is a quick shower and a cup of coffee to start the day. But the bathroom is like a construction site, dirt and grit everywhere. Slowly I negotiate a way to the toilet, wash my face, brush my teeth. In the corner is a 35-gallon drum filled with water; there is nothing from the taps. I fill a bucket for my shower – these ablutions take ages. One by one I wash my limbs, my chest, I shampoo and rinse my hair. It‟s almost ten by the time I finally leave the hotel, sluggishly plodding into the day. It is a beautiful morning; again I give silent praise for the miracle of this Great Lakes climate. The day is brisk, dry, harmless clouds piled in the sky. Of course, this is the rainy season: it won‟t last. A few hours from now torrential rains will be pounding the tin roofs of Goma, running in dark, sludgy rivers by the side of the road. Until the afternoon, though, I can count on this sunlight to lift my spirits. And already, walking along the clamor of the Sake road, I feel energized, revived. Coffee at Chez Doga is becoming a morning ritual; I‟m not sure why. The coffee is burnt, the servers are indifferent. Still, the fresh air and caffeine are both doing me good. Overhead the planes pass – Antonovs, fat-bellied cargo planes. All day you hear the drone of their engines, you see them carrying their unknown cargo – coltan? gold? guns? – back and forth over the lake. Some fly so low on the approach that they rattle the windows. Instinctively, I find myself ducking my head. The airport in Goma has witnessed more than a few tragedies; the safety record in the Congo‟s aviation history is catastrophic. My headache is only getting worse – the coffee was a mistake. I have a hard time staying hydrated under the best of circumstances; this morning, I can practically feel my brain and liver cells gasping for water. The high mood leaving the hotel didn‟t last; my spirits are low. I‟m feeling grumpy and indecisive. I can‟t decide if I should have lunch, guzzle more water, or go back to bed. These are the bad travel days – the ones where there‟s nothing you want so much as an aspirin, a sofa, and a pile of DVDs. I have chicken schwarma at Kivu Market while the morning wastes away. It‟s after noon and the rain clouds are starting to blow in. I buy paracetemol at a pharmacy and another liter of water. I buy another chicken schwarma. Some masochistic part of me – the writer, or the New Yorker, or both – decides caffeine is the only way to make it through the d ay. I flag down a moto on the street, negotiate a price. I make it to the Isuhi Hotel as the rain begins to pour. The place is like a country club. Cranes strut across the lawn. Three expats come prancing in from the rain holding tennis rackets. Well-dressed families and their precocious kids sit over $15 plates of steak and frites. I order a bottle of water. Chelsea and Manchester United are playing on the big screen, drawing the usual crowds to the bar. The reception is terrible – probably the storm is wreaking havoc on the satellite dish. The flickering images make my head feel worse. I stare at the lake, gray and choppy, and listen to the planes buzzing overhead. Probably I would be happy here – that‟s what I‟m thinking. Goma, this oddball town – in so many ways, an advertisement for all that‟s wrong with how the West and Africa intersect – I think I could be happy here. The energy, the dark comedy of Congolese life on the one hand; balanced with the expat life, the swank house parties, tennis by the lake, wringing one‟s hands over the fate of the Congo over $12 brochettes. (Goma, I suspect, has better per-capita dining options than any city in Africa.) Probably I could fall for an Italian, a pretty French girl, who heads off in the morning in a flak jacket and wears lipstick at night. Intimate dinners at Coco‟s, or Le Chalet. Radioing the driver when we‟re ready to head back to the villa. Back at the hotel, my African life. The parking lot is muddy, there are puddles outside my door. Powerful smells from the bathroom. Still, mine is a cozy room. The bed is luxurious. Again I sprawl out, stare at the ceiling: I have time to kill. I‟m meeting Kate at Doga for a birthday drink, but not for two hours. Twenty minutes pass. I‟m afraid to doze off – I might not make it out of bed. I dress instead. I‟ll have an early drink, I decide, fill up pages of my notebook. There is a barbecue on the lake later tonight – an interesting scene, says Kate. A Belgian family, they‟ve lived in the Congo for years. I picture a fussy old man in white linen, gin and tonics on the lawn. Stories of the old Belgian Congo – they call Kinshasa Leopoldville; Stanleyville instead of Kisangani. The casual bigotry of colonials who have watched the Congolese train veer off the tracks. I hope I can make it through the night. I hope I can make it to the bar without getting mud on my linen pants. At Doga a large bouncer is already manning the door. Behind his burly head is a sign, a picture of an X‟ed out assault weapon. “NO WEAPON,” it says. “ARMES INTERDITES.” You do not want some drunk and unruly MONUC soldiers, I suspect, getting trigger-happy around the whores. It‟s after six when Kate arrives, carrying a colorful woven bag. Très congolaise. It‟s been more than two years since we met in Nairobi, but we‟ve stayed in touch, we know the broad outlines of one another‟s lives. She has been in Goma for six months – the time flies, she‟s finished her contract, she‟ll be flying home to South Africa in a few weeks. The next step is a question mark. She‟s been short- listed for a job in Kabul, something in communications, and she has a fingers-crossed sort of hopefulness one doesn‟t typically associate with Afghanistan. If not that, who knows? She‟s had a good life in Goma – her employer, a large aid organization, treats its staff like pampered children – and her job here has crystallized her plans to stay in the development field. And me – what about me? I‟ll be in South Africa in three weeks‟ time, starting the next chapter of my oddball life. I have a travel story about Joburg to write for The Washington Post, and we talk about possible angles – there are so many angles. Kate sits there like a prospective employer, scribbling notes. She has some people for me to look up in Joburg – and in Goma, too. Here is the name of a filmmaker, she says. Here is the number for a conservationist with the WWF. She phones her driver and soon he pulls up – we have a hard time finding him at first, there are so many SUVs idling outside. The road to her compound is like a ll roads in Goma, rough, jagged heaps of volcanic rock. The truck rocks from side to side. We pass an army barracks – wretched camps surrounded by barbed wire-crowned walls – and then her house, bright and festive, glowing in the dark like an ocean liner at sea. The place is a palace: ten-roomed, towering, ceilings like Versailles. It is a monument, too, to African kitsch – all sconces and chandeliers, animal prints, elaborate balustrades. The tenants are well looked-after – the cleaning lady, the cook, a gardener tending to the lawns – and it‟s easy to see why Kate found her life here so appealing. What a different life I would have, settled in a place like Goma. Thinking of my miserly room at Cirezi, the shared toilet, the daily privations of my traveling life. The group is ready and off we go, bumping again over these apocalyptic Goma roads. I am happily squeezed beside Lea, a pretty French blonde with eyes the size of dinner plates. She was the girl described to me as “hardcore” last night; her base, in Rutshuru, is in an especially volatile area. Every two weeks she comes back to Goma for much- needed decompression (and shopping, too: later she‟ll describe how her money – rarely spent in Rutshuru – gets frittered away on imported cheese and wine and DVDs). There are few expats in Rutshuru; she has a 7:30 curfew. If she meets a colleague for drinks, she says, it has to be at 5 o‟clock. By 7 she‟s hurrying home, spending a drunken evening on the sofa watching last year‟s blockbusters. We reach the house and the gate swings open and it‟s like arriving in Xanadu. The driveway is lined with palms – from where we are, we can‟t even see the house. We‟re all of us oohing and aahing as we crunch along the gravel – even by Goma standards, it seems this is a special outing. Suddenly the house, ranch-style, lit up, with floor-to- ceiling windows: less Congo than Malibu. The rumor is that the house has already been sold to the wife of President Kabila, who was looking for a second (third? fourth?) home by the lake. Beside it is a kidney-shaped swimming pool, attractively lit from within. “It‟s like The O.C.,” someone says. Through the windows we glimpse a living room with expensive track lighting, stylish furnishings no doubt imported from Copenhagen, Tokyo, Milan. This is not what I‟d expected. From Kate‟s description of the family, I was expecting a white-washed villa, terra cotta roof tiles, a genial sloshing of drinks on the lawn with cousin Leopold, just in from Brussels. Instead there is down-tempo house music, handsome men in open-collared shirts, an attractive blonde. Bruce – the nephew of the homeowner, Kate‟s current love interest – is a mountain of 22-year-old muscle, sweet, baby- faced – by all appearances, a good kid. Uncle Pascal, he says, is vacationing in Belgium. I can see why he‟d want to get away, I say, taking in the lake, the house, the jet ski, the swimming pool, with an expansive gesture. Bottles of wine on the bar – South African, French. The family, says Bruce, only arrived two decades ago. They were not old-time colonials, after all. Uncle Pascal works ambiguously in mechanics – “Uncle Pascal‟s garage,” said with deprecating humor, will be a running joke tonight. Bruce himself was born in the Congo; he left when he was six. The family was here during all the troubles of the early- „90s – riots in ‟93, Rwandan refugees in ‟94. And then, of course, the war against Mobutu. His family had to be evacuated in ‟96, when all the expats were being shuttled to Gisenyi. According to Kate, his parents were the last expats to leave Goma. Somehow, they hadn‟t gotten word of the evacuation; they watched the planes and helicopters flying over the lake from their lawn. Bruce‟s dad – a handsome, athletic, stylish man with close-cropped gray hair and a mischievous glint in his eye – strikes me as just the sort of guy who could miss an evacuation. He is free-spirited, a dancer. I can picture him finishing off a bottle of red, watching the choppers, wondering about all the fuss. The place is filling up – more of the same faces from last night. Expat life in Goma is, I think, like a big, happy, incestuous family. The grill is crowded with sausages, the table full of imported condiments. A woman next to me hears I am a journalist. She is the communications manager for Virunga National Park – she is used to my ilk. Last year poaching was a hot story, she says, the gorillas being killed for their meat. The conservationists were up in arms, the NGOs. The story practically sold itself, she says. Now she is hoping to get some press for the volcano. This time it isn‟t just scientists, volcanologists excited by Nyiragongo, she says. The volcano has opened again to tourists. For a year and a half, the security situation was too tense; but now, since March 1, the tourists were allowed to climb it again, to see the lava lake, to camp on its slopes. “We‟ve already sold more than 60 permits,” she says, almost surprised herself. I tell her that a friend climbed the volcano just two weeks ago – the pictures were astonishing. I don‟t tell her about the brutal seven-hour slog, the rain and hail that are keeping me from going. Or the problem of the $200 permit. She tells me I should go if I have the chance. I tell her I‟d love to. The sausages are delicious. It is a good party, more low-key than last night‟s – everyone seems to be in a state of permanent recovery here, shaking off nights past. I imagine Goma is a very good posting for the world‟s aid workers. More guests arrive: Congolese men, handsome, well-dressed, strutting across the dancefloor with their chests out, like the prow of a ship; girls in short skirts and high heels. Jackie, an American, the blonde I noticed when I walked in, says she has been in Goma for three years, moving between jobs. An air of permanent transition about her. The life is good, she has a boyfriend, there‟s always a party. Tomorrow someone will have a barbecue – at Pascal‟s, or Cristof‟s. “Not us,” she says, shaking her attractive blonde locks. “We‟re still tired from last week.” On the periphery of the dancefloor, with Lea. A pity to think of her wasting away in Rutshuru. She says she‟s starved for company, I‟m welcome to visit. I would like that, for all the obvious reasons. And to get out of Goma, too, to see some of the countryside. There are baroque security procedures for me to go through, she says, forms and waivers for me to sign. The situation there is unpredictable – just a few weeks ago, bandits swept through the city at night, looting – but she enjoys the life, she enjoys the people. Always demands for money, but in a soft, subtle way. A man has had a son, and says the day calls for a celebration; it is implicit that Lea will be buying the beer. There‟s no way to sustain it, she says; everyone has eight, nine children, there are births every week. Generosity has its limits. Recently she wanted to buy a cat for company. There was a man in town who kept a few. She asked her guard to approach him on her behalf. “First, you must buy a chicken,” he said, as if it were the most natural thing: to buy a cat, first a chicken. We make an early night of it. It‟s just after one as we pile sleepily into the car. The streets are plunged in darkness. Across the city, Nyiragongo glows. Next to the hotel, Sin City is going even louder than last night. Dozens of moto drivers waiting, glaring. I rattle my first against the gate. Stephen, a Frenchman, another coworker of Kate‟s, leans his head out the car window, concerned. Finally the askari, sleepy and suspicious, opens the door. Instantly he smiles, warms – he knows he will get 500 francs for his trouble. I wave to the others and vanish into the darkness of Cirezi. Music rattles the windowpanes, the sound of laughter, bottles breaking on cement floors. I‟ve been told Sin City gets rough after hours, but by the sound of things, it‟s pretty rough at all hours. I wish I had the strength and courage to explore. Instead I lie in bed, listening to the syrupy voice of Koffi Olomide, the shouting of young restless men, the cries of the whores, the clamor shaking the walls with such force that the room seems to be swaying, until finally, in its own strange way, the party rocks me to sleep. April 4 – Goma What is my per diem? In which the ghost workers get paid. Easter Sunday. The rains are heavy. Yesterday I‟d told myself I would be up early, I would find a church to see the Congolese in all their Easter finery. Now it‟s not an option, it sounds like the Great Flood is rising outside my doorway. In all fairness, I‟m grateful: I need the rest. I listen to the rain at eight, at nine, stretched out luxuriously under the covers. It really is a beautiful bed. At close to ten I get up, go through my sluggish morning ablutions. The rain is still steady, pattering on the roof. Doga will not be an option this morning; nor will the lakefront terrace at the Ihuzi. Instead I have a coffee in the hotel restaurant – plastic floral arrangements, carvings of giraffes, of Nubian women. The tablecloths and curtains are like an old lady‟s sitting room‟s. The news from Kinshasa is blaring at a high volume. I have a single packet of bitter, Star brand instant coffee from Uganda, for which I‟m charged an unreasonable two bucks. The sun has suddenly, stubbornly appeared in the sky. The streets are empty. I had hoped, after the over- indulgences of these past two nights, to wander around the city, have some spontaneous encounters with more Jerusalems and Patricks and Lazares. But today, Sunday morning, the city is listless. Bored attendants sit outside a few clothing shops – the rest are closed. There‟s hardly any traffic on the Sake road. The motos cruise past, solitary, or in pairs – tomorrow they‟ll be in unruly packs, fighting through the traffic. A Sunday- morning mood suddenly comes over me – a desire to sit by the lake, read a book, eye the Italians by the swimming pool. On days like this, I truly believe I am the World‟s Worst Traveler. What good could come of a lazy day of schwarma and American fiction? It‟s too late, I am decided. I stop for Lebanese takeaway, double-fisting kafta sandwiches to the delight and distress of the other clientele. Then I am on my way to the lake, prepared to waste a full day in a recuperative stupor. I also have some serious mulling to do. In the next day or two I‟ll have to make a decision about Bukavu, to which my eight-day tourist visa doesn‟t extend. This is its own brand of comedy: each province of the Congo is apparently a separate bureaucratic fiefdom, subject to its own visas, taxes and levies. My North Kivu visa will do me no good in South Kivu; for that I will have to buy a month- long visa de voyage for the entire Congo, which, as I already learned at the border, would set me back a whopping 150 bucks. It‟s a steep price – steeper than I had planned. Still, I suspect I‟ll regret it later if I decide to pass on Bukavu. Chances are that money will just get pissed away at Doga or Coco Jamboo, or at a string of farewell dinners in Kigali. Even before I‟ve made my decision I‟m calculating costs in my notebook. Once these mental preparations have been made, I know the next step Monday morning will be a visit to the immigration office. The Sunday scene at the Ihuzi is lively – the pool is crowded, the pampered children of the Congolese elite are causing a ruckus in their plastic flotation devices. So much for a quiet, reflective coffee by the lake. I scan the bar for familiar faces, then again for attractive ones. An Italian girl, I think, with an older couple; another, sitting by herself with a salad. I find a shady table by the lake and order a beer. The water is calm, glassy; harmless puffs of cloud sit over the hills of Rwanda. There‟s not a hint of rain in the sky. It‟s turning out to be a beautiful day. If you spend enough time around the Ihuzi, if you have a knack for languages, there is probably much to be learned about the dynamics of eastern Congo. There are the Congolese with their expensive, monogrammed luggage sets, gold on their fingers and wrists. And the pilots – Russian, Ukrainian, Serb – who spend their days on perilous missions into the bush. Many are Cold War veterans: 20 years ago they might have been flying Soviet weapons into Angola, Mozambique. Now they are flying humanitarian missions into Beni, and diamonds out of Kisangani. The stress and the pay are high. On the weekend you see them by the pool, guzzling beer, manhandling young Congolese girls, their ruddy Slavic faces lit with mirth. There are the aid workers, too – even now with their laptops and spreadsheets, preparing reports, briefings. And the Chinese – like some nocturnal species, you know they exist, but impossible to spot. They live in seclusion, pre- fab enclaves in the bush, maybe, protected by small armies. Their faces are lined – a line for each care and sorrow of exile. Two men sit by the water with fishing rods cast into the lake, sta ring silently at the surface. Maybe they are thinking of fishing trips in northern China – some tranquil spot ringed by mountains and myths, far from the chaos of Congo. Suddenly, a familiar face – Joseph, the Brit from Kinshasa, arriving with a friend. Here is another of his Kinshasa connections – Jean Marc, French-Canadian, working with another international NGO. He has just arrived to establish himself in Goma; they are both marveling at the differences from Kinshasa, the few hassles, the quality of life – and, of course, the sun-blessed climate. They swap stories about life in Congo – the cons and costs of Kinshasa, the nightlife, the bribes and scandals. Their eyes are lit with mischievous mirth. Recently the British army was invited to train Congolese soldiers, says Jean Marc. They had budgeted $3 per soldier per day for lunch – more than enough for a meal of fou-fou and beans, maybe even goat meat. The generals were outraged. They refused to accept anything less than $5 a head – enough, says Jean Marc, to feed the soldiers and ensure there was something left over to skim. The soldiers would not accept $3, said the generals; I‟m sure the soldiers themselves were far more willing. The British, instead, reneged on the deal. The theft was too brazen. “And then they‟re going to say, „The British won‟t feed our soldiers,‟” says Jean Marc. Another story making the rounds in Kinshasa: a program was set up to register the police officers in each of the Congo‟s provinces. There was international funding, biometric scanning. A trial run was set up in Equateur province. At the final tally they found 6,000 officers in the flesh but 10,000 on the payroll – 4,000 ghost workers whose salaries were being divvied up among local officials. The donors were outraged, the program was put on hold. But have you heard, says Joseph, that another group has been contracted to continue the program? They would do it at twice the cost, their method was flawed – but the executives had close ties to members of the ruling party. It was a typical story. Last year Jean Marc had been traveling in the Central African Republic, assessing the possibility of setting up a project for his organization there. The country was a mess: the government was corrupt, they had no control outside the capita l, Bangui. Militias ran the countryside. But Jean Marc found them easy to work with: they were eager for outside help, had not yet learned, in a country with so few aid groups on the ground, how to milk the system. Congolese officials had been dealing with humanitarian agencies, donor countries, the Bretton Woods institutions, for years. You couldn‟t even come here to offer free training programs for soldiers, police, local officials. “The first question is, „What is my per diem?