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You can now find us here: www.bonoboincongo.com.

Seat-Sore between Kindu and the Okapi Reserve

After Kindu I met John in Beni and we continued to the Okapi Reserve to meet with two TL2 team leaders. We arrived in Epulu completely beat and painfully saddle sore.
finally in Epulu just before midnight
It was nearly midnight when we finally arrived at our home in the Okapi Reserve.

Traveling through Congo is never easy, but it should have improved along the RN4 (National Route 4) between Beni and the Okapi Reserve, after all the Chinese road crews had worked well over a year. What’s the problem? Since the war began and the road became impassable for bigger vehicles, John and I have ridden the backs of motorbikes more times than we can count. The war is now over and the road has been “repaired”. So, why is it worse?

Reason one: The Ituri River bridge is out so we decided to take the “short cut”. How so? Within weeks after the Chinese improved the bridge, a Kenya-bound truck carrying nearly twice the permitted weight in illegal wood tried to cross the bridge. The result below. And yes, lives were lost.
An overloaded truck took it down
A week after collapse.
less than a month after collapse
Compare this early picture of ferrying people across the Ituri to the busy commerce (below) that we found now, more than a year later

Reason two: Three days of rain had turned the “short cut” into a slick with soup filled pits. We were still traveling (sometimes on foot) well after dark.
trudging the road at night
Along the worst stretches we let the bikes struggle by themselves and we trudged behind. There were plenty of “worst” stretches.

Reason three: Face it – bad bikes. Even if the “motards” or drivers were courageous these flimsy Chinese-made SENKES did not measure up to our usual Yamaha AG100s.

So, for the return trip we followed the Chinese-repaired RN4 all the way back and crossed by boat at the Ituri.
loading our bikes
Loading the motorbikes into a boat. It is no longer dugouts (see above) at the crossing. Big business deserves “big” boats.
in line to cross Ituri
Waiting our turn to pull the boat across this massive Ituri River, still 800 km upstream from where it dumps into the Congo River.
in the boat
John perched in the bow as they begin to pull the boat across.
nearing the east bank of the Ituri
As we approached the east bank we could see the trucks lined up mainly waiting for wood.
child labor unloading planks
Boys well under 16 were helping with the unloading.
palm oil and our bikes ready to go
The sacks on the left are full of palm oil, another forest commodity. And we are ready to take off.

We were seat sore when we got back to Beni anyway. So in the final analysis:
1. Chinese made SENKE – low grade
2. Chinese repaired Road – better than the Lebanese repaired section. The Chinese really worked!
3. Chinese repaired Bridge – it would have been fine if the Congolese military who policed it did not take bribes ….

Old Slave Capitals on the Upper Congo River

This note is from the far southeast corner of the TL2 “Wilderness” where the internet connection is as fickle as the electricity. I am in Kindu. From the viewpoint of “government” hill I have a panorama of the Lualaba (=Upper Congo); in the foreground red brick walls of new government buildings rise against crumbling old colonial structures.
view from gov't hill in Kindu
Looking left (insert) utilitarian Belgian colonial stucco next to the government’s new utilitarian brick. And in the background the Lualaba flows past from the South.

The colonial buildings, built in the 1930s, rose with equal enthusiasm among the even older edifices of the Congo-Arab era. Just upstream from Kindu, in the 1870s, Tippo Tib reigned from Kasongo and Nyungwe over an undisputed Congolese sultanate, sending huge caravans of slaves and ivory back to Zanzibar.
old
The crumbling colonnade of an ancient Arab structure. An old man told me that this used to be a “barazza for the ‘Bahindi'”. And before that?

Kindu is a place for history to swirl, fossilize, and be ignored.
once hi-flying commerce in Kindu
One Kindu fossil from the middle of the last century: this horse, now nearly extinct in its new world home, used to announce the presence of fuel. Not here. Not now. You are lucky if you can find someone with a battered barrel of fuel and a length of hose with which to siphon it.

But nobody is looking to the past here. The determination and need for a new Congo and a new province of Maniema (Kindu is its capital) are almost a physical force in the air.
Exciting for us: there is a real openness to a new national park in Maniema’s TL2 wilderness. Fingers crossed.
Governor and Minister of mines listen
The governor on the left and the minister of mines and energy listen to my little presentation two days ago.
right side of room_Kindu presentation
The audience was gratifyingly interested.