‟” says Jean Marc. Three Russians in Speedos come trotting by, water dripping from their shoulders. Two go plunging into the lake. A third stops, begins to flirt with a young Congolese woman. They are already familiar – she hesitates, she is wearing makeup and heels, he‟s threatening to toss her into the water. They laugh, he isn‟t serious. He puts a hand on her shoulder and another on her waist, as if to lead her in a waltz. The others climb out, shivering, shaking the water from their ears. “Tomorrow they will fly to Bunia or Dungu,” says Jean Marc – two of the Congo‟s hot spots. Today they have no cares: the life of a bush pilot. Joseph says he won‟t go anywhere near a Western bar on Wednesday night. He flies out Thursday morning; he doesn‟t want to know what his pilots were up to the night before. We finish our beers, and Joseph invites me to visit his organization‟s site in town. It is on the city‟s outskirts – past Cirezi, bumping along the same rough road that took me to the MSF party on Friday. We get lost; even Joseph has a hard time finding the place, down Goma‟s bumpy back roads. We spot a young boy hobbling across the jagged volcanic rocks on crutches – “One of ours,” says Joseph, with a self-deprecating laugh – and we know we‟re on the right track. Finally we find the gate; a boy wearing a leg brace walks stiffly through the door. Inside a dozen youths, mostly polio victims, are playing in the yard. Boys on crutches are kicking a soccer ball around. Another, the muscles of his back atrophied, crawls across the porch on all fours. They are laughing, high-spirited. Joseph beams with paternal pride, calling to them from across the yard. Pascal, a handsome man in his thirties, one of the first Stand Proud members in Goma, greets us and shows us around. There is a workshop on site where the association‟s members build leg braces – some for their own use, some for other polio victims in Goma, some for the NGO Handicapped International. They buy scrap metal from the market, he explains, then hammer and twist the braces into shape, screw on joints so they bend at the knees. At the bottom the braces clip into shoes specially made for each member. Pascal pulls up his own pant leg to show the brace attached to his shoe. Next we are introduced to another man, the physical therapist. There are six-, seven- hour long sessions for the members three days a week, teaching them how to walk on their braces. (There is weight training, too, he says, gesturing to an old weight machine in the corner.) It is painful rehabilitation; some, says Joseph, give up on the exercises. Many are at an age where they‟ve already learned to live with their handicaps. Their muscles have atrophied, their limbs are distorted. It is easier to cope with their disabilities, as they have for years, than to start from the beginning. In Kinshasa, says Joseph, there are personality clashes between wheelchair-bound handicaps and the members of Stand Proud. They have spent months and years going through a difficult rehabilitation process, reclaiming the use of their limbs. They look down on the men and women in wheelchairs, he says. They think they‟ve given up. Next door is a wooden clapboard house, sooty and weather-stained, the floors dusty concrete. Here is where Stand Proud‟s members – thirty-some-odd, their ages ranging from five to 25 – live. Pascal leads us through the living room, crowded, full of excited shouts. A boy sits against the wall, his legs encased in plaster, a rosary around his neck. He is genial, he smiles and wants to shake my hand. Next a bedroom – a single bed, a clothesline across the room, shirts hanging from nails in the wall. Later, Pascal explains, when there is money, there will be two more beds squeezed into the room. Another bedroom – just a foam mattress on the floor. Most of the bedrooms are similarly furnished. Outside two youths – one on crutches, the other bent like a car jack – are fussing with a pot over a charcoal brazier. They are preparing fou-fou for dinner – a maize meal porridge, like the Kenyan ugali. Joseph asks what the meal times are – he has been full of questions, this is an important field visit for him. Pascal says there is lunch at noon, dinner between seven and eight. And breakfast? There is no money for breakfast, he says. Sometimes they have some tea. Joseph listens and nods. I have complicated feelings through all of this. Certainly the place is in rough shape: it is hard to imagine all those bodies sharing tattered foam mattresses, or, as Pascal says, as some prefer, sleeping on the porch. And yet this place, for all its sho rtcomings, offers a better life than most of these boys would find at home. Most no doubt come from large families; in those poor households, difficult choices have to be made. There is never enough money to send all the children to school. And so parents gamble – they decide which child has the best chance to succeed. The rest are left to work around the house, in the fields, in the city. Probably these boys would get no education if they were left with their families. But Stand Proud is paying their schoo l fees; most, smart, determined, are among the best in their classes. On the porch two older boys – handsome, confident youths – are kicking a soccer ball between them, keeping it in the air. I have to ask Joseph if they‟re Stand Proud members; only when I look closely can I see the outlines of the braces worn beneath their pants. Their steps are smooth, easy. They look no different than anybody else. As we‟re leaving, we poke our heads into the living room to say goodbye. The boys are sitting on chairs and benches, lying on the floor; their attention is fixed to a small TV against the wall. TP Mazembe, the Congolese powerhouse, and APR, from Kigali, are playing the second leg of their tie in the African Champions League. Two weeks ago, I watched APR score a huge upset in Kigali. Today, everything is on the line. We‟re on our way to the gate when we hear cheers, ecstatic cries. TP Mazembe has scored. We look back and see the boys leaping to their feet, bodies contorted, twisted at odd angles, fists pumping in the air. The living room is like a carnival, the day, the hour for them has become historic. As we shut the gate, we can still see them through the doorway, hopping madly on their feet. Back in town we visit Heal Africa, Goma‟s best health clinic, where Stand Proud‟s members have their surgeries performed. The organization has an arrangement with the hospital – the surgeries are deeply discounted – but Joseph wants to tour the facility for himself. Again he has detailed questions – where were the plasters prepared? did Stand Proud bring food for its members from the house, or cook it here? who was funding the place? – and all the while he listens intently, nods his head. Later in the week he‟ll be meeting with the administrators, hoping to strengthen the ir partnership; there would be a meeting with Handicap International, too, to see if they might be able to help him secure more donor funds. Much of Joseph‟s time was spent like this – scrambling, cajoling, searching for partnerships, funds. It was constantly an uphill climb. Stand Proud had done much for its members in Goma – yet still they had no breakfast, they slept on the floor. It‟s been a long afternoon. After our visit to Heal Africa, we drag our heels to Doga for coffee. The caffeine gives us a much-needed boost. Before long we‟ve moved on to beers. Kate joins us just after seven – the mood shift is almost tangible. Joseph, I can see, is putting his best foot forward – to be 22 again! Kate is just passing by for a drink, though; when she leaves an hour later, Joseph‟s spirits deflate. Suddenly we‟re both restless; a female presence has thrown off the evening‟s balance. We‟re looking to move the evening along, to find some diversion, but we‟re both strangers here. We run through our contacts – nothing. We have dinner at Coco Jamboo, the night has an air of winding down. By the time we get the bill I‟m beat, I‟ve spent the last of my money, and we‟re forced to concede the night is through. Joseph is sullen as he gets on his moto. Tomorrow is the start of a short and busy week. He was hoping this night would turn out better. April 5 – Goma You know, like Vegas. In which there is bottle service. Today – a day of border crossing and visa wrangling, of abundant headaches and angry French inquisitions – is a day I probably could have avoided. With a bit of foresight – hardly 20/20 for your myopic narrator – I could have bought a one- month Congolese visa before leaving Bujumbura in February. Gone the tragicomic troubles of the past week: I would‟ve been in Bukavu days ago. Instead, a parade of hassles: a bank run in Gisenyi; another $35 wasted at the border; a few hours of interrogation, I suspect, to get my one- month visa. (A word on the incongruities of the preceding paragraph: for one, despite the smooth- flowing Western bureaucracy of the aid- industry apparatus, there are no functioning banks in Goma. I have to visit Rwanda to use the nearest ATM. Also, since one- month visas can‟t be issued at the border, I‟ll have to pay $35 to buy a transit visa, simp ly to allow me the privilege of entering the Congo, visiting the immigration office, and applying for a one- month visa. Stanley I am not, but these small privations of traveling in the Congo tend to add up as the days wear on.) It is almost eleven by the time I reach the border. I‟m a familiar face by now – they know I am looking to go to Bukavu, I‟ll have no trouble returning from Gisenyi later in the day. In Rwanda, once again – the smooth tarmac of the lake road is a blessing. The dust and grit of Goma, the countless moto trips over the Sake road, have made my eyes raw. It would do me good to come here every few days, just to give my eyes a break. The lake is glassy, there are morning bathers, young men, lathering themselves in the water. Such calm after the chaos of Goma. I can appreciate why so many expats, with their resident‟s visas, will come here on the weekend, just to lie on the beach and have a cocktail at the Serena. Crossing the border here is like crossing between worlds. And yet this place, too, has known such violence. Near the market, the usual bedlam. I‟ve been offline for a few days and want to check my email. The Internet café is crowded: four girls to a computer, young boys playing FIFA on a Play Station hooked up to a big-screen TV. The connection today is abysmal. Not for the first time do I regard this country‟s ambitious ICT plans with a degree of skepticism. After 30 minutes I haven‟t managed to send a single email. The young footballers are cheering, banging on their control pads, shouting “Ronaldo” and “Rooney” like religious incantations. Outside the day is growing hot. I shake my pockets for change, pay, stand in the doorway, squinting into the hard mid-day light. On my way to the bank a boy, Francois, joins me. He is selling posters: he holds up a dozen, Michael Jackson, Akon, maps of Africa and the world, that he‟s hawking for a dollar each. Probably he will walk up and down this street, he will circle the market all day, and maybe he will sell one poster of Rihanna and one of Man. U. Soon another man, older, I don‟t catch his name, joins us. He has studied literature at the National University in Butare, but since coming to Gisenyi, he‟s had few chances to speak English. He is eager for this opportunity; Francois, sullen, slowly gets pushed aside. The man is a professor at the college in Gisenyi – he teaches English, business, a real renaissance man. He asks where I am from. “America,” he says. The word is like a passport and airline ticket, transporting our conversation to a different, faraway place. “That place is white, rich,” he says approvingly. Francois is still lingering; he wants to practice his English, too. “What is your academic state?” he asks. I‟m not entirely sure what he‟s asking. But then, I get the sense he won‟t entirely understand my answer, either. I tell him I‟ve finished my studies many years ago, but the other man gives Francois a hard look, clucks his tongue. He is afraid that it‟s too personal a question to ask a stranger. He tells me the famous story of when President Kagame was speaking at the university, and a student in the audience asked what level of studies he had completed. “People were astonished,” says the man. “They thought he was prying into his personal life.” “Rwandans are like that,” I say, meaning both private, and weird. We part on good terms. At the bank, another half- hour of my life is wasted. Then I‟m back to my usual seat in the usual garden at the Auberge de Gisenyi, gorging on the lunch buffet before returning to Goma. This is, of course, no ordinary week in Rwanda. Tomorrow, April 6, the anniversary of the plane crash that killed former President Habyarimana: tomorrow is the start of the annual genocide commemoration week. It is a grim time to be in Rwanda. Already, over the weekend, I had met two groups of Rwandans who had gone to Goma to escape the commemorations. (In Bujumbura, too, I‟d been told this would be a busy week, Saga Plage crowded with Rwandans fleeing Kigali.) I‟d already had my commemoration week, of course, in 2008 – a strange time, a sense of voyeurism that didn‟t sit comfortably. The ceremonies, the solemn reburials, the brutal TV documentaries, the speeches. At the Gisozi Memorial, I watched survivors crumpling, breaking into hysterical cries. A woman scratched and clawed at the air, believing the attackers had come back for her. One night there was a grenade attack at the memorial – a guard was killed. The reconciliation process, I learned – New Times platitudes aside – wasn‟t entirely what it seemed. My own view of Rwanda has shifted in the years since. In 2008, my first visit, I went to the memorials, read Philip Gourevitch, lowered my head, observed the pieties. To visit Rwanda, I thought, was to step into a cathedral. I remember a visit to Sainte Famille, the Kigali church that achieved such notoriety during the genocide. It was there that Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, clad in a military- issue flak jacket, preached the gospel with a crucifix in one hand and a pistol in the other. While thousands of refugees huddled inside his church, Munyeshyaka drew up lists of Tutsis and Hutu collaborators to hand over to the militias. They were given free rein to enter the church and pick out their victims. Munyeshyaka himself was accused of raping some of the refugees, or offering sanctuary in exchange for sexual favors. When I visited the church it was early in the afternoon, and the pews were almost empty. A few women in loose, colorful dresses shuffled across the polished floor, touching their fingertips to their heads. On another day in Rwanda, those pews might have been filled by pious bodies dipping their heads in prayer. A man sat at the end of an empty row, leaning heavily on his knees. There were scars on the back of his head – a spider web of wounds healed over – and he sat there, his face resting in the palm of his hand, his fingers clicking the beads of a rosary. Crude oil paintings hung from the walls: a pink Roman arm lifting the whip; a stiff- figured Christ hunched beneath each blow. I wondered if there was a good Christian moral in that story of suffering, or if it might just be a bloody parable of human cruelty, and the harm that one man can do another. In the two years since, though, much has changed – not only in Rwanda, but in how I understand it. I‟ve grown skeptical of the government, wondered about the effect of all this death-worship, this genocide cult. My readings now are from Gerard Prunier, Howard French. I‟ve thought more about RPF crimes committed after the genocide, grown critical of the government‟s muzzling of the opposition, the press. At the auberge, they‟re playing a live press conference with His Excellency PK on the radio. An American journalist asks about the commemoration week broadcasts on RTV, the graphic genocide footage played on a 24-hour loop. Many Rwandans had told him they were appalled by such violence – they said they would unplug their TVs for the week. Did such programs go too far in opening old wounds? he asks. Perhaps implicit is a broader criticism: how much commemoration is too much? President PK fudges, is ambivalent. Maybe the footage is too much, maybe it isn‟t. He is no psychologist, no specialist, he says. Maybe it is better to leave such questions to the professionals. Another Rwandan voice – a minister? – intercedes. Certainly the footage is too graphic for some, he says, and no doubt those are the voices you will hear raised in protest. But there are many who support those programs, he insists. Perhaps they are just less vocal than the critics. It is impossible to say. It is an unsatisfactory exchange – so typical, in all its subterfuge and obfuscation and denial, of what I‟ve come to expect from this government. But then, could it be any other way? Sixteen years on and still Rwanda is wrestling its demons, trying to balance the need to move on with the equally important need to remember. Say what you will about the government‟s attempts to manipulate these memories for political gain at the national level; still, stripped of such cynicism, that need exists at the perso nal level, too. This commemoration week is tricky business – I think it does more harm than good. For many survivors it is overwhelming: you see them staggering through the streets, as if in a daze, or sitting, weeping, on the curb. And it is a polarizing week, too. For all the talk of reconciliation, this is a Tutsi remembrance. In Bujumbura earlier this year, a Human Rights Watch researcher told me about the hostile receptions Hutus – even Hutu survivors – received at commemoration ceremonies, how they‟re still treated with resentment, suspicion. What does it mean to reopen this divide every April? To force this national mourning – this public shaming – onto an ethnic majority that still feels largely excluded from power? For journalists, certainly, it is an interesting time to be in Rwanda. But here I am, instead, back at the border. The Rwandan official is interested to hear, as per my African-border- crossing narrative, that I am a student. Master‟s, or Ph.d.? Instantly I invent an academic history for myself, I advise him on scholarships, bemoan the lack of job prospects for a – ahem – Master‟s graduate student in literature like me. He is sympathetic. Surely there will be something? Academia, perhaps, I sigh. There is always a demand for some particular skill or knowledge, he says, stamping my passport. Suddenly, my imaginary future looks bright. On the Congolese side, no fictitious discourse on lit. theory. Still, I‟m surprised at how helpful the woman – large, pretty, smiling, with long corn rows and wide, high hips – is. She stamps my passport, calls out to a colleague. She hands him 500 francs for transport from what appears to be petty cash – ! – and tells him to take me to the immigration office in town. The man‟s eyes narrow. He is slender, musta chioed, his uniform is ill- fitting. He has a gruff manner and shrewd eyes – I like him not one bit. Surely now, I think, comes the shakedown? We take motos the short distance to immigration, he tells me to pay the drivers. He has pocketed the 500 francs from his colleague, but that‟s the extent of his criminal designs. Standing outside the immigration bureau, stocky men in blue uniforms reposing in the shade, he even demands that my driver give me 100 francs change. Inside, upstairs, and everything is smooth, brisk. A tall, pot-bellied man asks for my passport, sending a colleague downstairs to retrieve some forms. Another man arrives and ushers us into his office. His manner is brusque, bullying, but otherwise he seems to be on the level. The fives and tens I‟d fretfully packed away into various pockets stay put. I would like to go to Bukavu? I would. When? As soon as possible. The man glances at his wristwatch, gold and gaudy, as if he might be able to ship me out this afternoon. I can come back tomorrow at noon, he says, and still have time to catch the two o‟clock canôt rapide. I hand him $155, which disappears into his desk. C’est fini. Painlessly, in under five minutes, the deed is done. And while all sorts of horrors might await tomorrow – a “lost” passport, a processing fee – I am speechless at the efficiency I‟ve just witnessed. Nowhere else in Congo, I suspect, would such a scene as this play out. This place, I decide, has its own sort of magic. The day has been hot, muggy; I‟m wilting in the sunlight. At the Nyira I sink into my seat with my notebook and a thermos full of cheap instant coffee. The terrace is surrounded by palm trees, vines, succulents. The birds are hysterical in the treetops. Across from me an American man – raucous, campy, flamboyantly gay – is entertaining his colleagues. He wants to know how to say “you fat bastard” in Swahili, and “fuck off,” and “shit.” Closer to me another American, a willowy blonde, is talking about opening a new nightclub with a Congolese friend. “People work so hard here, it‟s always a crisis, and I don‟t think they want to hear the same music when they go out,” she says, with great feeling. She knows a DJ in London who wants to come to Africa – why not Goma? It seems only logical, since Goma is a place in Africa. Her speech is slow, airy: you can picture the words floating down from a cloud like snowflakes, settling on her tongue. She wants to play her colleague a song on her iPhone. He nods, types something on his laptop. And what about the color scheme? She thinks purple – she wants her clients to feel like royalty. More tapping on the keyboard. “Will there be bottle service?” she asks. A very blank look from across the table. She explains the concept of people paying extraordinary amounts of money to buy a bottle and sit at a table. “You know, like Vegas?” she says. Her colleague‟s fingers rest uncertainly on the keyboard. He is not sure what to do next. So many crazy schemes are floating around in Goma. Surely there‟s a market for such a velvet-roped fantasia, too. I can picture the Russians, the Lebanese, the Congolese with their gold watches and peacock shirts, paying exorbitant amounts to sit and be looked at. And besides, there are enough humanitarian rackets in eastern Congo already. Something should be said in praise of originality, too. The coffee, the garden – somewhere there must be birds of paradise – didn‟t do the trick. Instead I am easily distracted, high-strung. I write a few words and stare at the words I‟ve written. It‟s no use. The sky is still overcast, the rains haven‟t come, but the air is warm and sticks to your skin. I head back to the hotel to take another shower – this time of day the cold water is a relief. I tip the pitcher over my neck and shoulders. I‟ve made no plans for the evening, and I‟m undecided, now, how I want it spent. I‟ve grown cranky – it feels like this day has been wasted. Three days have passed since I arrived from Gisenyi, but it feels like life – Congolese life – is eluding me. My days have passed in a blur of coffees and schwarmas, my nights drinking with expats. The time for me is short, but so far, it seems like I‟ve been getting nowhere. To shake off this sour mood – if nothing, I am a man of many sour moods – I decide to have a schwarma and a drink with an expat. It is, admittedly, an alluring life here. At Doga with Rachel, nursing the two- for-one happy hour special, I realize I‟m not the only one to succumb to Goma‟s lazy charms. Rachel has spent the day making ice cream – a tremendous failure – and taking her boat onto the lake. In the sky a rainbow was bending from the green hills of Rwanda toward the Congo; it was like a gift, an annunciation, a validation of her life here. Outside, in the jungles of North Kivu, the militias fought and raged; here, in Goma, in Chez NGO, you made ice cream and paddled across the lake. Rachel is no fool; she knows how ridiculous it all is. But still, here you were, at the end of one contract and looking for another. She had an offer floated to her for a one- month project in Jordan, but Africa has been her on-again-off-again home for five years. Before Congo, Uganda; before that, the Gambia, Senegal. She wants to come back to Congo and work in communications, but somewhere in the interior, far from Goma‟s expat whirl. “I feel like I don‟t know anything about Congolese life here,” she says. Then she phones her driver and we‟re dashing through the rain, a truck waiting to carry us home. It‟s after ten now, the city is at rest. Just a few vehicles – aid workers returning from dinner, perhaps; a few lonesome motorbikes – drive down the Sake road. Moto drivers gather in the fluorescent glare of a petrol station. On the side of the road, youths selling loaves of bread in the dark. Nyiragongo is glowing dimly – somewhere beyond it, past distant mountains, fire and brimstone. And here, on these black streets of Goma, silent houses sitting in the darkness like blank faces, revealing nothing of their hidden lives. April 6 – Goma Bring us the Chinese. In which we do our best. Just two-plus weeks after leaving my Kigali digs, I‟m starting to lose confidence in what I‟m doing. Writing – the actual, laborious task of putting pen to pad, of trying to keep up with the day‟s events, both significant and in-, to somehow process them into a form that is engaging and informative or just not a pile of steaming, faux- literary crap – seems to take up most of my time. I feel as bound to my notebook here in Goma as I felt to my laptop back in Kigali – gone the free-spiritedness of those early days on the road. It‟s beginning to wear me out. It feels like half the day is spent caffeinating, and the other half logging impressions of the view over the rim of my coffee mug. Today I spend two, three hours with my notebook, catching up on yesterday‟s thoughts. I‟m not convinced there‟s much value in any of this. Still, out of a sense of duty, of blind faith, I write. The morning passes. At noon I‟m again at the immigration office, braced for the worst. Without reason. I‟m in and out in under two minutes. Stamped into my passport is a one- month visa de voyage – they even give me a receipt. The afternoon, its hazy, heavy heat, is suddenly before me. Tomorrow I will go to Bukavu; today, Goma. Some sense of purpose comes over me. For one day, at least, I will steer clear of Doga and Ihuzi, I will resist the lure of happy hour and the merry chatter of pretty, acronymed aid workers. Instead I will wander these dusty, sun-scoured, grit-choked streets, subjecting the locals to my ad hoc French, making friends, shaking off hustlers, dodging motorbikes, stepping into the stream of Congolese life. Down the broad avenues, past the heroic roundabouts – no doubt the Belgians brought a grand vision to their colonial cities. At one rond point a statue is being built; it is still unfinished, hidden, wrapped in plastic sheeting. Rachel has been spreading a rumor that it will be an homage to the ubiquitous chukudu; this is a pleasing vision. Better that heroic wooden scooter than one of the many statesmen who have betrayed this country through the years. Between the buzzing motos they clatter past: one after another, carrying a cabinet, a small boy, wooden shelves, a generator; bushels of something green and leafy; 25kg bags of maize meal and cement. On the side of the road, slim youths in blue jeans crouch beside gas-powered pumps, filling the tires of passing motorists. Others sell half- liter bottles of gasoline – the color and viscosity are all wrong; probably the bottles have been topped off in Lake Kivu. The roads are battered, buckled – yet still, they are the region‟s best. (At Doga, an aid worker recalled a trip to the interior. “Maman, look at the road,” they called out to her passing car. “Bring us the Chinese!”) Music comes from the hair salons, the CD shops, the electronics stores. Maison Bush. “Dealers in japans used music and household equipments.” Outside, the speakers are taller than a child, stacked like the foundation stones of a pre-Columbian temple. The bass shakes the ground. “Hurry while stocks last!” Down the street I find a two-storey house of stained white clapboard, the words “Restaurant Benedict” painted across the side in big blue letters. From inside comes the sound of laughter, boisterous voices. A curtain is the door. There is surprise at the white man suddenly standing there, asking for chakula. A boy bent over a basin, washing his hands in soapy water, says something in Swahili. Another boy giggles in the corner. A waitress – light-skinned, wide-hipped, a kanga covering her curves – gives me a frank and explicit look. I gesture toward the stairs and she raises her eyebrows, an east African look that seems to offer affirmation with the least possible effort. Upstairs there are white tables, white chairs, white benches, white walls. I am beginning to se nse a theme. The ceiling is made from a patchwork of canvas sacks; in some places it sags, in others, you can see the sky through it. A blue heart is painted over the door to the toilet. The tables are full. Everyone is watching me, waiting to see what I‟ll do next. Suddenly, there is movement by the window. A young man in a soccer jersey moves his motorcycle helmet and offers me a seat. A general mood of welcome fills the room. The waitress comes and gives me a blank look. I‟ve always wondered if it takes some particular effort, a Zen- like relaxation of the forehead and cheek muscles, to have a face so washed of emotion. I order foufou and beans and lenga-lenga – a poor-man‟s meal. The boy beside me asks if I take meat. “Je ne mange pas viande aujourd’hui,” I say. No meat for me today. What I mean to suggest is that I won‟t be taking meat in this particular restaurant, because if past experience is any indication, I expect it to have the taste and consistency of an 18” Pirelli. There is no way to translate this satisfactorily. My companion is puzzled. How can anyone with the money to take meat – and surely I have the money – take just foufou and beans and greens? I don‟t want to offend him with my meat snobbery – certainly the men eating viande in the Restaurant Benedict are receiving it the way a Catholic receives communion. I shrug again. “Je ne le mange pas,” I say. He laughs softly and shakes his head. Another white with his inscrutable ways! The boy across from me wipes the plate with his foufou, the sauce dripping from his long fingers. Next to me, the boy who offered me a seat, is Emmanuel. He drives a moto, he says, he is 24. The room is filled with a dozen Emmanuels – young, thin, all elbows and rib cages in secondhand clothes. Most are moto drivers, says Emmanuel. (One gets up and gingerly carries a plastic bottle full of petrol down the stairs.) Emmanuel lives just outside Goma with his parents – he is one of eleven children, he hasn‟t married, he finished his studies after secondary school. He‟s been working since he was 20, renting a bike, saving the profits. He points to it outside, a red GTZ motorbike surrounded by red and black and blue GTZ motorbikes. I ask how is life in Goma. “Ça va un peu,” he says. There is nothing to do at night, he complains. He‟s not married, so what is there to do? The waitress returns with a plate of foufou and a plate of beans and a shallow bowl full of meat and sauce. There was no lenga-lenga, she says – viande it is. Again, all eyes on me. “C’est le premier fois,” I say, rolling a ball of foufou between my fingers. It is a green mound of manioc, with the texture of yesterday‟s mashed potatoes. I soak up some sauce, pinch a few beans between my fingers. The foufou is good – surprisingly good. “C’est bon,” I say happily, truthfully. Relief, laughter all around. Here is a mzungu eating foufou with his hands, approving. Hungrily I take another clump, dip into the sauce, lick my fingers. Later in the week they will still talk about this memorable afternoon, looking up expectantly when they hear footsteps on the stairs. There is a shuffling of chairs, a new lunch shift, new faces. When a newcomer reaches the top step he pauses, does a doubletake in my direction. After he orders he‟ll watch me from the corner of his eye, measuring my reactions. The food now is slow-going – the foufou is heavy, dense, monotonous. At the tables around me, an eager clutter of dishes, bottles of Fanta and Primus, pitchers of water poured into little metal cups. It is for most, I suspect, the only good meal of the day. When the bill comes it is 1,300 francs, less than $2 – almost half of this for a Fanta citron. For four days I have searched fruitlessly, stupidly for cheap eats; but really, I wasn‟t looking too hard. Walking around today I saw others – Mamling, Best Life – and I‟m sure there are many more, hidden behind curtains, full of moto drivers and students and the rest of Goma‟s working poor. Outside Christophe, one of the moto drivers from lunch, offers to take me to the hotel. His English is good – he has friends, Congolese, that he visits in Kampala. The bike, he says, is rented for $7 a day – anything else he keeps, a modest profit after even a good day‟s work. He wants me to take his number – I can give him a call, he says, if I ever need a lift. Before he drives off I snap a picture of him in front of the hotel – his blue shirt glittering, Tim Horton‟s cap in his lap. He is punching his number into my phone. In the afternoon I am on my way to the Virunga market, on the black jagged road that stretches from the center of town to the foot of Nyiragongo. Ask the Congolese why they would live in the path of one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, and they will undoubtedly tell you that the soil here is rich, impossibly fertile. Sure, it is dangerous here – but where isn‟t it dangerous? And besides, the lava flow is slow; in 2002, hardly anyone was killed. The city rebuilt; now, they are still building. Along the Nyiragongo road, new construction sites: wooden scaffolds, cinderblocks, sheet metal, rebar. These will become small shopping centers, offices, hotels. Goma is stable, money is pouring in. The city is expanding to meet its growing needs. At the market, the usual market scenes – the colorful bustle and din of African commerce. Past the pots and pans and crockery, I am all business – on a mission, actually, to buy some socks. Rows of blouses and blue jeans, colorful bolts of cloth, jackets, soccer jerseys. The stalls are built high off the ground; the women sit with their legs dangling, or reclining barefoot on piles of clothes, taking the term “business casual” to new heights. Everywhere they follow me with their eyes, solicitous. “Mzungu, mzungu,” they say. It is like walking through a red light district. I buy my socks, tease the ladies with promises to return for jeans, shirts, a wife. Howls of laughter. Yes, yes, a wife – that‟s more like it. Now I am in the fish market, passing buckets full of silver sambaza, dried fish stretched out like animal skins. Three women sit on a bench, chickens squawking between their legs. Rows of soaps, skin creams, hair care products, extensions. Women at sewing machines – the drone fills the air like the sound of cicadas. Outside, the rain is approaching. I get on the back of a moto and race the clouds back into town. Three lorries pass us on the road – they are full of mourners. Dark suits, neckties, elaborate dresses. A man holds a wooden cross aloft, lurching with each bump in the road. Slowly they make their mournful procession along the Sake road. In the rear truck, women are singing a funeral hymn. We just beat the rain to Nyira. Then the sky opens up. I sit with my notebook, my pen, my collected stories of Saul Bellow. It‟s been a good day. I am thinking ahead now to tomorrow, to the port, to the boat to Bukavu. The rain is torrential, Biblical – there is no use planning now, there is nothing to do but sit and listen to the thunder rolling over the gardens. There is a luxuriousness to waiting out these tropical rains, hearing the roar on the rooftops. The temperature drops, the air is brisk. By the time the rain stops we have entered a new season. I put on my jacket, zip it all the way up, puff into my fists. It is after five, and the humanitarians are returning from the field. Watching the rush hour traffic is like going on a particular, Congolese safari. Here is a Land Cruiser, there a Range Rover. Here are the RAV4s and 4Runners, the Prados and Pajeros. Minibuses wheeling through the dusky half- light, traveling with speed and peril. From where I‟m standing you can watch all of Goma passing by: motos, chukudus, women carrying fruit, carrying children. Swallows are circling in the sky, crying out. Below them children are running through the mud and grass of a small public park, singing, toppling, laughing. A boy approaches, solemn and apologetic, asking for my help. He is young, handsome, studious; he has a sheet of paper, folded into quarters, which he unfolds for my inspection. There is a sentence written across the top of the page – “James is a best teacher of English” – which this boy, Bernard, has to write in the future tense. It is an assignment for an English course he is taking, a class for youths in the crowded quartiers of Goma who can‟t afford to study in the city‟s schools. James is a best teacher of English. I help Bernard with the first example; he tries the next one on his own. “He is going to pay your money this evening,” says Bernard, struggling to find the past tense. Deep lines crease his forehead. “He paid your money this evening,” he says. He smiles, he is starting to get it. “Here in DRC, many boys do not speak English,” he says. “We do our best.” The Sake road is crowded on my way back to Cirezi – the aid- group convoys, the MONUC vehicles crammed with well-armed, Kevlared, flinty-eyed soldiers. Motos weaving through the traffic – I see only headlights, and more headlights. They grow as big as dinner plates in front of me and then, suddenly, swerve to the side. There is peril and exhilaration in all of this. A traffic cop, a heroic figure, stands in the middle of the road, blowing on his whistle. Music and horns and the sound of ancient engines. Near the hotel, lingala at high decibels pours from the Champs Elysee, R&B from the shop next door. The walls are lined with DVDs: CSI and 24 and Lost on one shelf, Cavemen Bible Mysteries and God’s Love in World Movie Collection 3 on the next. Men and women outside are hustling home, slopping through the mud, their faces ringed by headlights and exhaust fumes. White faces in passing cars. Clothing boutiques, fluorescent-lit hair salons, gospel music, the racket of generators. Boys selling bread, women with piles of pineapples. You can do your grocery shopping here on the street, groping in the darkness. At an Internet café down the road someone has left a personals site, Badoo, on the screen: one man‟s longing, transmitted across hundreds of miles of jungle, war, and impenetrable bush, calling out to Maranatha, 18, Lorita, 24, Gloria, 20, and SEXYANA, 22 – pretty, pouting girls looking for love in Kinshasa. It is impossible, at times, to think of Goma as a city in a country called Congo. Yet here, as if bonded by the desires of strangers, the country becomes whole: a great, fragile nation, bound together in cyberspace. April 7 – Goma Hell in paradise; or, paradise in hell. In which our writer misses the boat. Today I am up early, full of purpose. By the afternoon I hope to be on a canôt rapide to Bukavu, so the morning has been set aside for practicalities: buying my ticket, ema iling long- neglected editors, paying bills – all the workaday drudgery of life on the road. I catch a moto outside the hotel to take me to the port. We turn down a few rough dirt roads, crest a hill, and then – voilà – there is the lake, blue in the early morning light. The weather is bracing, the air is crisp: I forget too often, I think, how spoiled my life is. Stupid, too. I‟ve approached this day with exaggerated ease, relying on just a solitary immigration official‟s assurances that the daily speedboat to Bukavu leaves at 2pm. The Marinette Express, it turns out, is an early boat – 7:30am. And as I motor along the port, skirting the muddy puddles, 7:30 seems to be the departure time of every last boat to Bukavu. It is already half-past eight: I‟ve missed my ride. This strikes me as a consequence of almost cosmic stupidity on my part. Suddenly, there it is: another day in Goma lies before me. I buy a ticket for tomorrow‟s passage aboard the venerable Miss Rafiki – first class, $25: half the price and twice the journey of the canôts rapides – grumbling and wondering all the while why I didn‟t think to sort this out yesterday. My self-reproach, though, is of a gentle species – it‟s hard to stay mad at yourself on such a bright, crisp, sun-scrubbed morning. The port is alive with color and commotion: motos scooting through the mud, officials hurrying about, porters hauling 25kg. bags of cement and flour. Women in bright tropical dresses sit under umbrellas, chattering, selling bananas, bread. An old World War I-era gunboat sits aloft on metal drums – testament, perhaps, to colonial foolishness. Beside it fishermen crouch, talking, laughing, pulling apart their nets. With a long, pointless day before me, I‟ve decided to encamp at the nearest Internet café and try to drum up some work. It‟s been nearly three weeks since I left Kigali, and the accounting of the trip so far – almost $1,000 going out of my bank account, exactly nothing going into it – is a particularly dark cloud looming over the horizon. Goma has been extravagantly, catastrophically expensive, and the $150 visa for Bukavu was more than I should‟ve reasonably spent. I‟ll be lucky to stretch out my money for another week, and beyond that, there‟s no sign of how I‟ll survive the last couple of weeks in Kigali before boarding my flight to Johannesburg. It is on these days of grave financial reckoning that I‟m at my worst – a bitter, frustrated, self-doubting miser for whom every small expense feels like Shylock‟s pound of flesh. I re-budget my budget, fret over how to cut costs (is “lunch” really necessary?), give disparaging looks to the club- footed men asking me for change on the street. As if I had the money to spare! Moi! At times I consider it a small miracle that I‟ve made it this far – that for most of the past five years, from my giddy days writing for the start-up, TravelGator.com, to the gaudy cash cow of Forbes Traveler.com, to my newfound role as “Africa correspondent” for Variety, I‟ve been living out of backpacks and duffel bags, scuttling around the world, somehow making it work. I‟ve suffered from panic attacks, and woken up in suffocating sweats, feeling the heavy weight of anxiety on my chest. Four days now into my 33rd year, and I feel less stable than I did a decade ago. Often I think of my happiness in the Platonic sense: as an unsatisfied longing, always awaiting fulfillment. The Internet is down for most of the afternoon: it is a wasted day. At dusk, I find myself again at the first roundabout in town. The place lifts my spirits. The swallows circling, the Congolese with their slow homeward strolls. Boys in a mango tree, hanging upside- down; girls tumbling in the grass. The joy these things bring me is almost inexplicable. I feel deeply attached to this region: the long safaris into northern Kenya, the cries of the fish market in Zanzibar, the rainy-season clouds blowing across the hills of Kigali. And now, too, a part of me is being left behind in Congo. Often I try to convince myself that southern Africa will be a different sort of sameness, another chapter in the same book. I don‟t know what to expect. At times I‟m gripped by an undoubtedly overblown fear of Johannesburg, where my plane will touch down in less than three weeks. I‟ve read of criminal syndicates who orchestrate carjackings of taxis leaving OR Tambo International Airport. I‟ve read grisly stories of armed break-ins, violent assaults of an almost ingeniously sadistic character. I stand here in the Congo and think about the dangers of everywhere else. A girl sits beside me; she is 13, her name is Alice. I‟ve seen her around Kivu Market, pretty, big-eyed, smiling, calling out, “Bananes! Bananes!” in a nasally sing-song. All week I‟ve teased her – “Hakuna ndizi”: “No bananas” – and now she has found me, she is pushing her bananas and peanuts on me, asking if I have a wife. A saucy little thing, this Alice. I ask if she has a family. “No mother, no father,” she says, drawing a finger across her throat. She lives with an uncle, she works, she has no money for school. She asks me for ten dollars; I buy some peanuts instead. She says she sells 10,000 francs‟ worth of bananas and 4,000 francs‟ worth of peanuts every day. I think I‟m misunderstanding her – it‟s almost $17, an astonishing amount – but there you have it, there‟s Alice. She follows me for a minute, twirling, laughing, a terrible little flirt, and then she sings out, “Bye-bye,” and skips back to her friends. At sunset I‟m at the Ihusi. Joseph is sitting by the lake, looking ruminative. “You‟re looking ruminative,” I say. He has been sitting with a Mützig, scribbling in a pocket- sized Moleskine. “I‟m figuring out how to fix the aid industry,” he says, ironically, but with earnestness, too. It has preoccupied him much in Goma: so much of what‟s wrong with the industry, he says – the wastefulness, the bureaucracy – is going wrong here. I give him an appraising look. The thin scrawl of mustache, the clever eyes, the blond mussed hair, the casually aristocratic bearing: once he might have jauntily led a horse brigade in the Crimean War, or debarked in Bulawayo with dozens and porters of native guides for a pith- helmeted expedition into the African interior. (In a modern-day sense, I‟m not entirely off the mark: later I‟ll learn that his father was once an ambassador to the Congo.) He wants to fix the aid industry, he says, but also he wants to fix Congo, and his life in Kinshasa, and the great tangled mess of life in general. He has a young, restless spirit; I can see in him – as in myself, as in most of the expats I‟ve met in Goma – a discomfort at the ease of life here. Kinshasa is messy, it is a challenge – his life there is messy, a challenge. There is pride in how he tells stories of the sporadic electricity, the apartment flooding, the crowded minibuses, the no- good police. He has chosen a more difficult life – a more African life – as I have, too, in my own way. This is a life that has its own rewards. But how easy, how tempting to have a villa by the lake, a coterie of servants, a car and driver, a salary – long nights at Coco‟s, Le Chalet, Petit Bruxelles. We‟re meeting a group for dinner at Doga. Joseph, from CRS – not American, after all; he is from Hong Kong, or Canada, or both – and others: Oxfam, Save the Children, it is easier to remember organizations than names. There‟s an American from Dakar, a former journalist – Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor – who traded his freelance life for a salaried job with CRS. He is a communications manager, he visits CRS sites across the continent and writes articles about the life, the progress, the challenges. It sounds like a plum job, a writer‟s kind of work. Plus, the salary. “Some day you‟ll cross over to the dark side,” he says, laughing. For years he has traveled across the continent, across Asia – he covered war in Afghanistan, all the African hotspots. A Swiss-German at the table says he looks familiar. Sierra Leone in 2002? Angola in 2006? It is a game you hear often played in Goma. The table is crowded with pizzas and beers; two guys, former Peace Corps, are comparing the eating in Goma to Chad, Cameroon. Everyone agrees there‟s no place like Goma. You can get imported olive oil, top-shelf liquor, goat cheese. (In Walikale, says someone, he tested out goat cheese on the locals – they were repulsed.) And of course, too, there is the lake, the climate. Someone says Goma was described as “Hell in Paradise.” Or was it “Paradise in Hell”? It was impossible to imagine the wars of the interior on a mild, sunlit day in Goma – the clouds gently brushing against endless green hills. The party breaks up. It is me and Joseph now, watching Man. United and Bayern Munich on the big screen. It is impossible to remember what it‟s like to walk into a bar, pick up a normal girl. The prostitutes in Doga have elaborate hair, complicated outfits involving lycra and netting. The older men, flush with NGO salaries, get most of their attentions. The game is a thriller. Bayern scores late, goes through on away goals. A pretty girl, tall, slender, totters by on stilettos and wraps her arms around a burly white guy. Outside, motos are waiting. Joseph is off to Kinshasa in the morning, me to Bukavu. We promise to stay in touch. On the way home my moto runs out of gas; the driver stops, gets off, tilts his bike 45 degrees until we hear the gasoline sloshing around in the tank. We stop to top off on the Sake road – a boy in a Man. United wool cap and soiled overalls jogs over, selling petrol from jerry cans. Soldiers pass in pickup trucks, huddled against the cold. Youths, well-dressed, chatting into their cell phones, walking in the dark. At Cirezi the music from Sun City is again rattling the walls. I have slept here for six nights, and there has been a party for six nights. I sleep poorly – both because of the music, and because of the pre-trip jitters: I know I have to be up early in the morning. I wake up at 2, at 2:15, at 2:45; again at 5; and finally, pulling myself out of bed, at a few minutes to six. Outside, music, drunken voices, laughter. The day‟s first light starts to fill the room. April 8 – Goma to Bukavu Here there are many thieves. In which we do the town in 30 minutes. It is the boating hour, it seems. On my way to the port, motos stream down the road, carrying women with great vinyl market bags, and men holding suitcases on their laps. Those without money to spare walk along the roadside, luggage on their heads and shoulders, children in tow. The sun has still not crested the hilltops. Down below, the port is in chaos. Passengers, porters, soldiers exercising a dubious sort of crowd control. Little swift speed boats and creaky passenger ferries bob on the water. Men writing out tickets, holding wads of cash and slips of paper, as if they‟re on their way to the races. My arrival does not go unnoticed: quickly I am surrounded by officials, helpful and genial, delivering me every which way. I am escorted into a room in what looks like a warehouse, with just two weathered wooden desks, an empty filing cabinet, and a dozen bags of cement piled on the floor. A man opens a dusty led ger and writes my name, my passport number, my ticket details. There is a dollar tax – voilà, I am stamped and back outside, turning hopefully toward the boat. Alas, this would have been too easy. There is a line, a crowd of Congolese, and another official waiting with another stamp. She takes my ticket, tears a tiny notch in the side, stamps a small piece of paper, staples this paper to my ticket. Another $1 tax is paid. I turn to go and a man, an official, an amiable older fellow who speaks some English, stops me. “Take care your sacks,” he says. “Here there are many thieves.” Yeah, no kidding. I lug my things along, wary of flinty-eyed pickpockets, but there is no need for such subtlety here. A portly man, another customs official, in a soiled white shirt and a crooked beret, stands before me, grinning like the cat who made the canary pay a dubious customs duty. There is, he says, another tax – he pulls a stamp and inkpad from his pocket, smiling drunkenly. “You must be the guy who shakes down white people for more money, huh?” I ask. “Oui,” he says, laughing merrily. Five hundred francs exchange hands. I have now been triply stamped and approved. I‟m wary of more taxes, but no, my