The governor’s attentiveness and the large attendance at my little presentation were very promising. But fingers are still crossed.
Governor of Maniema gives closing remarks
In his closing remarks the governor gave a personal commitment to eat no more bonobo meat. May his example be followed by the whole province.

In Kindu I sleep in a neat Islamic guest house where three parrots in the courtyard parody life around them. At first light they mimic the nanny shrieking endlessly after the child “babu, babu, babu, babu” until finally sleep is no longer possible. At last light the parrots mimic exactly the click of a mobile phone at the end of its electric charge. “Choeet, choeet, choeet”, they screech at an insanely loud volume reminding us that no electricity for the recharge can be expected for at least another two hours.
running commentary
This is a very alert parrot with a sense of the absurd

Hey, I’m ready to move to Kindu, but hopefully with my own generator and a stock of fuel.

A few more photos from this, my first-ever stay in Kindu:
guest house2, Kindu
Above: a view of our guesthouse. Straight ahead the kitchen and on the left the little interior court.
Les Palmiers, Kindu
A view of the Lualaba from a little restaurant outside town, dugouts are taking farm produce to market.
A view of the mosque in Kindu
The mosque in Kindu
Germain and Dedieu at buvette-Kindu
Dedieu (ICCN) and Germain (local NGO) at a buvette in Kindu. Just behind them an old boat that used to bring beer from Kisangani.
on government hill, Kindu
With the director of Maniema’s environmental minister’s cabinet (in colored shirt) and the legal counsel (in suit).

Something went Wrong in the Middle of Congo

In a remote western corner of our vast nearly trackless study area – something was not right. We had been hearing rumors for almost 7 months that in a series of isolated villages, the Djonga villages, something had gone wrong for conservation. We had to find out what.

That was why we sent Maurice and Crispin on their 11 day trek to the west. Maurice was to find out what wildlife was in the forest, Crispin, who is a biologist with a flare for social work, was to find out if what we had heard was true ie, a conservation NGO was “tarred and feathered” or at least banished from Djonga.
Crispin explaining TL2 objectives
Crispin explaining in Djonga what TL2 motives are and how we work

Maurice and Crispin got an icy cold reception in Djonga – the villagers thought, at first, that they worked for ACOPRIK, the local NGO whose reputation is in tatters.

This is what Maurice and Crispin were told about the ACOPRIK event in November 2007 when all hell broke loose:

  • Lambert Papesola an ACOPRIK employee who came from another province was shot in the legs.
  • Other ACOPRIK employees were chased off a study area in Djonga forest.
  • Even now, if a certain Andre , the president of this ACOPRIK, so much as sets foot in any Djonga village, he can expect far worse than bullets in the legs….

But what did ACOPRIK do?

  • Did they steal chickens or goats from someone in the village? NO
  • Did they make off with village women? NO

an ACOPRIK ex-staffer with gunshot wounds
Papesola showing the scars from gunshot wounds in his legs.

It was something more subtle… something that I had a lot of trouble understanding. This is what the villagers said:

  • ACOPRIK had been well received by the village on several visits between 2005 and 2007.
  • ACOPRIK came to get the Djonga chiefs to sign documents saying they would not hunt bonobo or okapi.
  • ACOPRIK deceived Djonga by using these signatures on a different document in distant Kinshasa, with the result that
  • ACOPRIK sold their own Djonga forest and officially lost their traditional rights.
  • Word of this fundamental deception swept like wildfire over radio and word of mouth from the capital of Kinshasa.

Is that what really happened?
A little research here in Kinshasa , revealed that AKOPRIK’s president, Andre, did push through a decree creating the Sankuru Reserve. He did this just before the last minister of the environment left office. The Djonga villages are indeed within this Reserve on its eastern edge.

I read the ministerial decree creating Sankuru Reserve (attached here at the very end of the post). Did it take away all the Djonga villagers’ rights? NO. In fact I don’t think anyone could create a more meaningless Protected Area. Limits are drawn on a map but there are in fact no restrictions inside the Sankuru Reserve at all : not on hunting, fishing , farming nor even logging. The statute says nothing except that restrictions are possible at some later date. Good grief.