duty to the Congolese tax authorities has been done, I am free to go. The port road is crowded – women selling peanuts, ndazi, cassava, sausages; men holding wheels of cheese. Crowds pushing forward, hysterical cries of farewell. Sacks, boxes, battered suitcases, jerry cans. I buy two loaves of ndazi; my change is paid out in peanuts. Now I am ready to board the Miss Rafiki. The lower deck, second class, is already crowded, business being done from the windows with the hustlers on the dock. I ascend to the higher precincts – there is a first-class lounge with thin-pile carpeting and banquettes and TVs, but I go further still, all the way to the top. I want to spend this morning with the sun and the wind on my face. This is a certain character type, I suspect – something to do with freedom. There are two seating areas, plastic lawn chairs arranged over strips of Astroturf. Across the bay the M/V Salama, its deck a riot of colors, chugs into port. Closer to us the M/V Kivu King – a canôt rapide, a $50 passage – idles with the muscular self-assurance of expensive machinery. A group of white passengers waits patiently to board. Below me the dock teems with crowds, porters, soldiers, farewells. An angry shouting match ensues: two passengers, well-dressed men, appear to have missed a stamp. Near them laughing, idling. Husky, self-possessed women accustomed to long voyages – they carry hampers full of food, they hold their children close to them. Bread-sellers holding up loaves from a distance, hoping to catch someone‟s eye at the final moment. A boy selling sausages from a plastic basket is being bullied by some soldiers for a minor, probably made-up infraction. The boy cowers, his lower lip trembles. One of the soldiers takes off his belt, holding it in the air with violent intent. Now others are filling the deck: two soldiers, customs officials in white shirts and epaulets, two girls – students, maybe, from the university, spending the weekend with family in Bukavu. A man in a red baseball cap joins me, he is smiling, he has a broad nose and Oriental eyes. He is wearing a black jacket with many zippers and, beneath that, a t-shirt with President Obama‟s smiling visage on it. His name is Alexis, he says; he lives in Bukavu and has five children: Celine, Melvin, Alexis Charlotte, Alex, and another I forget. He says he is a truck driver; he ha s just made the two-day journey from Kisangani to Goma. It is nothing, he says, a thousand kilometers, but the road is good. From Goma to Bukavu, on the other hand, is a three-day drive: three days to travel 200 kilometers along the lake‟s shore. We shake our heads, laughing, marveling. Now he is going home to see his children – sometimes, he will not see them for two months at a time. Then he will go to Uvira, across the border from Bujumbura, to pick up an SUV he will deliver to Kisangani. He will drive to Bukavu, take the truck on the ferry, and then drive again all the way from Goma to the far north. The horn blows – not a loud, dignified blast, but a dying noise, like something you‟d hear from under the hood of an „87 Buick Regal. It sounds again, and we‟re off. The port recedes, the evergreen hills of Goma, with Nyiragongo looming and puffing in the background. The morning is cool, the sun is out, spirits are high at the start of our voyage. Over the side I see the crowds leaning out in second class – men‟s cuffs, women‟s wrists ringed by gold bracelets, a pair of hands clutching a rosary. Yesterday I read a story, a ferry – the Amani – ran aground off Idjwi island. MONUC was called in, but no one was hurt. The Marinette Express arrived and shuttled eve ryone to safety. I am starting, now, with our smooth passage, with the sun on my hands and face, to feel the effects of last night. I was lucky to grab three hours‟ sleep, and now, tired and sun- warmed, the next five ours given over to the journey, I close my eyes and go numb. It has been just three weeks, even less, since I left Kigali, but it‟s felt like a lifetime. The plodding progression south from Gisenyi, the fiasco at the Bukavu border. Now, a week later, having run an end-around through Goma – a busy week, a very good week – I am preparing myself again for Bukavu. Excited, but exhausted, too. I‟m running out of money, I miss the familiar faces in Kigali. I have piles of writing to do. And then – incredible to think – in just two weeks I‟ll be in Johannesburg. Passing the Congo, passing the hills of Rwanda. Islands, small green domes, the hills planted with bananas, cabbage, manioc. It is an Edenic scene – but no one would ever think such thoughts about this place. It is hard to imagine how I‟ll write about this country later, what little of it I‟ve seen. Goma, to me, is not an adventure; yet surely there are travelers, the armchair adventure-seekers, who will cross the Gisenyi border for a day, just to get a Congolese stamp in their passports. (“It‟s almost like a little visit to hell,” said the man at the Serena in Gisenyi.) This sort of travel is almost pathologically dishonest. But what, then, have I accomplished? How to write about the place, how to describe these lives, these desires? Je cherche la travaille. J’ai besoin d’argent. Je veux apprendre d’anglaise. Je veux une femme. Je veux vivre. The life of modern Africa, of the city, of its shanties and sprawl, of its Dickensian dreams and dramas. At the bow of the boat the men are crowded, shouting, laughing, arguing, pointing at this or that thing on some distant hill. A man in a windbreaker with the word “Hooch” across the back. Another guzzling Primus. The women sit gathered on the deck behind them, piled among the luggage and potato sacks, using suitcases and duffel bags for pillows. Infants hidden under blankets. A Congolese flag snaps briskly on its pole. Soon the clouds are low, the wind picks up, a light rain begins to fall. Tarps are unfurled, bearing the UNICEF logo. Somewhere the sound of a child crying, the rustling of bodies under jackets. When the rain lets up the tarps are folded away. Everyone stands stiffly, facing the wind. The life of the lake. Hours pass. Small fishing boats row beside us, young boys perched at the helm. Yesterday a boat was swamped in Rwandan waters, six were killed. It was carrying genocide survivors to a commemoration ceremony in Kibuye. Boats drifting, gliding. Across the lake there are storm clouds, they are moving away from us, you can see dark curtains of rainfall draped across the hills. We pass a small island, about the size of a baseball diamond, crowned by a solitary house. It is owned by a Canadian man of Congolese origin, I am told. There are a few men, gardeners, tending to the lawns. On the grass there is a small gazebo, the roof thatched with banana leaves. Maybe the owner is in the kitchen, or the bedroom. Maybe he‟s in Montreal. Now the city in the distance, the houses rising up the hills. It takes forty minutes for us to finally pull into port. Dozens of fishing boats are in the bay, sitting in neat military rows – no one can explain why they do this. Metalworkers are building a new ship, there is a great noise of banging and welding and blasting. The dock is crowded. Suddenly, I‟m struck by nerves. Somewhere in that loud throng is undoubtedly another official with another tax, or a problem with my visa. I have just counted my money on the boat: three hundred bucks, just enough for a week, I imagine. My bribe allowance is minimal. I step off the boat and, sure enough, am pulled to the side. Not some portly immigration official this time, not a policeman with menacing, opaque sunglasses, but a woman – short, brisk, in a flowery dress that hugs her body. She has a lanyard around her neck and a list – passenger‟s names, obscure notations – that gives her an air of officialdom. She wants to see my passport – there is another form to fill out, she says, surely another fee – and then we stand there, getting jostled and bumped, waiting for any other “étranger” to materialize. There are none – it is just me, she is visibly deflated. Today there will be just a small payout. She cleaves a path through the crowd – really, this bustling little woman is all business – and I follow her quickly swaying hips with appreciation. A building, a long low shed, ahead of us. She unlocks a padlock, opens the door; there is a small room with a desk in the corner, a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. For the second time today, I am standing in the sort of room where political dissidents undoubtedly have the soles of their feet flayed. I fill out the form, another tax – 1,000 francs – is paid. All things considered, there have been none of the shakedowns I‟d feared: my grand total for the day amounts to about four bucks. Outside, a taxi driver is waiting. I ask for a moto, but this sets off cries of alarm. The woman, strangers in the crowd, tell me it is not safe to take a moto with my big bag – the word “securité” is in much circulation. Probably this driver is somebody‟s cousin. I succumb, I am seven bucks the lighter. We crunch over the gravel, back from the lot. My camera, my passport, my phone – all the essentials are exactly where I‟d left them. Around the port, a sprawling marketplace takes shape: brightly painted dukas, women squatting by the road, selling vegetables and shoes. Chaos, Congolese chaos. Now we are racing toward the city. Suddenly, it is all too much for me – the sleepless night, the tumult of the port; not to mention I haven‟t eaten all day, I‟m in caffeine withdrawal. The challenge of this new city overwhelms me. I convince myself I‟m wasting my time here, that I could be on tomorrow‟s boat back to Goma instead. Outside my window the city looks rundown: the weather-stained buildings, the crumble of roads, the sky low and gray. The feeling I have is ominous – the day bears a mark of failure. Until suddenly, literally, the clouds part. The city is flooded with sunlight. We are on a wide avenue now, and the streets are full of life, color. Art Decos line the road, the hard lines and soft palettes of some colonial architect. The mayor‟s office is the color of a cloudless sky. Palm trees, women sitting under beach umbrellas. We turn a corner and voilà, there is the lake, blue- gray, endless, the peninsulas of Bukavu poking into it. The fears are gone; I have suddenly warmed to the place. We pass a market, and cell phone shops, and salons with their murals of well-coiffured men who look like Sinbad. It is a long drive – I feel less ripped-off by driver, who strikes me, now, as an alright guy. We arrive at the Guest House Tourist. “Voici,” he says. There is a small sidewalk restaurant, a UN compound across the road. It looks like a fine base for the next couple of days. Certainly I‟ll be able to stretch my dollar here. For $25 my room comes with a good bed, an armoire, a bathroom with running water. It is positively cozy. Downstairs I dig into the plat du jour – a plate of rice, peas and beef for 2,300 francs, or less than $3. I am hungry enough to have another, but the cold shock of my accounting on the boat – the fact that even on a tight budget, I can barely make it through another week – has me on my best behavior. I‟ve been scared stringent. Across the street I check my email – there is a small library, the books donated by some American church group, and an Internet café full of second- hand laptops – and then I am on the street, facing Bukavu. It is late in the day, just after four; the sky is low, the weather is good for walking. This is, I‟ll soon learn, the only avenue worthy of the name in Bukavu: it stretches from the Rwandan border to the governor‟s mansion at the end of the shoe-shaped peninsula they call “la bote.” Aid- group SUVs barrel past, just a handful, and UN lorries full of MONUC soldiers. Taxis creep by, honking their horns. There are no minibuses in Bukavu, I‟ll later learn; passengers share taxis-voitures that drive back and forth along the Avenue Patrice Lumumba. Motos, less brazen than in Goma. The drivers and passengers are required by law to wear helmets. The road is busy, but it is nothing like the Sake road – none of the endless bottlenecks, none of the smoke and grit hanging in the air. Outside an old Art Deco I find a few children gathered on the sidewalk. They are playing a game with bottlecaps, they‟ve arranged them in the formations of two football teams playing a 4-4-2. A torn bit of playing card, a king of hearts, is the ball. One of the boys sends a bottlecap flying toward a milk carton in the shape of a goal. Already I like the feel of this city – there is, as the French say, a je ne sais quoi to this handsome avenue, to the relaxed traffic on the street, the workers casually strolling home in the clear late-day sunlight. Along the road, constant commerce: women selling plastic floral arrangements, ropes of garland, hard little tomatoes, high heels, children‟s shoes, men‟s shoes, hard-boiled eggs, oranges that look like limes, hand mirrors, burnished picture frames, duffel bags and suitcases, pursues, more plastic floral arra ngements, wall clocks, LCD lamps you power like wind- up toys. A man is selling second- hand books on the steps of a shop – school texts, English- language primers, romance novels by someone called Gérard de Villiers. Two MONUC trucks have emptied onto the street, causing bedlam. The Uruguayans are surrounded by men with blue jeans, socks, belts. Boys come up to me and call me “amigo.” Everyone has something to sell. It is late and the market sounds like the floor of the stock exchange, people coming and going, men carrying pairs of shoes and looking hopefully at passersby. The women have spread out their blankets on the sidewalk, they‟re selling vegetables, but also they‟re laughing, gossiping, braiding each other‟s hair. Their voices are loud, hysterical, their eyes shrewd. Young boys pass carrying buckets of soda on their heads. They rattle their bottle-openers against the glass, some are musical, they sound like xylophones. It‟s an effective marketing tool – you can hear the sound over the din of the traffic. I buy a Fanta citron, sit on the steps, watch the street. Then I hop on a moto and head back to the hotel. What I have in mind is a quiet night with my notebook, a few extra hours in bed to make up for what I missed last night. Only the phone is ringing, it‟s my friend Landry, a Ph.D. student I‟d met in Cyangugu last week. He is surprised to hear I‟m already in Bukavu. There is no time to protest: he wants to swing by the hotel in 30 minutes to greet me. Reluctantly, I agree. I have a feeling this night will pass in a blur of brochettes and Primus. With time to kill I again pop into the Internet café across the street, anxious for word on some proposals I‟d sent to editors earlier in the week. The connection is bad – Lena, a plump, friendly girl, the cashier, asks where I‟m staying, offering to fetch me when the connection improves. You do not often see such customer service in Congo, though I am aware, too, of other motives. We sit outside; she asks me about America – “Chez Obama,” she calls it. They teach her some English at school, but it is not enough, she says, she would like to learn more. Next year she will go to university – to study economics, maybe, or medicine. She wants to finish her degree, work for a few years – marriage is still a long way off. Do I have a wife, she asks. I tell her I don‟t. I want to work for a few years, too, I say. She says in Congo, if you‟re not married by the time you turn 25, people will think there‟s something wrong with you. I tell her in New York, it‟s common for people to marry at 35, 40. She exclaims softly and shakes her head. It is an incredible figure. Landry arrives at the hotel looking sharp, Congolese, in a bright orange shirt made from something frilly and European. He wants to show me the city, shrugging o ff my protests. “Bukavu is not a big town,” he says. “It‟s just one road. We can do it in 30 minutes.” We drive once along the Avenue Lumumba, as far as the governor‟s mansion, then drive back. The road is crowded with pedestrians, shopping, haggling, stro lling in the cool evening air. It is my favorite time of day – the music pumps from the shops, the bars are beginning to fill. Landry turns down a side street, points out expensive hotels as landmarks. We reach a busy commercial strip that has only been built in the past year – new shops are rising, there is scaffolding, bricks everywhere. Landry points out his wife‟s shop – she trades in clothes, shoes, she‟s in Istanbul on business. Things here have been looking up for the past year, he says. “If we have the security here in Congo, I think Bukavu will be a very big town,” he says. We park near the hotel – there is a bar nearby he wants to show me. It is a short stroll. I am asking Landry about other countries he‟s visited, places he would like to go. Sout h Africa? He has never been, he‟s heard a lot about the crime, the violence. “It is not like here,” he says, disapprovingly. At least here you can walk in the street, you can take a beer outside. Not often do you expect to hear extolled the virtues of the security situation in eastern Congo. The bar is behind a red gate, there are three or four huts for private parties and a bunch of tables scattered across the courtyard. The place is full – Landry has a few words with the waiter and voilà, another table materializes. He has greetings, words for everyone. “Bukavu is very small,” he says. “It is easy to have relationships with everyone.” We order beers – the oversized bottles so popular in the Great Lakes region. The place is loud, lively. “Here, it is not possible to have a day pass without taking a beer,” says Landry. It seems to me part of the joyfulness, the free-spiritedness, for which the Congolese are known – but no, says Landry, it is the Rwandans who are to blame. When they fled after the genocide in 1994 and came pouring into the Congo, he says, they brought their hard-drinking culture with them. Landry knows Rwanda well – he teaches at a college in Kigali, he does his research in Nyungwe. His Ph.D., he says, is on something called “nitrogen siding” – it involves taking soil and leaf samples, the explanation flies over my head. Every two weeks he has to travel to Nyungwe to collect his samples. It is a long day – the forest is cold, it is always raining. The Ph.D. racket, it seems, leaves something to be desired. It is not an easy life for Landry. He spends three, six months out of the year in Belgium, studying at the University of Ghent. The progress toward his Ph.D. is slow: the life in Ghent is expensive, and he‟s not allowed to work in Belgium. He has to return to Bukavu, pursue his businesses, put some money aside for his family. Last year he began to build a house on a plot of land he bought for $35,000. In Belgium, he said, you had to scrape by to survive – here you could start some projects to invest in the future. These were his people here, too. “In Bukavu, people are very quiet. They have time to hear you, to see what you have to say,” he says. “It is not like Europe, or Kinshasa.” You get the sense in the Kivus, when you are talking about Kinshasa, that you are talking about another country. Under Mobutu, these regions were antagonists. After the war to overthrow him, and during the successive Kabila regimes, it has been the weakness of the Kinshasa government – and, by extension, its poorly paid, poorly trained army – that has allowed the security situation here to spin out of control. Landry has lived most of his life in Congo; he remembers when things were bad, and then really bad, just a few years ago. “Maybe some days, you could not leave the house,” he says, “because some people” – rebels, government soldiers – “have come from a village to get food, to take beer.” The current peace, the stability, has only been in place for a year, but the people are hopeful. Buildings are popping up everywhere – real estate prices are skyrocketing. Landry hopes that the current government will recognize the importance of stability in the region. “If there is a problem in the interior,” he says, “it is not a Bukavu problem, it is not a Kivu problem – it is a Congolese problem.” And yet Landry himself knows Kinshasa, he knows the cynicism there – the believe that the government‟s duties run out as soon as you reach the city limits. We are on our second beers, but I‟ve given up: Landry might blame their drinking on Rwanda, but I still can‟t keep up with these Congolese. My stomach is full, weighed down by nearly 140cL of Primus; my head is light. Landry gets behind the wheel and steers us carefully down Patrice Lumumba. At the hotel we part warmly. I don‟t even slow in the restaurant, I‟ve drunk away my appetite and can barely keep my eyes open as I stumble up the stairs. The bed is stiff; I‟ve been thinking about it all day. It‟s ten hours before I open my eyes to the first traces of daylight. April 9 – Bukavu The fine art of looking fabulous. In which there is awkward silence. After nearly a week at the Hotel Cirezi in Goma, I‟d forgotten the simple luxury of having a bathroom en suite. I take my time with the morning ablutions, pad around naked, pop in once, twice to check myself in the mirror. The running water, too, seems a bit gratuitous. I fill the bucket in the tub twice – once to shower, once for the toilet – and then again: it never hurts to have a bucket of water on standby in Africa. Each time I turn the faucet, the sound of Congolese tap water clanking through the pipes is like a symphony. Breakfast at the Guest House Tourist, too, feels opulent. Three slices of fresh white bread – not for this venerable hotel the dry, chalky hot dog buns of a lesser establishment. The omelette, too, is almost worthy of the name: three eggs, hot, scrambled and liberally soaked in butter. So pleased am I by this feast that‟s been included in the price of my room that I can almost forgive the lackluster instant co ffee: Star brand, product of Uganda, the same bitter brew that was served up in Goma. It‟s a credit to my forward- thinkingness as a traveler par excellence that I thought to pocket a few packets of Nescafe on my last visit to the Ihuzi. This is, admittedly, a far cry from Kenyan AA, but it‟s enough to get my motor revving at the start of a long day in Bukavu. Outside it is a glorious morning: the sun high, the wind carrying a hint of early spring in New York. Today I have my camera with me, refusing to give in to my self- consciousness as a White Guy With a Camera in Africa – one of my most crippling traveler‟s neuroses. In three years I have failed to get over the debilitating inability to take pictures on the street. And today, too, my courage doesn‟t last. Seeing the wary stares of some husky mama, the flinty-eyed squint of some idle youth, I lose my nerve. I have a criminal air about me each time my camera comes out. In front of a gas station – the word Mobil faded, almost scrubbed from the building; the pumps rusting with disuse; a gang of youths on the sidewalk, selling gasoline in water bottles and jerry cans – I toy with my camera, sigh, leave it in my pocket. I know this feeling well. Today will be full of photographic disappointment. Walking along the road, the sun bright on the colorful storefronts, I‟m joined by a man in a blue dashiki, a flash drive hanging around his neck. His name is Henry, he is a pastor. “You have to be careful with photographs here,” he warns me. (Vindication!) “They will see you and think you are a spy.” More likely they will invent some mythical photographer‟s fee, I say, charge another tax. Henry laughs. His English is flawless – he spent six years studying theology in Nairobi. He tells me the name of his church, but I miss it. Even after all these years in Africa, I‟m dumbfounded by the preponderance of Christian denominations and sects. I grew up Greek Orthodox in a Roman Catholic neighborhood; in college, I met Protestants, slightly expanding my religious worldview. Henry tells me his church is based in Indiana, in Terre Haute. He is here coordinating the work of church-run health centers in Bukavu, in South Kivu, far to the north in Oriental province. This name rings a bell – the security situation there, I say, is not too good. Henry laughs. “Even last year I was there, I almost lost my life,” he says. They were driving at night, they had come to a bridge, a gunman wouldn‟t let them pass. The driver stepped on the gas and drove right through him. “That driver was very bra ve,” says Henry, laughing. In the health centers it is hard work; it is the church institutions in Congo that so often fill the needs left by a government in absentia. But there is very little funding: the church in Terre Haute cut its ties with the clinics a few years ago. “They used to support us,” says Henry, “but they have stopped, because of mismanagement.” The previous director was corrupt – now Henry has stepped in to replace him. The church wants to restore its financial assistance, but they are cautious. “They have to be good stewards of God‟s money,” he says. Around us the clamor of street life, commerce, hustling. The city rises and falls over the hills, there are explosions of green, everything tumbles down to the lake. I comment on Bukavu‟s beauty and Henry, who has lived here most of his life, sighs. “Because of the demographic situation,” he says, “it has lost some of its beauty.” People have come from the countryside – some fleeing violence, others looking for a better life – and there are the high birth rates, too, of the Congolese. Much of the city looks like a building site. “They are just building everywhere,” says Henry. “There are no regulations here.” We part – Henry has to mail some documents, he will spend the morning moving from shop to shop, printing, photocopying, mailing – and on I go, along Avenue Lumumba. A man stops me, his name is Iragi Kadusi – he writes it in my notebook – and he is looking for work. He has spent a year in Nairobi, he had to leave when his visa expired, and now he is stuck here in Bukavu. There are no jobs, no opportunities, he says. The Congo has a “dirigent mauvais” – a bad leader. An old woman comes up to us, she has one arm, a beggar. Iragi shoos her away – there is no telling how much charity the white man has, you wouldn‟t want him spreading it around to every last beggar on the street. I give Iragi a hard look. It is hard, now, to feel too charitable toward him. He wonders if I might have a job for him in America. Or maybe just something for transport, for “transfert ”? Down the hill, toward the great dirt roundabout described, optimistically, in my guidebook as the “site of future monument.” This was written in 2006. There is no sign of construction, of any forethought toward whatever future totem – Kabila with a dove on his shoulder? – might someday rise here. The future, in Congo, is such an indefinable quantity. Better to play it safe – to leave this dirt- filled lot, crisscrossed by schoolboys and soldiers and weary old women, and wait to see how things pan out ten years down the line. To the right, the port road. Across from me, a set of concrete stairs climbing the hill. I have seen these secret stairways around Bukavu, full of mystery and promise. I start to climb, it is a weary slog, the sun is strong, the stairs seem to go on forever. Women huffing along, dresses hugging their thick curves, shoes impractical for such feats of mountaineering. Near the top an old man, a dignified gent in a hat and blazer, wearing the pouty, stricken look of old age. These stairs, under this sun, must be brutal for him. And for me, too. I stop to catch my breath, take in the view. A young man and woman, students, stop beside me. We begin to talk, they are eager, full of curiosity. The university where they are studying is just nearby, they say. Would I like to see it? It is a pleasant walk. The hilltop is wooded, shaded, a small act of mercy. Here now, says Gilbert, is the Institute Supérieure pour la Développement Rurale – a specialized institute, it attracts students from Goma, from Kinshasa. There are workers everywhere, they are renovating, building a new wing. The classrooms have wooden benches and chalkboards and dusty windows. Students loafing around, a Friday-afternoon lethargy about them. Outside, four copy machines set up on wooden tables in the dirt. A girl, bored, is sitting under an umbrella. Extension cords wind around her bare feet. Gilbert takes me through the halls, shows me the dormitories – crowded little rooms, just enough space for a bed and a desk. A boy sits outside, cleaning his shoes. Curtains in the doorways. Cleaning women in the yard, hanging laundry on the lines. I look into a window – a boy sitting on the edge of his bed, two giant Manchester United posters covering the wall. The place has an air of weary negligence, of university bureaucrats sitting at their ledgers, trying to reconcile impossible sums. Gilbert wants to take me now back to town – there is a road that winds past his school and the Catholic University of Bukavu and down a beautiful, wooded hill. He wants to show me his home – it is just here, “juste ici,” he says, hoping I won‟t refuse. I am, in truth, getting tired of his company, struggling to follow his French. I would like to hop on a moto back to town, have lunch, but the house is just here, he said, waving ambiguously down the hill. We are back at the roundabout now, the “site of future monument,” and Gilbert has phoned his taxi driver, suggesting the house is not juste ici, after all. The sun is strong now, we are trudging uphill; I‟m trying to think of the politest way possible to rid myself of Gilbert. Now a car toots its horn – Gilbert‟s taxi, brazenly pulling onto the sidewalk. Gilbert negotiates something with the driver, takes a seat in the front. The windows won‟t budge in the backseat, and grumpy indeed is the travel writer staring sullenly out the window. Curse this Congolese boy and his hospitality – curse his home! Realizing, of course, what a bastard I can be. Bukavu is scrolling by – there is the market, there is the Hotel Tourist. “Juste ici,” it seems, is shorthand for “Kinshasa.” Finally we arrive at the gate of an opulent villa – three stories, whitewashed, crowning a hilltop overlooking the lake. My first thought is: Gilbert can pay for the goddamn cab himself. The gardener opens the gate, there is another gardener, a cook, a cleaning woman. An SUV in the driveway; in the backyard, a satellite dish about the size of a hockey rink. We go into the sitting room and voilà, all the furnishings of middle-class Congolese life: stiff armchairs, chintz curtains, a coffee table with a plastic floral centerpiece. Sconces like you wouldn‟t believe. There is a small Sharp TV and a Sharp VHS and a DVD player and a Sony Playstation. The wiring is exposed, it runs up the wall like ivy. An older man sits on the sofa – not his father, says Gilbert, but the family pastor. He is a pleasant, avuncular man in shiny pants and an Adidas soccer jersey. Gilbert offers me a Fanta and disappears from the room. The pastor is across from me and sits there in amiable silence. “C’est une bonne maison,” I observe. “Bonne maison,” he says. “Kabiza.” I soon realize the Swahili-speaking pastor‟s French is worse than my own. He sits back in his seat – on the wall above him, a wooden plaque reads: “Christ is the head of this house.” We sit there together, quiet, smiling, making embarrassed eye contact. After ten minutes Gilbert returns with a small basket, inside of which, wrapped in a handkerchief, are two bottles of Fanta. He pours me a citron and shares an orange with the pastor. Then the three of us are sitting together with nothing to say. I have been in this same room before, it seems – the stiff upright furniture, the doilies, the brass fixtures on the walls. And I have endured these same silences, have battled through language barriers and sat quietly sipping Fantas. It is sweet and frustrating and enduringly strange. I am grateful for this hospitality – it is touching, in its own way. But how long can we go on sitting like this? An hour? Two? Isn‟t Gilbert bored of my company yet? We‟ve had almost nothing to say for an hour, and yet I know that unless I invent some excuse – “Pole sana. J’ai un rendezvous maintenant.” – we‟ll be in this sitting room till dusk. From the kitchen, now, a commotion, voices. Heads pop into the room – two brothers, a family friend. They arrange themselves around the coffee table, they want to know what I do, why I‟m here. Good questions, all. We struggle through the usual explanations – I am a writer, a journalist – and then our momentum slows. My French is full of useful phrases – “What time does this bus leave?”, “Is it safe there?”, “Where is your boyfriend right now?” – but I have no knack for small talk. I tell them I am going to South Africa for the World Cup, and their interest is revived. Who do they support? France, says Gilbert; Spain, says one brother; Italy, another. Giorgio, or Jojo – the youngest, a loudmouth, a little wiseass, I know I would come to despise him – asks if I would like to play football. Not the real thing, of course – we are in rarefied precincts here, we get our entertainment from TV screens. But alas, sighs Gilbert, there is no power. In this palace, all the comforts of the Western world – but outside, it is still Congo. We walk through the garden and up toward the front gate, and Jojo, or Giorgio, is snapping at the gardener – a meek, passive youth, he is terrified of this little lord of the manor. Christ, spare me these spoiled rich kids! Outside Gilbert offers to walk me back to the hotel. He stops to greet shopkeepers, classmates, two nuns. Finally we are at the hotel, shaking hands, parting. He says if I ever want to “reposer,” mi casa es su casa, more or less. I thank him – I am, in my own bitchy way, grateful for his company this afternoon. Again, lunch at the Guest House Tourist. The wood-paneled dining room, the TV blaring music videos, the fat Congolese drinking bottles of Primus. I have not seen any restaurants along the main road, and the other hotels – catering to business travelers, upmarket tourists tracking lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biéga National Park – are no doubt the sort that quote their prices in dollars. For my 2,300 francs – about two and a half bucks – I am happy to spend my days elbow-deep in riz and petit pois and roti de boeuf. After lunch, a food coma sets in. And a general exhaustion, too. It has been three weeks now – I am reminding myself of this each day – and with both time and finances dwindling, end-of-trip fatigue is coming over me. How easy would it be, I think: a speedboat to Goma, a Virunga Express from Gisenyi – I could leave Bukavu in the morning and be in Kigali by the afternoon. A familiar bed and familiar faces. Plus I could finally put the finishing touches on these rambling notes. Just up the road from the hotel I‟d spotted a small snack bar, Rendez-Vous, during my morning walk. It turns out to be just what I‟d been hoping for this afternoon – a Western- style coffee shop. The owner, or manager – a young white woman with, I think, a Spanish accent – is pacing the room in a denim skirt and high heels. Two young Congolese girls, slender, pretty, sit sipping Fantas; in the back room an aid worker, an attractive brunette, is sitting on a sofa. There are paintings and batiks on the wall, photos o f past clients making merry, a glass counter crowded with croissants, cookies, cakes. It is a cheerful, homely place – like leaving the Congo for the afternoon. Outside clouds gather, rain begins to fall – a passing shower. Horns are suddenly honking up and down the road: a wedding processional passes, a Hummer and a Mercedes and a string of SUVs. Youths, street vendors, come into the café, selling belts, kitchens knives, outlet adapters. Then a man, elegantly dressed – a flamboyant jacket, the lapels threaded with silver. Surely this is a sapeur, Congo‟s famous fashionistas. Where else in the world can you walk through a crowded slum and find men in Ferragamo shoes, Dior shirts, Valentino pants? It is their philosophy, their movement, a way of life: men who have rejected violence, rejected war, who have embraced the sole dictum of looking fabulous. This man‟s shoes are like mirrors – he disappears into the backroom, heels clicking. I finish my cappuccino. This place has been a happy find. The menu says, “Ca ll ahead or send an SMS for your order.” The caffeine has been only a slight pick-me-up. It is after five, I feel listless – I can‟t imagine more Primuses with Landry tonight. I kill time online, catching up on the news – I‟ve been so detached, disconnected these past few weeks. The baseball season has started, Tiger Woods is 4- under at the Masters – once these things would have mattered to me. An email from the New York Times – my Bujumbura story, finally set to run on May 2. I have a quick look at the edit – the lede, the only part of the story I was proud of, has been eviscerated. I don‟t have the strength to read the rest. The sky is still overcast, the sun won‟t be out again until tomorrow. I change into pants, throw on a jacket – this whole musty wardrobe, I can‟t wait to cast it off in South Africa. I am no sapeur; I do not feel fabulous. Bundled thusly against the evening chill, I decide to walk with no destination in mind. The boredom of travel – the part they forget to mention in the guidebooks. Surely I could start a conversation with a stranger, walk into a bar by myself, find some way to pass the hours. But I‟m in one of those in-between moods, restless, indecisive. I don‟t want to struggle through another low- level conversation in French, I don‟t want to be alone. I walk along Patrice Lumumba, another jobless youth to keep me company, monsieur, asking for a job, for money. It is dark now, the streetlights are on. The city is still busy, the market, the shops. I stand outside a bar, partly in the shadows, watching, listening to the music of daily life. How accustomed I am to strange voices, foreign tongues. Passing headlights, the beeping of horns. To save gas, the moto drivers shut their engines at the top of the hill. They coast by in the darkness, the headlights black, they float by like shadows. Suddenly, up and down the avenue, the power goes out. The shops are dark, the streetlights – I can feel the skin go prickly on the back of my neck. Part of me feels safer, inconspicuous, in the dark – Shakespeare‟s Henry V, circling among the troops incognito. But the moment passes; I‟m scared shitless. I hail a moto, go bumping back up the hill toward the safety of the Guest House Tourist. Now the sounds of generators thrumming to life; some of the shopkeepers light candles, paraffin lamps. In the hotel dining room, men in suits crowded around a table full of empty bottles. They have come from some wedding, some celebration – all day the cars and trucks crept along the avenue, full of smartly dressed party-goers. There is wrapping paper on the floor, someone has gotten a gift – for what? I greet them, they are neither welcoming nor un-. I feel compelled to try something different for dinner, to have a coffee by the lake. But I think about money, again, always the money. I can‟t afford a taxi down the hill; and besides, I need to save a few bucks for another round of drinks with Landry. Instead I am back on the street, they are building a new hotel, Belvedere, next to the Tourist. There is already a restaurant, open for business. The dining room is vast, like a catering hall, but there are just a few tables scattered across the room. It is like seeing a handful of old couples shuffling across an empty dancefloor. Music pumps in from a wedding party in the next room; a DJ exhorts the crowd in French. The menu is full of dollar signs, it is three times the price of the Tourist. I apologize, I put it bluntly: “C’est très cher.” Probably they will laugh when I leave, already I can hear them repeating after me, “C’est très cher,” not kindly. Outside more women in party dresses, and men with wide lapels. A well-dressed young man comes down the street with a live goat, he stops at the Belvedere, a girl in high heels comes rushing down the stairs to greet him. The goat bleats – probably he is as confused by all of this as I am. Then they go upstairs, one after the other: the pretty girl, the goat, the smartly dressed boy bringing up the rear. April 10 – Bukavu One for the road. In which the road is long. The morning starts, as any good morning should, with songs of praise. The “salle de conference” at the Tourist hotel apparently doubles as a church hall, and by half-past eight, it is already crowded with worshippers. They are singing and swaying and wagging their hands with fervor, egged on by two pastors whose faces are slick with sweaty, religious rapture. In the corner, a guitarist plucks an off-key tune; the drummer has not yet turned up. The effect of this early- morning religiosity on my mood is not unpleasant. I have spent more than three years in Africa; I have witnessed church services in remote corners of Uganda and Malawi, have watched Maasai villagers gathered in a tin shack in the Kenyan bush to sing warbling songs from their hymn books. (The pastor, gladdened by my presence, gave thanks that “even the white man has found God.”) I am not put off by these things, not surprised when one of the first questions out of a stranger‟s mouth is, “Are you Christian?” or “Are you saved?” It is no small thing, at my age, to shrug off the self-satisfied East Coast cynicism that compels one to handle an earnest Christian the way one handles a retarded kid with drool on his chin. I am comfortable in Africa with all this Bible-thumping and God-praising; I‟ve mostly given up on the smug self-assurance that I know any better. Without the presence of the church in eastern Congo, besides, this region would be even worse off than it already is. And the presence is everywhere. There are a half-dozen churches within a 10- minute stroll from the hotel, and I have seen people pouring from them on all days, at all hours: Thursday afternoon, Friday morning. On Sundays the services seem to last from dawn to dusk. On the streets I see advertisements for Christian concerts – one ad, for a “grand concert” with a certain Christine Shusho, promises attendees a real “soirée chrétienne.” The people of Bukavu seem to spend most of their time shuttling between churches and wedding parties – though the fête chrétienne at the Tourist Hotel is, I‟ll later learn, a special occasion. Hosted by something called La Communauté Missionaire Chrétienne Internationale, it is billed as a “croisade d’évangélisation, de guérison, de délivrance et de brisement des liens malsains” – an event that, even with my threadbare French, seems to portend a whole lot of drumming and praising. Which, feelings of religious tolerance notwithstanding, has its limits. I decide the morning would be better spent in my own sort of soulful contemplation by the lake – somewhere to wrap myself in silence, drink an overpriced coffee, sit with my pen and pad. It is a pleasant walk from town. The roads in Bukavu bend and curve away from the Avenue Lumumba, wrap around the hills. Walking down to the Hotel La Roche – one of Bukavu‟s upmarket, lakeside hotels – the city is like a giant construction site. Piles of bricks, rickety wooden scaffolding, men hauling bags of cement on their heads. Rising on large plots of land are the skeletons of two- and three- and four-story villas, rewards for ruling-party stalwarts, the spoils of the mineral war tearing apart South Kivu. Sandwiched between them are their older counterparts: whitewashed towers with million-dollar views, most with Land Cruisers and Prados in the driveways. (Peeking over the wall of one gaudy mansion, I see two kid-sized Hummers on the lawn: they start them young in Bukavu.) Further down, the governor‟s mansion – a massive colonial villa, a dozen gardeners clipping and pruning, a colonnade of trees, a mini-Versailles. The road bends again, more construction, a man in a rasta hat grilling brochettes in the shade. At the foot of the hill, a dozen soldiers sitting on chairs and tree stumps next to an unfinished villa – a gift, perhaps, for some decorated general. Next an army base – barracks, canvas tents, the privations of life as a foot soldier. Later someone will tell me it is a “transit camp,” before adding under his breath, “FDLR.” Here is where former Interahamwe come to turn themselves in, lay down their arms. Later they‟ll be sent to “reeducation” camps in Rwanda, before integrating again into Rwandan society. Finally I reach the Hotel La Roche, a big white modernist box set back 50 meters from the lakeshore. It is an architectural nightmare of African nouveau kitsch: sliding glass doors, blue window panes, gaudy curtains, brass fittings. Each of the rooms has a peerless view of the parking lot, yet somehow, this is one of Bukavu‟s finest hotels. I manage to sneak a peek into one of the rooms – white-tiled floors, plush faux-leather sofas; I don‟t have to go any further to know there are gold sconces on the walls. Still, if you were to raze the hotel, it would be a pleasant enough place. The lawns are well-kept, there is a thatched-roof bar, a pleasant little restaurant that, from the outside at least, looks like a colonial villa. Beside it, built on stilts, another restaurant almost floating over the lake. Out back, scampering over the walls, two mangy little monkeys. Only when I get closer do I see they have ropes tied around their waists, the cooks are keeping them as pets. They live in a miserable little wooden house; one has a panicky, afflicted look, the other is gnawing on a bottlecap. It scampers up the leg of a gardener, begins picking at his hair. I ask if I can snap a picture, and he agrees. When the others begin chanting “franga, franga,” I tell them I have no money to give. “Hakuna franga.” They are sullen, crestfallen, but this is a point of principle: I refuse to give any money to a bunch of monkey-abusing chefs. Still, there is the lake. I have a vision of a quiet hour of writing, maybe two, listening to the water lapping at the shore. It doesn‟t last. The bartender has turned up the soft rock on the stereo – when I ask the waiter to turn it down, it‟s just a few beats before the bartender turns it up again. I wait 20 minutes for the waiter to bring my coffee, and when he does, I discover the Thermos is full of hot water. I try to track him down, but he‟s vanished, and by the time I have my coffee in front of me my head is throbbing. The coffee suddenly seems like a bad idea; I could probably use a beer instead. I‟m jittery, high-strung. I try to calm myself, I watch the pirogues drifting across the lake, I amuse myself with the plastic floral arrangements. It doesn‟t help. They are renovating the hotel, the workers are hammering, sawing, the only peace, I imagine, can be found at the bottom of the lake. I pay my bill, trudge moodily up the hill. By the time I find a moto, I‟m ready again for lunch at the Tourist. This is not shaping up to be a good day. I‟ve been hoping to make plans with Landry, to contact Justin – he‟s returned to Bujumbura for the week – to get the number of his brother, a journalist in Bukavu. But the Zain network has been down since yesterday – I haven‟t been able to make a call, to send a text. I appreciate, now, why Landry had lined up his cell phones at the bar earlier this week. He had three of them, with five SIM cards between them – one for his colleagues in Belgium, an MTN SIM for Rwanda, three Congolese SIMs – Zain, Vodacom, CCT – for the inevitable network failings here. “In Congo, you cannot have a network that works every day,” he had said. And so today, it seems, is the day that Zain has decided to take a breather. At Rendez-Vous, again, I sit stewing over a coffee. I‟m not in the mood for another early night, I don‟t want to walk the streets by myself in search of adventure. At two, though, there is a breakthrough: the telecom stars have aligned, the Zain gods are again smiling. It is Landry, we make plans to meet at four, the day has been saved. Outside, another wedding party parades by. This, I am told, is a union of great consequence – a high- ranking military figure. A string of SUVs festooned with bows and colorful ropes of garland, army trucks full of soldiers – white-gloved, clutching sabers – in ceremonial dress. The sound of drums – a marching band, crowded into a minivan, beating some festive tune. On the side of the minivan the words “Operation Amani Leo, Sud-Kivu” – this is one of the disastrous, MONUC-backed military operations that has done more harm than good in the hills of eastern Congo. Today, a more peaceful mission. On the side of the road, women ululating and waving their arms. Outside the hotel there‟s a boy, his name is Thierry, he‟s 14. He wants to go to America some day – “I would like to go there to see your president,” he says. Already he has seen enough of the poverty in Bukavu, the lack of jobs. He knows the life must be better in America because we have the dollar, and the dollar is strong. “If you give one dollar to a man here, he says, „Good! Good! Good!‟” says Thierry. “But if you give one dollar to an American man, he says, „Bah, what is this?