It all seems incredibly ridiculous. What is the point of the joke? Was ACOPRIK and the American NGO, BCI, that backed it, trying to delude Djonga for some reason? And delude us? After all this Reserve was announced in National Geographic (Conservation, June 2008, vol. 213, #6 ), in Science magazine (Vol 318, 30 November 2007, p1365 ) and in Time. Or is ACOPRIK planning some second step we don’t know about? Please, if you know the answer, leave a comment.

But in the meantime – last night at about 11 PM – I finally got a spark of insight into the origins of this incredible tension. It is on page 633 of the 955 page tome sited below. My translation and interpretation follow:
“In Sankuru (district) a latent and murderous opposition developed between the Tetela of the savanna and those of the forest…..”
This was during the years of the 1960s. The president of ACOPRIK, Andre, is from the savanna section of the Tetela tribe. Djonga and all of the Sankuru Reserve is the forest section. The problems then and now are those of power and control. What’s more, Andre inspires little trust in his fellow countrymen with a long background in war-time politics (RCD Goma) before moving to conservation.

Quote from
Histoire générale du Congo. De l’héritage ancien à la République Démocratique. 1998. By Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem. De Boeck & Larcier s.a. Paris, Bruxelles. 955 pp
first page of Sankuru Reserve statute
second page of Sankuru Reserve statute
map accompanying statute
The ministerial decree creating the Sankuru Reserve

Treking across Central Congo to Arrive Unannounced

We are in the very center of Congo because we want to know where and how many bonobos remain in this forgotten forest of 50,000 sq km. What threatens them and other large animals like the elephant and the okapi? Our ultimate goal is to bring real protection to some part of the forest between these rivers: the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba (TL2).
The compass directs the team
The compass sets the direction, the observers follow and porters are last.

Our teams move out across the forest to specific locations, using GPS waypoints to guide them along a map-determined route. They follow a well-tested protocol of field methods to discover the presence and abundance of forest animals. In May and June two teams were doing just that, but Maurice’s circuit, described here, had a special mission.
Hilltop view on the divide
A view towards Djonga as the team climbed the hills between the Tshuapa and Lomami watersheds.

Maurice was to lead a team to go to the far west of the TL2 zone to where there is a scattering of small communities called Djonga. Why? Because those communities were angry, angry about conservation. We had heard that a group from further west, one professing to work for conservation, had come to Djonga last year and something went wrong, very wrong. We rely on the good will and support of all the villages in this 3-river area. We need the Djonga population to protect the far west flanks of TL2.
Obenge to Djonga
The first stage of the trip was the trek from Obenge to the first Djonga village through the blocks of E15, D15 and C16. It took 11 days.

While Maurice’s team explored the Djonga forests, Crispin was put in charge of discussions with the villagers. Here is the first report of their trip to Djonga:
crispin crossing
Crispin crossing forest towards Djonga. Although this stream has a white sand substrate it is clear unlike the black water streams in the north.

Djonga is a cluster of small settlements surrounding several islands of savanna near the Tshuapa River. It took Maurice, Crispin and their team eleven full days to march across uninhabited forest between Obenge and Djonga. This was a major trek with nothing but GPS guidance, even by the standards of these seasoned TL2 explorers.
predawn breakfast
A pre-dawn breakfast on one of the eleven days of forest-march to reach the villages at the western edge of TL2

The expedition encountered no people and very little sign of human passage in the crossing to Djonga. During the recent war years, however, army detachments, Mai Mai groups, and various armed men under minimal control crisscrossed this forest. They left their noms-de-guerre and often a date carved on tree trunks.
a
This graffiti tree is on the approach to Djonga

They also encountered little sign of animals. Tracks or dung of okapi, buffalo and bongo were rare. Was this because they had been hunted out, or because the forest soils were impoverished ? Only monkeys were abundant: including the new species of monkey, Lesula, first found close to Obenge.
horned viper rarely climb
Hardly a large mammal but this viper was worth a photo along the trek to Djonga. It’s not usual to see them climbing.

Exhausted the team finally marched out of the forest into the clearing of Bolota the most northeastern of the Djonga villages. They were a strange sight indeed in a community as insular as this! And it felt a bit dangerous considering the last visitors had indeed made themselves unwelcome….
Maurice footweary
Weary but cautious, Maurice prepares to meet the village elders.