‟” He adds, “You are very absent-minded.” Landry arrives, sharply, he is wearing a crisp white shirt with flowers embroidered onto the collar and the cuffs. Seeing his latest ensemble has become something of a sport for me. He has brought a friend, Armel – the husband of the sister of Landry‟s wife. We pile into the Hilux – another typical day in Congo. Armel is a lawyer, a former human rights worker – he has worked with the UN, in the Hague, for a local NGO. I tell him about a report just published by the International Crisis Group on the Kabila government, the usual litany of rights abuses against civil society, opposition groups. Armel laughs grimly – he is not surprised. The US is sending its top gun in Africa, Johnnie Carson, to discuss these things with Kabila this month. It will be the usual refrain, I‟m sure, tying aid to “good governance.” And yet still, despite the reports, the money will pour into the Congo. We are looking to have a drink, but this is surprisingly hard to arrange on a Saturday afternoon in Bukavu. It is a day for weddings, and Landry‟s us ual drinking holes have been booked by wedding parties – great swarms of women in tulle, long- limbed, big- hatted; and men in their shiny suits, their sharp lapels. We are circling “La Bote,” the shoe-shaped peninsula, past the houses of the FARDC officers and their families, picturesque old homes, weathered, water-stained, some with satellite dishes planted on the lawns. Soldiers are milling everywhere, sitting on porches, drinking, rifles nearby. I would love to take some pictures, but this is not an optio n. We reach another bar, Landry hops out to see if there might be room for us inside. Armel points to a long driveway ahead of us, patrolled by a soldier from the elite Republican Guard. It used to be the Cercle Sportif, he says. You could go there with yo ur family, play tennis, go for a swim. “A few years ago, Kabila decided to take it for his home,” says Armel. Now, when the president arrives for his once- or twice-yearly visits to South Kivu, he has those sprawling sporting grounds to himself. Again, no luck – Landry hops behind the wheel, we drive off. A light rain is falling now, goats are bleating on the side of the road. Armel suggests a place called Bel Air, Landry chuckles, shaking his head. “Bel Air,” he says, like a punchline. Bel Air it is. The bar is hidden down a flight of stairs on the Avenue Lumumba, behind a club called Anges Noirs. At the foot of the stairs, a list of prohibitions: no shorts, no flip- flops, no knives, no guns. The bar is très Congolaise: a split- level concrete patio, dozens of plastic tables and chairs, loud voices, empty bottles. The view over the lake is impressive, the hills green, sublime. We sit beside a pool table, order a round. Two men are racking the balls, breaking, knocking the solids and stripes every which way. The felt of the table is torn, uneven – you have to play the surface the way you would a putting green. Laughter, a commotion, the clinking of bottles. A dark cloud hovers over the lake, brooding, waiting. We are talking about the situation in South Kivu, and you can tell there are two South Kivus: the city, here, with its Bel Airs and Botes; and upcountry, “the villages,” as Armel calls them. I ask what‟s the biggest threat to the villages and he leans forward, lowers his voice. “I think the biggest problem in the villages is the FARDC,” he says – the Congolese army, poorly disciplined, unpaid for months on end. They go to the villages, they take and take. Life has become too hard upcountry – the threats from the army, the FDLR, the militias. You can see the difference in Bukavu, the crowding, says Armel. “I think most of them have come because of the fighting. There are no jobs, they cannot go to their fields,” he says. In the city, there is always a cousin, a brother, an aunt with some room in the house. “In Bukavu, at least, there is some work,” says Armel. Landry and Armel, of course, represent a small minority in Bukavu – these are men who have worked and studied abroad, they have seen Europe, carry well- stamped passports. Already Armel is looking again to travel – he is applying for jobs with the UN, the Red Cross, using his contacts in the development world. He would like to see more of America – he has been to California, spent time at Stamford. He has a brother he would like to visit, a physician, in New York. When I ask if he would like to live there, too, he makes a fussy face, shakes his head. “Here you can live for $500” a month, he says. “I do not think you can live for $500 in New York.” We settle our bill, Landry has invited me for dinner at his place, but first another bar, another drink. “Here we say, „One for the road,‟” he says, adding, when I comment on the oversized bottles of Congolese beer: “It is a long road.” Again we are in the Hilux, it is a short drive, Landry plows onto the sidewalk, where a frightened askari is helping him to park. There is a small ditch on the road‟s shoulder, which Landry is struggling to negotiate. “I am using four-wheel drive,” he says, optimistically. Great relief when the vehicle is at rest, the askari still wringing his hands. We step into Le Saint Laïc. A long, narrow dining room stretches from the entrance, tables crowded to the side. Opposite them bottles of wine in glass display cases, like geological specimens. We enter another dining room in the rear – fat, mirthful men sloshing glasses of beer, women with bad wigs and shapeless dresses. We sit. A band is warming up. People come over to the table to greet Landry. They are playing a CD, old Congolese music from the seventies and eighties. Armel and Landry are nostalgic. “They are playing music from our childhood,” says Armel. Now a short, deferential youth comes over to the table, removes his baseball cap, shakes our hands. He wants to apologize for the live music: this is karaoke night at Le Saint Laïc, but there is a problem with the equipment, he explains. I cannot feign disappointment – live music over Congolese karaoke is, I think, something of a no-brainer. The band is ready: a drummer, a guitarist, a man on a keyboard, three singers moving rhythmically back and forth. They are students, says Landry – he used to do the same thing when he was in university. More broad-shouldered, big-bellied men enter. Women built like fullbacks. Young girls, prostitutes, maybe – cast-offs from the Big Leagues of the Goma expat scene. Landry gets a call from home – dinner is ready. We are all happily buzzed as we leave the restaurant, the music has done something to me, it‟s lifted my spirits. The moon is out, a sharp crescent, like an anchor cast into the dark sea o f night in Bukavu. This has turned out to be a beautiful day. At Landry‟s house the guard swings the gate open – the place is a mess, says Landry, apologetically, they‟re adding another floor. Outside scaffolding climbs the walls, there are bricks piled in the driveway. Landry‟s children – six and five – are making gleeful noises from somewhere inside. “Karibu,” says Landry. The place is a palace. The sofas are leather, there is a flat-screen TV, a stereo system, a keyboard with a microphone. (“Sometimes, we have karaoke,” Landry admits.) On the wall, family portraits: Landry and his wife and the kids on Lake Kivu; Landry and his wife, embracing, in front of a studio backdrop of the Dubai skyline. There are shelves cluttered with knick-knacks, the expensive porcelain tchotchkes of African prosperity, and three remote controls on the coffee table. Landry‟s sister sweeps in from the dining room. Dinner, she says, is served. Despite the fact that there are three oversized bottles of beer in my stomach, I have managed to save room for the feast Landry‟s sister has prepared. The table is amply set: mounds of foufou, cabbage and beef, rice with onions, frites, fried fish. The conversation has tapered off, we are stuffing our faces – even after I‟m full, I pile more cabbage onto my plate. Landry‟s sister is a wizard in the kitchen, she brushes aside my marriage proposals – I think it‟s implicit, in the rarefied precincts of Chez Landry, that she can do better. Afterward we are back on the sofas, drowsy, content. There is a news segment – some attempt to negotiate a truce with the FDLR and another rebel group. Much head- shaking and tongue-clucking from Armel and Landry. These mediation efforts will end like all the others. The night is winding down – Armel yawns, stretches, pulls himself to his feet. Again we are in the Hilux, bumping over these rough Bukavu roads. Armel lives down the street; I am just around the corner. We make plans to have a parting drink before I go. At the hotel there is a scene of bedlam, nuptial chaos. If the Belvedere struck me as a forlorn catering hall when I poked my head in last night, it‟s apparently because it is, indeed, a catering hall. Tonight it is booked for a wedding party – the music is loud enough to rattle the hotel‟s windows. From my room I can see into the main room: well- dressed, well- fed, middle-aged bodies moving slowly across the dancefloor. Somehow, these past few weeks, I‟ve grown accustomed to high-decibel lingala and kwasa kwasa and rhumba blaring into the wee hours – it‟s a wonder I‟ve ever slept any other way. My head is nodding off to 4/4 time, and by 11 o‟clock, faster than you can say “Papa Wemba,” I‟m out cold. April 11 – Bukavu I am just a poor journalist. In which the Burma problem is dealt with. The crusade is in full swing this morning – the soundcheck begins at half-past seven. By the time I‟ve showered and dressed for breakfast, the worshippers are already pouring in: women, big, stout, matronly, with proud God- fearing faces, and slender men in ill- fitting jackets, and little boys in little-boy suits, and cheerful girls in tulle party dresses, and a little girl in a white hat and white dress and white shoes, like she‟s on her way to her first communion. An old gent with a trim beard and a thinning horseshoe of hair looks at me with an imploring face. He is a pastor, I think, he has a small leather-bound book in his hand, he surely wants me to join the congregation. But it is too much for me, this hysteria, this early- morning rapture. And so I am on my way to the lake again, to Orchid Safari – another of the swish lakeside hotels – hoping to find the peace I couldn‟t find yesterday at the Hotel La Gauche. This is, I think, walking into the main lodge, more like it. Gone are the crisp white linens of La Roche, the plastic floral centerpieces, the garish overt opulence of Africa‟s nouveau riche. The place is subdued – earth tones, track lighting, the music is barely audible – and one hardly has to look at the menu to know what higher culinary spheres one is now traveling in. (Though if one does, the options – tournedos façon chevreuil, choucrotte garnie – present a certain baffling refinement, at twenty bucks a pop.) On the wall are contemporary African paintings, elephant-dung art, a Warhol reproduction. Outside, the terrace is done up like a hunting lodge – above the fireplace a mounted buffalo‟s head, the dark eyes dull and anesthetized, the powerful swoop of the horns. Beside the terrace is lush tropical foliage, and beyond that, the lake. The plump cumulus clouds, the mild green hills, are reflected in its polished surface – you can appreciate here why the Belgians, so smitten by this place, had called it “the Switzerland of Africa.” I am reading Hemingway‟s Green Hills of Africa, the pages well- thumbed and dog-eared, and it is having a very curious effect on me. Certainly there is irony in this setting: across from the mounted head is a buffalo‟s skull, and beside it the head of an antelope, a kudu perhaps, with those long marvelous corkscrew horns. Only they‟re on display in this very genteel, $200-a-night resort, with its imported bottles of Chimay and Leffe beer and its $8 croques monsieurs. It is striking how white travelers will pay princely sums for this sort of bush chic, while the Congolese will pay just as much for a stiff- linened aesthetic that strains toward – one has to say it – colonial refinement. Jarring, then, to sit beneath those mute judgmental buffalo eyes, to read of Hemingway and Pop and P.O.M., and Droopy and M‟Cola, tracking rhino through the overgrown elephant grass, Papa sighting with his Springfield, getting the musky scent of the game, following the trail of blood spoors on blades of grass, to read those rich loamy bush smells, to almost smell them, sitting here in Chez Orchid, drinking coffee from my effete little porcelain pot. Certainly you get used to such incongruities in Africa. Only now, drowning out the Whitney Houston – ! – on the stereo, the overbearing bustle of the waiters, looking past the lake toward the Rwandan hills, and Hemingway‟s Africa is spreading before me. Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have to be in it and to move slowly. That country, Hemingway‟s country, brings me back to Kenya, always. The fresh morning smell of the savannah, the sun rising, roosting in the baobabs. Walking once in the Maasai Mara, we skirted the path of two ill-tempered buffalo muscling through the bush, and suddenly there was the whole tree-freckled plain, the sub- scrubbed savannah, stretching like a golden carpet in the sunlight. I want to pursue these reveries, only there are two Americans, aid workers, at the next table, and they are drowning out my thoughts. The girl is young, in her twenties, with that flat brassy accent and projectile voice of Midwestern girls who spent their college years grabbing rebounds, chasing down rugby balls. Her companion, an older man, white- haired, an aid veteran, speaks with a murmur, almost inaudibly – the voice of experience, a man trained in discretion. She dominates the conversation. There was a problem with Burma, she explains – not with the country, or the ruling junta, but with the way her organization gathered data there. She had an idea, a system of lists, a better way to organize the data collected in the field. It was remarkable, efficient. “Those were the types of ways we dealt with the Burma problem,” she says. The terrace now is beginning to fill – a young Belgian couple, or French, stylish, tapping away on their laptops; then two older American women, blonde, sun- freckled, in loose, colorful dresses; then a MONUC contingent, two Tunisians, an American women, a Malaysian. A French woman joins the American aid workers beside me. There is a project, the American says, her organization is sending an intern to Iraq. “What we need is for someone to sit through the summer and log data,” she says. It sounds hellish. They are prattling on, I‟m drowning in aidspeak, the American is explaining at great length “what‟s really cool about the data set” she‟s acquired. It seems like a terrible way to spend a sunny Sunday morning. Now one of the older American women is approaching the MONUC soldiers, she lives here, it seems, there‟s been a break-in at home. It‟s not the first time, she says. She has a high, shrieking, distressed, hysterical laugh. There is a MONUC base nearby – surely, someone saw something. The Tunisians are poker- faced – their mustaches don‟t even twitch. It is life in a war zone, after all. The days has grown warm, my mood has soured. I finish my drink, pay the bill. It is a long walk up the hill. Again a feeling of restlessness, of unease, comes over me. I am ready, I think, for this trip to end. It seems like madness to think that in less than two weeks, I‟ll be in South Africa – and so much to do before then! I have two edits to run through this week – my New York Times piece on Bujumbura, and finally, at long last, my Sports Illustrated story on the Rwandan cycling team – and I desperately need to crank out some stories for Variety, if I have any hope of actually getting paid this May. My taxes, too, need to be filed this week – impossible to imagine getting to them with the Internet speeds in Goma. I have overextended myself, I think – have just barely gone too long detached from the rest of the world. And still, it has been worth every minute, every penny. It‟s been a very good trip. After lunch I have plans to meet with Jean Luc – Justin‟s brother, a journalist here in Bukavu. He is waiting for me by the market – older, forty- ish, his hair and goatee threaded with white. He greets me effusively, takes me by the hand – bless these Congolese! We go to a local bar, a poured-cement dance hall full of plastic tables and chairs, loud music, drunken voices, overlooking Patrice Lumumba. We order two Sprites, which arrive lukewarm. Jean Luc tells me he reports for a Christian radio station, Neno la Uzina – he translates this roughly as “the Word will save you.” He has been reporting on local news from around South Kivu. “The political situation here is very bad,” he says. Recently he reported on a killing here in Bukavu – he thought there was some link to the security services. But it was impossible to tell who was behind the violence here, he says. “We think that maybe it is because of the political situation,” he says. He shrugs. “Maybe it is someone with the hunger in his stomach.” On the radio he has to stay objective, report just the facts. “As a journalist, I have to keep a narrow view,” he says. He cannot editorialize on the air. “Otherwise, tomorrow” – he draws a finger across his throat. This is not just idle talk. Reporting in Congo is dangerous business – just last week, a journalist was killed in Beni, in the north, under suspicious circumstances. Three journalists have been killed in Bukavu since 2008 – last year, there was a report that some were receiving death threats by text message. It makes Jean Luc‟s job even harder. He cannot do any reporting from the countryside, it is too difficult, too dangerous. He wonders if he might be able to hitch a ride with MONUC. “I am just a poor journalist,” he says, with a sigh. The security situation is always changing – even the peace in Bukavu now is, he knows, a tentative one. The instability in the countryside he blames on the Rwandan genocidaires who have been a cancer in the Kivus since 1994. “You can ask anyone in this restaurant, they will tell you the FDLR is the biggest problem we have,” he says. “If the FDLR leaves tomorrow, everyone will say merci a dieu – thanks to God.” Instead they were in the countryside, they were terrorizing the villages, fighting the FARDC, MONUC, the Mai-Mai militias. Impossible to consider how, sixteen years after the genocide, the aftershocks are still being felt. In Rwanda the FDLR threat remains the government‟s raison d’être – it ensures a perpetual existential crisis, the threat of Tutsi extinction, it allows the government to operate with a free hand. How can anyone question draconian laws against the spread of “genocide ideology” – whatever that might entail – when the Hutu barbarians remain at the gate, ready to finish the job from ‟94? The autho r Gerard Prunier, in Africa’s World War, makes a valid point: Kagame and company know first- hand what a ragtag army can achieve after years in the bush. It can topple a country. But what to do from Kigali? It isn‟t 1997, you can‟t just push your way into the Congo to root out the last of the rebels. And how can the Congolese, with their poorly trained army – as much a threat to villagers as the FDLR – secure their own country? There is no easy solution, no end to the crisis in sight. Jean Luc sighs – like so many Congolese, he remains hopeful, in spite of the evidence at hand. “If the FDLR ever goes back to Rwanda, I think we will have peace here,” he says. Outside it is a brilliant, hot afternoon. We are walking along the Avenue Lumumba, toward La Bote – Jean Luc has an hour to kill before heading to the station. We pass the mayor‟s office – a beautiful, bright blue Art Deco that swoops around a corner – and I pause to take a picture. Jean Luc looks nervous, dissuades me. “People know I am a journalist,” he says, “and tomorrow, they will summon me, they will ask, „Who was that mzungu with you? Why was he taking pictures?‟” Even picture-taking in the Congo comes with a certain peril. Instead we stop, admire the architecture. A MONUC caravan passes – two lorries, an SUV, a jeep with a Pakistani at a mounted gun in the rear. Many of the “casques bleus,” the blue helmets, says Jean Luc, will sneak pictures from inside their vehicles. It must be a strange life for them here. Yesterday, at the market, I watched two Uruguayans, tall and burly, circling among the vegetables. And an Egyptian, assault rifle slung across his chest, waiting while a comrade shopped in an alimentation. The boys selling Fantas and blue jeans called me “amigo.” But then, in 2004, when Laurent Nkunda attacked the city, and the MONUC peacekeepers stood by, there were violent demonstrations against the UN. Jean Marie told me in Bujumbura how he and his friends threw stones at the Uruguayans. One of his rocks clipped a soldier in the helmet. He remembered this detail specifically, recalled it with relish. Down La Bote, turning onto a dirt road, Jean Luc wants to show me where he lives. It is seven kilometers from the center of town. We are on the edge of a hill. “There,” he says, pointing across the bay, to where the tin rooftops of a crowded quartier flash against the sunlight. Nearby we hear laughter – two women and a stout drunk man, leaning against a car. He has heavy- lidded, solicitous eyes, he is trying to convince them he is a gynecologist. They laugh, walk off. He comes to me and Jean Luc, greets us, shakes our hands. “Women need fucking,” he says, swaying from side to side. “I told them I am a doctor. I can show them how.” That night the hotel restaurant is full. A family, a couple, another couple. An older woman with a man, maybe her son, sitting at the next table. She is large, bent over the table, her back rises like a hump. God only knows what mysteries that dress conceals. Her companion is stocky, he might have been an athlete once – now he is all stomach. They‟ve ordered foufou and sambaza, they are demanding, meticulous. They send a plate back, it‟s gone cold, the waiter brings a fresh plate but now the other, half-eaten, is sent back, too. Each time the waiter makes it back to the co unter they hiss, wag their fingers, make some fresh demands. The woman is wearing her glasses on the tip of her nose, the power is out, and she‟s holding the sambaza to the candlelight, inspecting it like a jeweler. Pity these Congolese boys, les petits, the underpaid waiters and porters whose livelihoods depend on these fat, overbearing feudal lords and ladies – the heavy- haunched elites who carry their thrones on their ample behinds. April 12 – Bukavu to Goma In Congo, God Him see. In which to do business is good. Having put myself to bed with solemn intent to make the most of my last day in Bukavu, I wake feeling curiously downbeat – less willing to spend these last few hours exploring the city than curled up with a good book. And so, after breakfast, having passed on the bitter Star brand coffee to save myself for the real thing, I‟m on the back of a moto en route to Orchid Safari, hoping to find the peace that my Sunday morning so badly lacked. And it‟s perfect – I have the place to myself. I order a pot of coffee and kick off my sneakers and again get lost in the hills and valleys of Hemingway‟s Africa. This is a marvelous book. The premise – that a work of non-fiction might follow the rhythms of a single month in a foreign country – has given me courage: why not turn this trip, mixed with stories from Burundi, and memories of the past year in Rwanda, into a brisk travelogue of my time in the Great Lakes? Certainly, for all the academic work coming out of the region, there hasn‟t been much to capture the spirit of traveling here. But is it enough, what I‟ve done and seen here? Is this the book that I want to write? And will anyone care what I have to say? Today I am at peace with such questions – the self-doubt, the usual demons, have taken the day off. It seems possible – anything seems possible. After nearly three years in Africa, I should have a whole bookshelf inside me. South Africa, now, is like both a beacon and a talisman. Once I get there, I know I‟ll be capable of marvelous things. I finish the coffee and then, unhurried, have a beer. Today is a day for reflection, solitude, reverie. I am in a Hemingway mood, I am thinking of landscapes and African skies, morning smells, earth smells, and it‟s all a bit disingenuous, I know, I am a city boy, and these wondrous landscapes are just the backdrop for the stories I want to tell. Hemingway made the hills, the woods, the savannah, characters in his books, he gave them personality, life. But then the Africans, the porters and trackers and native chuckleheads – they became part of the scenery. It‟s a way of writing about Africa that, I‟d like to think, died 50 years ago. These are the thoughts that occupy me on my way back to the hotel, and as I pack my bags. It is