IVORY : West of the Lomami

The Tutu River
The TuTu River is fast, deep and difficult to cross

There is a remote forest west of the Lomami and sheltered between the TuTu tributaries that is amazingly rich in wildlife.
The real E15 survey block
West of the Lomami and east of the Tshuapa, block E15 has amazingly little hunting compared to adjacent blocks of 900 sq km.

The Tutu bends 90 degrees and the feeder rivers of its basin bend with it, so as Bernard’s team followed the compass line of their transect, they negotiated many difficult rivers. They found a forest rarely frequented by bushmeat hunters: too difficult to be worth it?crossing, mutoto ya Tutu
Crossing a Mutoto ya TuTu, or TuTu’s child, the name our porters gave all the streams and rivers of this unknown area of forest
a curious red colobus overhead
A red colobus overhead follows the progress of Bernard’s “caravan” beneath him

Primates peered from the trees. There were bonobo nests, forest antelope, okapi and more sign of forest elephant than they had found anywhere before.
okapi print
A fresh okapi print near one of the many Mutoto ya Tutu
sign of bonobo feeding
Bonobos were feeding here. The evidence is the ripped and stripped Marantaceae fronds.

But what made this circuit memorable were the ivory tusks found lying in the mud on the 8th day of the circuit (4 days from the return to Obenge). They had been there a long time, mottled orange like the earth itself and no bones were in sight.
the team gathers round
The porters gather round one of the tusks where it lay along their path.

Perhaps an elephant, wounded or just old, came to this secluded area to die. It is not often that ivory is found — anywhere in the wild. Usually elephants are killed, their ivory hacked out, their flesh stripped, and the bones left to molder.
The scene of an elephant slaughter
This is the more usual scene of elephant remains found along a transect. There was an elephant slaughter here, more than a year ago, and the ivory was carried away by the poachers leaving the bones to slowly decay.

This time ivory was found after the bones were completely gone. Old ivory, but heavy. One tusk was 19 kg (42lbs) and the other 19.5 kg (43lbs). Can you imagine carrying that around like your teeth, day after day !!
in a baie in Ituri_E-Mail kuster.reto@gmx.net
This photo by Reto taken of an elephant family in a baie in the Ituri Forest. kuster.reto@gmx.net

I first wrote about this after the tusks were brought out, Ashley and John told me about presenting the tusks in Obenge, and then in Opala and finally in Kisangani. But now I have had a chance to sit down with Bernard, go through his photos and his account of carrying the ivory back. They were even bigger than I had been told before!
the porteur Kasidi resting against
The porter Kasidi resting against the two tusks.

This is what happened
The trail-blazer and observation team were following the compass bearing.
Omene with the compass
Omene with the compass, directing the trail-blazer who is ahead of him. Bernard follows.

At particularly dense areas the porters skirted to one side to avoid crawling through the worst liana tangles with their loads. This was such a place. Bonne Année who was in the lead spotted the first tusk and Kasidi the second. They all gathered to consider the best move. Should they bury them? Throw them in the river? Take them back? Ivory could be big trouble…
On the left is Bonne Annee who found it
At the site of the find. Bonne Année is on the left.

And so I add the photos below to the previous post about the ivory’s fate. I do so with a special appreciation for the forest and a special awe for its ivory seeking history: The slave caravans of Ngongo Luteta lugging loads of ivory to Zanzibar and, later, the ivory barges of the Belgians shipping more loads of ivory, now in the other direction to the Atlantic. And with a renewed commitment to help assure that elephant will have a place in the basins of the TL2 (Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba) carrying their own ivory for many years to come.
One weighed 19kg and the other 19.5 kg
Carrying the ivory out.
Crossing the streams on the way back
Crossing a stream, now with the ivory.
negotiating a river with ivory
Helping each other with the ivory across a bigger river.
the first tusk crosses

Diamonds are Small Stuff on the Lomami

but when the diamond camp, MOPAYAZOBA, attacked us, it was almost bloody – almost….

a diamond from Mopayazoba
The Lomami diamonds are small. Notice the size of the threads!
luxuries of life
A diamond village “supermarket”

These are not big-money diamonds. To live in a Lomami diamond village year after year, like many do, you need a substantial garden for daily food. Then, if you are lucky, the diamonds you dig up and sieve out will provide enough for the extras of life: sugar, batteries and an occasional new cloth. That is how many live in the small diamond camps that are sprinkled through the forest of the D12 block.
block D12
The white hatchings are the blocks that we still had not explored at the end of 2007. D12 is the far north west of those blocks.