almost three when I meet Landry in front of the Tourist, we have time for a farewell drink. He takes me to a place he just discovered last night – a guest house, the owner is a friend of his father‟s, it is down an alley off the Avenue Lumumba. There is a small bar and a furnished living room and an old man sitting at a table, counting a stack of money. It hardly seems like a hidden gem, but then voilà, there is a terrace out back, all the green hills of Bukavu are in front of us, and there is the lake, and suddenly I‟m laughing with Landry, too: yes, it was a marvelous find. We have a quiet beer, I‟m still in my state of reverie, the crows are wheeling in the air, there is the sound of children playing somewhere far below us. Now I am back in Kigali: if I close my eyes it is the same breeze, the same voices coming in through the dining- room window. That was a very good house, the Remera house. I lived there for six months, the light filling the living room, those endless mornings at my laptop, watching the sun creep across the table. Those were some of my happiest days – it says something, I think, that my fondest memories are of me at the dining room table, writing. I try to share some of this with Landry but it‟s no use, he smiles politely – the truest happiness, I think, is impossible to share. It is already after four when we get into his car. He is certain the boat won‟t leave till six, but I‟m foolishly anxious, I haven‟t learned a thing. The ticket says 17h and I can‟t trust Landry‟s inate Congolese sense of things not going according to plan. He knows the MV Iko, he laughs, “I had to make that journey two years ago.” The boat was crowded, there were no rooms for the passengers. “I paid the captain some money – there was a small space in his cabin, and I was able to pass the night,” he tells me. On the way to the port he has to run an errand – someone is waiting for him at the mayor‟s office with some documents. The untroubled pace of this afternoon is starting to distress me – I am, at heart, the sort of traveler who can never be too early. Outside the mayor‟s office a woman is sitting on a stool, running a copy machine off an extension cord through the window. Landry‟s friend arrives with the documents – just a few meters down the road we pull over. “I have been looking for this man,” says Landry, as another car pulls in behind us. There is a friendly palaver between them, Landry makes an introduction, gets back into the car. They are speaking genially in French, I hear the words “dix milles cinq sant,” think nothing of it. Landry reaches into the backseat for his laptop case. I am fretting, checking the time. Then he pulls out a stack of crisp $100 bills – dix milles cinq sant, $10,500 worth – and hands them to his friend. It seems like the sort of transaction one would grow used to in Bukavu. I give Landry a brief, reappraising look and wonder how well I know my friend. But now it is half-past four, and I am focused again on getting to the port before the MV Iko chugs off without me. The port road is busy, a sprawling marketplace, swirls of color – you wouldn‟t see such sights in a tropical aquarium. Down a bumpy dirt road we go, Landry admitting he‟s not sure of the way, ferries and cargo boats being loaded all along the waterfront. We pass a large crowd, a fiery gent – no doubt a pastor – thundering into a microphone. Men directing us along the way, I hop from the car, ticket in hand, ready to make some mad dash to the boat. Foolish of me: there are, of course, “formalités.” We‟re being directed again, led to a warehouse where four ticket agents are sitting in a row. Two are brandishing stamps, all four are brandishing scowls. There is a stamp, a tax, another stamp – Landry butts in, a woman has demanded another tax, he wants to know why. She is cowed – no doubt I looked like an easy mark, but here is Landry, fierce, well-dressed, intelligent – a bulldog in an open-collared shirt with justice on his side. I will not pay the tax without a receipt, he says, and suddenly, her hand is laid bare. She does not protest, she has nothing to say. Landry storms off, still disgusted – me thinking of the $2 I pissed away at the port last week. The commotion of a long journey, of imminent departures. There are boys selling boiled eggs and loaves of bread, men carrying bags of cement and maize meal, loading the cargo bay. The boat is white-washed, sparkling, a veritable Love Boat – as fine a ship as you might want to take on your eight-day Caribbean cruise. But no, someone says, laughing, that‟s not the Iko at all. Sure enough, there is the word “Emmanuel” splashed across the stern. The passengers are walking through the galley, there is the Iko – a small, sordid ferry – docked beside it. I put on a brave face for Landry, who laughs and slaps my back as we part. Across a narrow gangplank, struggling to keep my balance, side-stepping past the yawning maw of the cargo hold. The Iko is bobbing lightly, there is much to-ing and fro-ing – no sign, at just a few minutes to five, that we‟ll be leaving anytime soon. In second class the passengers are crammed in twos and threes into plush love seats, it looks like a second-hand furniture store, there is a great commotion of luggage being passed around, laughter. Upstairs first class is like a living room: two sofas, a love seat, two coffee tables, a flat-screen TV. It is a small, crowded room – I would imagine, in the MV Iko‟s past life, that these were the captain‟s quarters. Instead the first-class passengers – fifteen or twenty, at least – are packing in, looking around with puzzlement, and settling into any available space on the sofas. Most are husky women in bright print dresses, men in abacosts and sport jackets. They are pressed shoulder to shoulder, fidgeting, adjusting their feet – as mirthless a group of Congolese as any I‟ve seen. The prospect of spending a night in that room is grim beyond words. By the time a crew members asks if I‟d like to take my seat – two stout women moving slightly, shifting their heavy haunches – I‟ve already decided to take my chances on the deck. I find a plastic chair beside the captain‟s cabin, settle in. For the second time this month, it seems, I‟ll be spending a night beneath the star-filled sky of Lake Kivu. This is a cheerless start to the voyage. I am thinking of the Miss Rafiki, with its wide, spacious restaurant – all those inviting corners to curl up in for the night. Next to us, in the idling Emmanuel, the first-class lounge is a tease – cush armchairs, plenty of legroom, plastic floral arrangements, half-a-dozen wall- mounted TVs. You could imagine fat men in pleated pants signing peace treaties and telecom deals in such swank quarters. I feel frustrated, duped. I‟m not the only one. Two Congolese men board, give the first- class room a frank look, and start barking at the crew. Soon they are poking their fat aggressive heads into the cabins reserved for shipmates, speaking in low tones, no doubt coming to an arrangement. One of the crewmen crawls into a cubby space beneath the captain‟s cabin. His bare feet poke out from a pile of blankets and pineapples. Commotion all along the shore. Great sacks being hauled into the water on men‟s shoulders, long poles of eucalyptus loaded onto a cargo boat. There is a pile of bricks on the beach, like a funeral cairn, and a pair of pigs rooting through the trash. Two boys in a slender pirogue paddle and drift beside us. One is in a sleeveless red t-shirt, a straw hat, the other is hunched beneath a black windbreaker. They are passing a glowing stub of cigarette back and forth between them. There are nets tangled at their feet, sawed-off jerry cans full of sambaza. The boat comes alive with a rumble, the engine begins to thrum. It is almost six, and still there is a merry commotion of passengers boarding. Shouts from the waterfront, a great body of movement – a thief, perhaps, caught in the act, facing mob justice. A bright red Zodiac boat putters by, a soldier squatting beside a belt- fed machine gun. I smile and wave, and he smiles and waves back. The sun has vanished beneath the hills. The light is gray, murky. Suddenly we lurch forward, we begin to pull away from shore. Past the wooden cargo boats, marvelous crafts as long as the Iko, as old as the Congo, past the narrow pirogues bobbing in the bay, full of grim staring fishermen, past the rusted ferries fallen, I hope, into disuse. A dozen motorcycles are in shallow water, their drivers running wet rags over the spokes and handlebars. And then Bukavu diminishes behind us, tiny pinpoints of light flicker on, and we are chugging out across the lake. It is a beautiful, clear night. There is a tumult now, a joyful shared energy of a long journey just beginning. The first-class lounge-cum-dormitory is alive with laughter, the loud din of cramped quarters. Congolese music videos are playing on the TV; bottles of beer have suddenly materialized on deck. The hills are dark, there are storm clouds in the distance, we can see flashes of lightning on the horizon. This is, of course, of no small interest to me as I hunker down on the deck. At the front of the boat loud voices – soldiers with their rough boastful ways, arguing good- heartedly about something. Radios crackling with static, ring tones like the nighttime chirrups of some exotic insects. The fishermen are paddling out as the darkness deepens, their brightly lit lanterns flaring up and down the lake. Cooking smells begin to waft across the boat, two boys rush back and forth with stacks of covered plates. There is a pot of something, cabbage and tomato sauce, maybe, bubbling on a charcoal brazier down below. In my haste to get to the port before the hypothetical departure time, I hadn‟t bought anything – no glucose biscuits, no ndazi, no loaves of dry bread. I‟m hungry, two men nearby – friends of the captain‟s – are picking at a hunk of foufou and half a fried fish. I flag down the waiter, order foufou and meat – “ugali et nyama” – hoping for the best. The wait is long, the others have already finished, they‟re licking their fingers with relish. Finally here comes the timid bustling boy, dodging bodies on the deck. He pours cold water from a pitcher over my hands. The foufou is warm, the meat is all fat and bone. I probe a bit with my teeth – I was mistaken. There‟s not a single piece of bone on my plate. It is meat, all meat, with the texture and toughness of a spare tire. It is nine o‟clock, it is ten, it is eleven. They‟re playing action movies in the lounge – shootouts, car chases rattle the lake‟s silence. Approaching midnight they prepare the room for bed – the coffee tables removed, two stiff foam mattresses laid across the carpeting. When I look into the room half an hour later, there are bodies sprawled and tangled everywhere. Heads and feet poke from blankets on the floor, on the sofas. If I‟d wanted, I‟m sure I could have squeezed in somewhere, found a little nook between two pairs of oversized buttocks. Outside the night has cooled, but it is still pleasant, manageable. The hard part, I know, will be at three, at four. And still I am watching the sky, looking for signs of rain. I‟ve unpacked a few extra layers and just managed to doze of in my chair when a boy joins me. He is 20, a student in Goma, he only speaks French, I don‟t catch his name. He had already circled the deck twice, lingered in the shadows – working up the nerve, I suspect, to talk to me. And so talk he does – and talk, and talk. I‟m grumpy and sleepy and feeling uncharitable, I can‟t help it – even as I curse myself for being such a bastard, I behave like a total bastard. My answers are terse, I volunteer nothing. Each time I close my eyes and begin to nod off, again I hear his high, hysterical voice. Am I married? I am not. “Pourquoi?” Do I have brothers? Are they married? They are not. “Pourquoi?” Every detail of my life is dissected, examined, and then subjected to an incredulous “Pourquoi?” It would be hard enough to bear this late-night inquisition in English. In French, it is intolerable. But now the conversation has attracted others, and the lively din from the captain‟s quarters – he seems to have three, four others sharing his room – spills onto the deck. A short man, very drunk, lurches my way. In the dark I can barely make out his dress, the features of his broad face, but it seems he is military – a colonel, he says, in the FARDC. I wonder to myself if I‟ve happened upon the first pygmy officer in the Congolese army – he is tiny, he barely reaches my chin. He is in Bukavu with Operation Amani Leo – the latest MONUC-backed attempt to root out the FDLR in the Kivus – but now he is on his way to Goma to lodge a complaint. He has not been paid in two months – “Deux mois!” he says, stomping his little foot. I do not know who is footing the bill for Amani Leo – the Congolese government? the UN? – but I am hardly surprised at this peacekeeping on the cheap. I remember meeting a Burundian soldier in Bujumbura – a peacekeeper with the African Union‟s ANISOM force in Somalia. That mission had been supported by the international community – who could argue with sending African cannon fodder to Mogadishu? – but the pledges from Europe had not been honored, the peacekeepers hadn‟t been paid in months. The Burundian soldier had had to pay his own way to Kampala to catch the transport plane to Somalia. He had borrowed the money from his wife – a fact that filled him with great shame. The colonel is a voluble little man, comically drunk: the way he lurches from side to side, you would think we were pitching about on high seas. He says his name is Christophe Mukubwa – we joke about this irony, Mukubwa, from the Swahili “kubwa,” or big. His father, he explains, was an important chief. When he hears I am a Christophe, too, he embraces me with great feeling: first, taking me by the shoulders; and then, in the Congolese manner, greeting me with a series of head bumps – left, then right, then bumping foreheads. I am in the colonel‟s good graces. He is complaining bitterly about the Congolese army. He would like to change its image, improve discipline, regulate pay, boost morale – but how could he, Christophe Mukubwa, accomplish it? “Je ne suis pas haut,” he says. He is just a small fish. There were majors above him, lieutenants, generals. Most of these, he knows, have it in their best interests to maintain the status quo. They profited greatly. How many generals and majors, I wonder, are building those grand lakeside villas in Goma and Bukavu? But Christophe has heard I am a journalist – I had mentioned it to Pourquoi earlier, I don‟t know where he‟s going with this. An exposé of FARDC wrong-doings? I prefer not to get my hands dirty. Yes, yes, I explain, I am a journalist – but in America only, I‟m on vacation here. He nods, yes, of course, it makes perfect sense. He wants to hear all about my impressions of Congo. Then he turns to take a whiz off the side of the boat. More lightning flashes. I‟m expecting the worst, bracing for the cold and the rain, but so far the weather has held out. The insomniacs are out now – the star-gazers, the heavy drinkers, huddling against the railing. A boy begins talking to me – he is the waiter from earlier, who spent the long dinner hour being barked and hissed at. His name is Espoir: Hope. He is 17, a first-born son; with his job aboard the Iko he supports a younger brother and sister, his ailing parents. It is all he has done since he was forced to leave school at 14. “The month they bring me ten dollars, so I cannot do anything with the life,” he says. In a few hours, at three, he will begin preparing the tea for breakfast. In Goma he will get an hour or two to rest; then he is off to the market, he has to buy meat and vegetables and fish, he comes back to the boat to begin preparing for dinner. Sleep, when he gets it, comes in brief snatches. He is friendly, soft-spoken, laughing, resigned. “God Him see,” he says, shaking his head. “In Congo, God Him see.” The night deepens. The stars trail across the sky. One by one the others drop off, I huddle up in my seat, wrap myself in extra layers. I sleep fitfully – 20 minutes, 30 minutes, then my head snaps up as someone steps gingerly by. The crew are sprawled out on the deck, wrapped in blankets, sleeping on foam mattresses. From the captain‟s quarters, the sounds of more bottles being popped open. It is a long night. By five, dimly, I can see the glow of Nyiragongo through a thin veil of clouds. It is still a long way off. The wind has suddenly picked up, the temperature has dropped – this last hour is a bitter one. I am doubled over in my seat, trying to use my raincoat to block the wind. Finally, gray light over the hills. The flag snaps briskly at the helm. Goma, at last, comes into view. The lake is the color of a battleship, the sky like armor. Sleepy bodies emerge from the first- class cabin, barefoot, toothbrushes poking from between their lips. Much foam- mouthed spitting over the side. Passengers standing at the helm, baring their teeth to the wind. It is half-past six, we are chugging into the bay. Someone tells me we will arrive within the hour. Pourquoi is back, and another boy, a student, who speaks some English. We stand against the railing, leaning over the side. There was a plane crash in 199 4, says the student, the wreckage has never been found. “The lake is very profound,” he says, staring into its mysterious depths. Pourquoi feels excluded by the conversation, I can tell. I throw out conciliatory phrases in French, tell brief, aimless stories hemmed in by the language barrier. I behaved badly toward him last night, and feel a need to make amends. This could have been a memorable passage for him, we could have spanned the continents with our conversations under that star- filled sky. I was sulking, uncharitable – a real jerk. We are chatting more amiably now – I want only for us to part on the best of terms – but now others are coming out of the first-class cabin, fresh, alert, grinning as they butt into the conversation with well-turned English phrases. Pourquoi inches along the railing, he can‟t follow the words. I don‟t notice when he finally, quietly slips away. A man, forty- ish, traces of gray in his hair, approaches me. He is slightly unkempt, as if this weren‟t the first night he‟d spent sleeping in his clothes. He wears two gold rings and his pinkies, by some genetic mishap, are tiny, unformed, they twist out to the side like baby prawns. I am fascinated by these freakish fingers. “To do business in Congo is very, very good,” says this man, Fidele, his little pinkies twitching. He works in minerals – a good sector, I say, nodding approvingly, as if I might just be looking to expand my portfolio. I ask about dealing with the government – a breeze, he assures me. “I go to the office, small money here, small money here, it is done,” he says, making a brisk gesture with his hand. For a foreigner, of course, it is not so easy, the government is always looking for handouts. But that is simple enough, he says. “You can find a partner, a Congolese, and he will handle everything for you,” says faithful Fidele. He gives me a significant look, and I imagine I wouldn‟t have to look too far to find the partner he has in mind. Fidele has traveled – he has been to the UK, Europe. He makes a contemptuous face. “Je ne peux pas preferer l’europe,” he says, shaking his head vigorously. The life here in Congo is good – the soil is rich, there is so much money to be made. He gestures to a magnificent lakeside villa – it would not seem out of place on the French Riviera. “In Congo, you can have that house in a few years,” he says, his voice swelling with admiration. “In America, you will work your whole life.” A horror, like a sudden chill, comes over him. “Fucking job,” he says, then again, with a venomous sort of mirth: “Fucking job!” I am vague about my own fucking job, I travel, I say ambiguously, as if I, too, might be a fortune- hunter like Fidele. He senses a kindred spirit, he writes his name and contact info on a slip of paper and underscores the point that I can call him anytime. “It is very good for a businessman in Congo,” he says, almost choked with emotion. He offers a parable: he went to London in 2005, he was trying to export Kivu coffee beans to the UK. But there were so many officials with prying eyes, so many taxes and laws! Even now, Fidele can‟t shake the bad feeling that came over him five years ago on a business trip to London. How could anyone manage to make a dishonest living? Behind Fidele is an older man, handsome, dignified, in a brown suit and a black mock turtleneck. He is pointing a camcorder at the boat, at the hills – hell would be an endless loop of African home videos, I think. I tell him he looks like a tourist but he laughs, shakes his head. He is from Goma, but he has two daughters studying in America, in Arkansas, he likes to take pictures to send them. I do not catch his name, he says he is the director of the central bank in Goma – Fidele has grown quiet, he takes a sudden interest in the waves. The man is hoping to visit his daughters this year – he is going to America in June, to Maui, for a month- long seminar. I give him a second look. “I‟m in the wrong line of work,” I say. He laughs genially, pans his camera across the waterfront. Now there is a commotion of voices, movement. It is half-past seven, and we are finally pulling into port. It has been an endless day – how many of these days have I known in Africa, these marathon journeys. I gather my things, haul them downstairs, through too-narrow doorways. Porters have begun climbing aboard the Iko, pirate-style, taking the stairs in twos and threes. The passengers queue with surprising patience; a chicken, too, waits with a solemn gravity for which its species is not known. Now we are bumping and pushing onto the waterfront, a riot of porters, soldiers, waiting relations. An official, the same official who shook me down for 500 francs last week, spots me in the crowd. One last indignity, I tell myself. He takes me to customs, more scribbling, more stamps, but a surprise: there is no tax to be paid. The ports have squeezed me as dry as they‟re going to squeeze me. I hop onto the back of a moto, we make our way along the muddy port road. The sun is over the hills, a bright gold medallion, and I‟m facing my last two days in Congo. April 13 – Goma Save the world. In which a friendship is remembered. The temptation, when I reach my room at the Cirezi, is to catch up on the sleep I missed aboard the ferry. But there‟s an adrenaline buzz as I listen to the commotion of street traffic: I am wired and happy to be back. Besides, it seems like a waste to spend my penultimate day lying in bed. Outside the early- morning rush, the congestion along the Sake road, invigorates me. I buy a new notebook – I‟ve been burning through pages – and take a moto to Nyira for my morning coffee. The end of this trip is in sight now, I am stumbling toward conclusions, in the mood for stock-taking. It has been a prolific month for my writing – maybe my most productive ever. By the time this journal wraps up in two days‟ time, I will have written, I think, more than 70,000 words – a small book‟s worth, over the course of four manic weeks. It‟s a bit extraordinary, really. So much, too, has been left out – by sheer necessity, by a need to give my hand and mind a rest. (And, in fairness, by the fact that most of what I‟ve already written could use a good edit.) I‟m tired today after the long night, but there‟s a greater mental exhaustion, too, an emotional need to put this trip – and journal – to rest. Some days it has been too much effort to sit, remember, record; but I‟ve tried to leave out as little as possible, to give my future self – when the time comes to give this account some coherence – all the raw material to work with. I‟ve made the mistake in the past, I know, left too much to the uncertainty of memory. And there will be no time, besides, to catch up in the coming days and weeks. Kigali will be a blur – seven days, ten, with so much to do. And then, of course, Johannesburg. The morning drags, I‟m exhausted – already I am scaling back the day‟s expectations, hoping to simply slog my way toward nightfall. Tomorrow I can make the trip to Sake, just 25 kilometers from the city, to see a Congo beyond (however slightly) the protected shells of Goma and Bukavu. Today is for Goma – the ash-gray streets, the palls of dust, the cloud-spewing peak of Nyiragongo. I have decided today to call on my friend, Malick Ngiama, a man I‟d met when I visited Goma with Prudent in November. He was a short, kind, generous man, he had walked with us through the streets and taken us to the office – the one-roomed, dirt- floored, tin-roofed shack – of his organization, the Save the World and Handicapped Association. He had started it himself, because there were so many handicapped in Goma who had nothing, did nothing – they were shunned, they sat on the street outside the university, or Kivu Market, begging passersby. “There were these people, and no one was helping them, so I wanted to help them,” he said. It was a modest enterprise – he had no Western figurehead, no foreign funding – but each week the members would gather, there were more than 30, and Ngiama would teach them some job skills, would teach them English. His own English was cobbled together from stories he had read online, conversations with foreigners. “I manage and I use the computer to find new words, and immediately I teach them to my students,” he said. He painted, too: he showed us pictures of the volcano, landscapes, a self-portrait with neatly cropped hair and a thin scrawl of mustache above his lip. His office is along the Sake road, down a small hill – I‟m sure I‟ll remember it when I spot it. I haven‟t heard from Ngiama in months, and I want this visit to be a surprise – to walk through the door, smiling, to clasp him warmly by the shoulders, start furiously bumping heads. The day is sunny, hot – I can feel the sunblock streaking down my face. All the commerce and hustle and thrift of this sun- flushed boulevard: the clack of a chukudu racing, weighted with bags of USAID maize meal; the throaty laughter of a woman sitting behind piles of pineapples, little pyramids of tomatoes and lemons and oranges the color of limes; motos pressed against each other, carrying a man with a car axle, another with five plastic chairs stacked atop his head; a lorry loaded with bales of grass – coming from where? going to where? – and women, laughing, flashing their teeth, sitting high up top. I walk past the brightly decorated storefronts – Maison Glory, Atelier la Grace, Mini Alimentation Gloire a Dieu – and past a furniture shop, newly built sofas and armchairs sitting on the side of a hill, casual buyers looking, stroking the fabric, like the pelt of some exotic beast. Outside a DVD shop, a flatbed truck floating a banner for the Tigo cellphone network has attracted a crowd, there are tall speakers playing loud music to a curious crowd. Little boys in torn shorts come racing by, pushing toy trucks made from wires, from milk cartons and bottle caps. People sitting outside shops, sitting in an old abandoned minibus – a perfect Congolese snapshot, the wheels have come off, it‟s going nowhere. After twenty minutes I know something is wrong. I have walked further along the Sake road than I‟ve ever walked before, I should have passed Ngiama‟s office already. I continue walking – past a new hotel, an abandoned petrol station, clothing shops, hair salons – and then I turn back to retrace my steps. By the time I reach Cirezi, I know it‟s no use: Ngiama‟s office is gone. I feel a terrible pang of sadness and longing in my chest – why hadn‟t I emailed Ngiama before coming, why hadn‟t I told him I was already in Goma? It is already late in the day, I don‟t have his phone number – I know there is almost no chance that Ngiama, a poor man, will check his email in the next day. Usually it takes days, sometimes weeks, for him to respond. And I think of what became of his modest tin shack hung with paintings, his villages and volcanoes and bucolic rural scenes. Last month there was a story in the Globe and Mail about this city, and the mayor‟s mad scheme to relieve congestion by broadening the roads. It was done in a typically brutal, heavy-handed, Congolese fashion: one afternoon, without warning, gangs of young thugs with sledgehammers and crowbars showed up along the Sake road, tearing down houses and shops. Panicked men and women ran distressed into the street, watching helplessly as their livelihoods were destroyed. The local government offered them no compensation. Is this what happened to Ngiama? Was the Save the World and Handicapped Association caught up in the demolitions? This sadness weighs on me all afternoon – it only seems to add to my heaviness on a day that has begun to drag, to darken along the edges. I have been looking forward, these last few days, to stepping off the bus in Kigali; to hopping on the back of a moto and puttering up to Andrea‟s house; to having a farewell round of pizzas and Peronis at Sol e Luna before boarding my flight to Joburg. But suddenly I feel less ready to leave Goma – who knows how long it will be before I am again walking along the Sake road, wiping the grit from my eyes, joking with some jobless youth about Kabila and Obama? (Last year, on this same road, I had chanced upon a political rally with Prudent – supporters of one of Mobutu‟s sons, who was slated to run in some parliamentary election. They wore yellow t-shirts with the old Leopard‟s face emblazoned on them, a lingala slogan that they translated as, “We will never forget you.” The irony was utterly lost on them: no, the Congo would not forget Mobutu anytime soon.) It is strange what you cling to as a traveler – these lunatic attachments to places that so often break your heart. Will I ever see Malick Ngiama again? I remember how he took my hand in both of his and shook it warmly as we parted; I remember his lopsided mustache, the slight limp as he hobbled across his city of ashes, hoping to save the handicapped, and the world. Walking, lost in these thoughts, the day delivers a happy surprise: Pa trick, the young guy I‟d met some three weeks ago on the bus from Kigali to Gisenyi. It seems so providential to bump into him on the side of the road, especially with my spirits so low. We greet happily – much head-bumping commences. Things are going well for him here in Goma, work is going well; he is on his way just now to make some photocopies for the office, he has a manila envelope under his arm. There‟s no time to share with him all the stories from these past three weeks, so we make plans to have a goodbye drink the next night, a few beers at his favorite watering hole. We both laugh loudly, stupidly – what are the odds! It is the sort of symmetry, the closing of the circle, that makes my writer‟s heart swell. Groggy now, having set a plan in motion for my last day in Goma, I‟m beginning to wave a white flag on this endless day. Tomorrow I would like to be rested; so long as the DJ at Sun City cooperates, I can make it an early night, have a full, energetic day ahead of me – in Sake, and here in Goma. I treat myself to one last meal at Coco Jamboo – the finest burgers I‟ve had on African soil – and fork over some of my last few American bucks. I‟ve worked it out perfectly, almost to the last cent: I‟ll have just enough to make it through my final day and back into Rwanda. There is a light, finally, at the end of the tunnel. It is almost like going home. April 14 – Goma, Sake, Gisenyi You have to be courage to live he re. In which the whole thing ends. Since arriving in Goma nearly two weeks ago, the Sake road has been like an artery – not only of traffic, of which there was plenty, but of the clatter and commotion and commerce that is the lifeblood of this city. The UN trucks and chukudus, the SUVs flying the flags of the Western aid agencies, the motorbikes, the pall of dust, the beggars and cripples, the street kids, the college kids, the women with their loaves of bread and baskets of tomatoes, the men with their polished shoes and briefcases stepping cautiously around puddles the size of Lake Kivu: if you wanted to grapple with and understand life in Goma today, there seemed to be no better place to start than this ash-gray, dust-choked road that continues on to a town called Sake, which I‟m only now, on my last day in the Congo, setting out to see. The minibus is crowded. Our feet are squeezed beside buckets and plastic bags, green leafy shoots poking from the tops. There are mostly women onboard, they have suitcases in their laps and wedged beneath their seats. Beside them, picking at the exposed seat stuffing, curled into their sides, strapped to their backs, nursing at their bosoms, are at least a dozen children – a small schoolroom‟s worth of boys and girls in dirty shorts and torn tulle dresses with bare, dusty feet. Beside me a well-dressed man, knees hunched up to his chest, tells me he works with MSF, he is on his way upcountry to see his father. Another man in a threadbare jacket boards, holding four suits on wire hangers. “Sir!” he says, beaming, seeing me in the rear. He is selling the suits for $30 each. We barrel through town, past the place where last year I met 700 IDPs living in a ragged tent city behind a church. The IDPs are gone now – like those who were staying in UN- sponsored camps around Goma, they‟ve returned to their homes in Walikale and Masisi and beyond – but along the road we pass vestiges of their presence, the ghosts of wars past that have left so many Congolese living their poor, transitory lives. There are houses made from sticks and banana leaves and mud; the roofs a nd windows are covered with UNHCR tarps, the doors are made from USAID scrap metal. In the fields we pass unfinished stone walls, like the relics of medieval villages; we pass concrete foundations for homes that were never built, pillars and corner stones laid with hope and uncertainty. It is beautiful country here. Just minutes from the city everything is lush, there are rows of vegetables in the fields, the hills are cultivated with small, neat plots of beans and manioc. In the distance, the scalloped folds of a green mountain range skirt the lake‟s shores; the water is flat and silver as a saucepan. A pair of military helicopters fly overhead. We stop at checkpoints, and more checkpoints. Someone has words with the driver, soldiers circle the matatu, staring into the windows. In nearly three years of traveling in Africa, I have never felt so vulnerable and conspicuous. We are waved through; the gears make terrible grinding noises. Further down the road we are stopped again. A young girl sits beside me in a gold party dress, the zipper is broken, it slips off her small shoulders. She smiles and swings her bare feet. An infant is bundled to her mother‟s back, its eyes wide and alert. A soldier gets in, clutching a small blue suitcase in his slender hand. We reach Sake, where the conductor shakes me down for 200 or 300 francs more than the going rate. It is the equivalent of 30 cents, but I take this in stride: I have other things on my mind. The unease I felt aboard the matatu – the hard bearing eyes of the soldiers at the checkpoints – hasn‟t let up here in town. There are no friendly cries of “Mzungu!” as I step into the road; instead a man, another passenger, takes me gently by the elbow and says, “Be careful, there are many thieves here.” Suddenly the pho ne, the camera in my pockets feel like big, conspicuous bricks. A few youths, hangabouts, part-time bike mechanics and carwashers, crowd close to me, for what seems like no good reason. Two women braiding hair on the side of the road look up at me to stare. I have felt this sort of discomfort before – in the frontier towns of northern Kenya, Uganda – and always it has passed once I‟ve had a few minutes to walk around, get my bearings. It doesn‟t pass here. As I walk down the main road – a row of spare shops on one side, a listless market on the other – I can feel wary eyes following me. I‟m hoping to find some friendly, eager face to latch onto – a local aid worker, a school teacher – but I get only a few reluctant smiles. There is a lump in my throat about the size of a fist. I walk to the end of the road – the town is ringed by green hills, it is breathtaking. Two years ago Laurent Nkunda‟s troops fought the ragtag Congolese army on these same hilltops. I can imagine how the sounds of gunfire and grenade b lasts reverberated across the valley – it must have been terrifying when night fell. Two men are chatting under a tree, they are in their 30s or 40s, it is impossible to predict what time and care do to these Congolese faces. They call out in my direction and I approach them, smiling, ever eager, like a real village idiot. We exchange a few greetings, and quickly a crowd gathers. There are the usual questions – about where I am from, and what I am doing here – and I can hear my responses dopplering across the crowd. “New York” pings out to an old man at the crowd‟s edges; then “America,” moving quickly from mouth to mouth. I don‟t tell them I am a journalist; I say simply that I‟m traveling, a voyageur, as if this meant anything. I‟m not entirely sure, after all, that “journalist” is the most accurate job description – would “travel blogger” translate easily into French or Kiswahili? Why exactly am I in Sake, after all? So I could see it. Why? There is no satisfactory answer to this. Their questions have a hard edge to them; while I don‟t feel especially threatened, I can‟t say I‟ve heard all that many karibus, either. There is a sense of expectation, for lack of a better way to put it: that if a white man pitches up in Sake one afternoon, it is because he ha s some motive for coming. Judging from some of the hard looks in the crowd, I can assume such motives aren‟t always good. I feel ill at ease when the invariable requests come: for some small money, just enough to buy milk, or bread. The crowd is in the dozens now – for all my travels in rural Africa, I‟ve never seen such a crowd materialize around me so quickly – and there‟s no way I can give any amount of money that would appease them all. I apologize, I say I have nothing. There are nods – some sympathetic, others less so, as if they‟d expected no less treachery. A small boy comes up to me, offering to sell his slingshot. I feel stupid being here. I apologize again, at elaborate length, shaking as many hands as I can, working the crowd like a politician, doing my best to extricate myself from a situation that‟s growing more and more uncomfortable by the second. I walk back down the market street, my steps a little bit quicker now, it almost feels like I‟m walking in someone else‟s shoes. Approaching the taxi rank I meet a smartly dressed man carrying a thick brown envelope under his arm. He is a former primary school teacher, his name is Anselme, he has been out of work for months now, he says, sighing, laughing, what can you do. It is not like the life in America. “You have come to be fat,” he says. “You take meat, you take beans, you take potatoes, you take milk.” A fraying belt is cinched tightly across his waist – it is clear that Anselme does not take these things. The life in Sake is bitter, it is hard. “We go to school, but we have not the job,” says Anselme, kicking the dirt from his shoes. His wife owns a small shop beside the taxi rank; she rises when we enter, smoothes her dress, smiles and offers me a Fanta. We sit for a few minutes on a pair of oversized armchairs, talking, looking out into the street. A young girl takes a few brave, wobbly steps from behind the counter – it is their daughter, she wears a pretty white dress, she is barely five. Anselme smiles and lifts her into my lap. We all la ugh, make gurgling noises, try to quell the trembling of her lower lip. I think of these small, generous acts by Anselme and his wife and feel embarrassed: what about Sake has gotten me so spooked? Thanking them for their time, rushing to catch a matatu that‟s about to leave for Goma, I feel ashamed, as if I‟m running away from something. For the twenty minutes it takes us to reach town, I try to figure out what it is. Back in town I feel dejected, I was hoping to have a rousing send-off today but instead feel like a part of me was wrong, wrong about Congo and everything. The sky is low, a light rain is falling. I walk to the end of the Sake road, turn, the rain is steady, the clouds are flat and gray, it looks like they‟re stretched across the whole of Congo. The cars rush by, their windows are fogged, the drivers stare grimly ahead. Across the road I hear music, loud and tinny and discordant notes carrying through the air. I wonder if there is some political rally, some public- health crusade, but no, there are two churches side by side, one is clapboard, the other is built from corrugated tin, and they both have gospel music blasting from their cheap Chinese speakers. Inside the benches are mostly empty – it is a Wednesday afternoon – but still there are some women and children clapping, singing, shuffling from side to side. I stand there watching, listening, trying to understand this faith and devotion and rapture. One of the women joyously wags her hands. Another has a tin can full of beans that she shakes in time to the music. Out front are a dozen buses and lorries, a few men in soiled overalls circle, carrying wrenches and spanners. There are others sitting beside a giant Caterpillar bulldozer, they are drivers and mechanics, but they say they have not had work for weeks. Maybe I can give them something for bananas? “Pole sana,” I say. I‟m sorry. “Pole sana,” he says, and then, as I‟m walking away, “Pole Congolaise.” The confusion, the sudden sadness and bitterness I feel, doesn‟t lift on the way back to Cirezi, and it doesn‟t pass until I‟ve found a cheery watering hole close to the hotel. It is exactly what my sagging spirits need: music, laughter, brochettes, and bottles of Primus about the size of my forearm. There are dozens of tables and chairs arranged around a gravel courtyard, and a white-tile dancefloor with a disco ball twirling over it. It is hardly six, but a number of parties seem to be deep into their Wednesday-night drinking sessions already. The lighting is dim; I can barely make out the faces around me. The waitresses with their crowded serving trays bustling through the dark like shadows. The music is mellow, Congolese: an easy guitar rhythm, a lilting male voice riding the chords with some lovesick ode. A single couple gets up and sways side to side on the dancefloor. She is a husky girl in a pink tank-top and pink skirt; he, slender, in blue jeans and a shiny red shirt, clutches her like a live preserver. In the background, the clack-clacking of pool balls. Twice the power goes out as I labor through my brochettes. There is genial laughter as the Christmas lights and disco ball again flicker to life over the dancefloor. This is the Congo, after all. There are graver things to worry about on a night when, for now at least, the world is at peace. An hour later I am on the back of a motorbike, puttering down the Sake road to meet Patrick. He is waiting for me in front of a small, fluorescent- lit bottle shop; outside, on the road‟s shoulder, a few plastic tables and chairs are occupied by a boozy crowd. Two groups of men are drinking, conversing in loud tones, their eyes glazed over. Now and then a waitress will come out to get pawed and sweet-talked. Patrick watches all this sullenly; the waitress, it seems, is a former sweetheart. I suggest moving the party to Sun City, but he balks. “At Sun City, there is many violence,” he says. “They like to take the bottles, to fight.” The merry commotions I‟d heard night after night through the wall, it seems, were not altogether merry. We sit on the roadside, drinking lukewarm beers, watching the occasional lorry come barreling down the road. Many truck drivers prefer to travel at night, says Patrick, to avoid the bribes they have to pay during the day. It was something I witnessed that afternoon, when the conductor aboard my matatu hopped out at a light and exchanged a brief greeting with a policewoman. As we drove away, I could see her through the rear window, unfolding the 100- franc notes he had pressed into her palm. This was nothing – this was Congolese life. You put up with these daily hassles, you kept your head down and you worked and you hoped for the best. Things are looking up, says Patrick. It‟s not like it was in 2008, when Nkunda and his troops had threatened the city. Then the general‟s Rwandan sponsors turned on him; today he awaits a war-crimes trial that many in the Great Lakes prefer not to see. Who knows what names will be named? Even now, says Patrick, you had the Rwandans poking their noses around near Walikale, looking to exploit the region‟s great mineral wealth. He remembers the chaos a decade ago, after the Rwandans had chased out Mobutu and decided, on their way back to Kigali, that the Kivus weren‟t such a bad place after all. Suddenly a tiny, mineral- less country was exporting diamonds and gold. “They invent a war when they want to make money,” says Patrick, shaking his head. War and profits are two things these Kivu Congolese know something about. But now they are getting on with their lives. Patrick is making a good life for himself here, he says. “If you are intelligent, you are able to make money here,” he says. It‟s not like the problems in South Kivu, where he was born. “In Bukavu, there is too much tribalism,” he says. “Here, they will give you a job because you are inte lligent, because you are able.” Patrick, intelligent and able, has managed to find a place for himself here. And even if things sour, he says, with a shrug, he has learned more than a few things about survival. With five dollars, he says, he can last for two weeks – 200 francs for the bus to work, $1 for a sack of beans that can last for days. This knowledge, this grim arithmetic of survival, is another part of Congolese life. “You have to be courage to live here,” he says. We finish our beers and exchange promises to keep in touch, hoping our paths might cross again. I tell him to look me up if he ever makes it to Johannesburg – from here, an impossible journey – and he says why not, laughing, clapping my shoulder. “If you tell me they have beer, they have girls, I like to travel there,” he says. And then I climb on the back of a motorbike to take me home. Coda – April 15 The rain now seems endless, the same rain falling on me yesterday afternoon is falling on me again, it is turning the streets to mud, it is raining on all of Congo. Lying in bed last night, I had thought of taking one last valedictory tour around town this morning, looking for some message or prophecy from this place I hardly know. But the sky is a low gray canvas, the clouds are grumbling, it is time to go, I think, packing my bags, resting my duffel on one knee on the back of a moto, time to go as I buy samosas at Kivu Market for the trip to Kigali, as I press my last few dollars into my moto driver‟s soggy palm at the border, it is time, I think, time to go home. The Virunga Punctuel is musty, the windows are fogged – the rain has soured everybody‟s moods. It is like being packed into a funeral hearse. Slowly we bump over the terrible Gisenyi roads, lurch over the rocks until we find the smooth pavement. People begin to stretch their legs, talk quietly into their cell phones. Just a mile from the border, and already life has returned to the strange sort of normalcy of today‟s Rwanda. I had thought this bus ride would bring with it a rush of feelings, an emotional coda to the past month‟s travels. But there‟s none of that: my mind is washed blank. I tug at my soggy shorts, try to peel myself from the damp pant legs of the man sitting next to me. I rest my chin on my backpack, stare at the floor, and begin counting the hours until Kigali. You feel tempted, at the end of a journey, to take stock, to square your mental accounts and make sure the emotional ledger is balanced. But after so many words, it feels like there‟s nothing left to say. My back is to the Congo, and I wonder, now, if I‟ll ever find my way there again, if I‟ll get to know the country beyond its twin Kivu border posts. In Goma they had said it was a two-day journey to Kisangani – the roads were good, they did not say it was dangerous, it was impossible or crazy: just that it was two days‟ time. For a few minutes I think about this on the Virunga bus, think about what I would do if I had the money and the weeks to spend. Probably I could get into a minibus in Goma, or climb on top of some transport truck with the husky singing women and beanpole men who live their brave, thrifty lives in the interior. It was two days to Kisangani; and surely there was some other place just a day from there, and another, and on and on, until you reached Kinshasa or New York or the ends of the earth. That will be a trip for another time – today, just the thought exhausts me. I watch the hills of Rwanda out the window, hear the words forming in my head. (I watch the hills of Rwanda…) I think of what last words there are to say, and I decide that it‟s simply a matter of reaching the end, of putting down your pen when you‟ve decided there‟s nothing left. And then it‟s done.
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