Below is the story Bernard told me about when his team of 11 men explored “D12” in May of this year. (Picture of Bernard at end of this Post)
Their initial reception was hardly warm.
a day's diamond diggings are flooded
Throughout D12 the stream-beds are pocked with diamond – diggers’ pits and trenches.

“We are always quiet in the forest. That is one of the rules, otherwise we don’t see monkeys. Even the porters who follow behind are quiet. This time they were whispering together soon after we started. I was up front with the compass-man and the trail-breaker. None of us knew that we were only a kilometre from a diamond camp, Mopayazoba, and a couple of miners in the forest had heard our whispering.”

All of a sudden Bernard heard yelling, and clanging and the most incredible scuffle.

“I hurried back to find two of our porters, Vava and Hussein, pinning someone flat to the ground with his arms twisted.

‘This little **@** tried to kill us”, they told me, “There were ten maybe twenty of the **@**’?

The porters had been charged with sticks and machetes. They met the charge with machetes and their own greater brawn. Brawn won before blood was shed and the attackers fled.

Bernard and the whole team couldn’t carry-on without knowing why the sudden assault.

Their captive, now apologizing and saying it was all a mistake, led them to Mopayazoba.
coming into a diamond village
The diamond village of MopayaZoba

As Bernard explains it the diamond village had thought they were poachers. Just a month earlier poachers had come through, killed five elephants, taken their diamonds and even taken women. So when they heard people, the village men came out with machetes and sticks.
Tensions still high
Tensions were high at the beginning of the “peace talks” in Mopayazoba. The shit-faced grin behind our team is the fellow they pinned to the ground

Perhaps if the village PDG, Président Délégué Général, or headman had been present the response would have been more measured, but in any case in the course of a couple hours the atmosphere went from very tense to very friendly.
Albert became our guide
Albert became our escort, assuring our safe passage through diamond country.

Diamonds are a pretty poor way to make a living in Lomami, so Bernard had no trouble hiring a local miner, Albert, to guide them through the diamond villages that lay ahead. Their new friends told them there would be a lot. They were right!
a warm reception in a diamond camp
A miner greets Albert as we arrive in his diamond-village, AfrikaMoto.

Every village was dirt poor. Diamonds are WHOSE best friend – really!!

But the rest of the circuit was quiet : here are a few more pictures:
a rain break
Big storm in the afternoon = a forced halt = an opportunistic (much needed) nap

a small mammal trap in the D12 forest
Small mammal snares were found throughout D12. Bushmeat is an important part of the diet in the diamond-villages.

a candle-lit dinner after a long day on the trail
The teams share the usual candle-lit meal of beans and fufu after a long day on the trail (candle stuck in a split sapling in the middle).

crossing the Loli River
Crossing the Loli river on the return towards the Lomami.

in the dug-out on the way back to Obenge
In the prow of the dug-out, heading back up the Lomami towards Obenge after completing the D12 circuit.

Bernard taking a bit of a break
Bernard (with blue plastic mug) taking a little breather

Back from the Lomami, but soon to return

Sorry for the Silence.

But silence is not absence. Ashley just returned to Kinshasa after first landing in Kisangani and disbursing the tired teams to their respective homes for a few weeks of much needed rest.

He is now emptying notebooks into the computer so the information can be sent to John who has already started a second step in the analysis. The two will meet in a couple weeks with some other colleagues to work through what the numbers all mean. Is this important? – VERY.
He looks better with an Okapi next to him
A carved okapi watches quizzically as Ashley pounds in the data

How many bonobo are there in the TL2? How many elephant? How many okapi? There is enough information so we can begin to look at these numbers – begin to find out what more is needed – where are the holes, what areas in the TL2 river basins are likely to be most important? And what areas are most threatened by bushmeat hunting.
A forest pig being bought back to Katopa
Bringing home a bush pig in Katopa. That’s a lot of meat.

Then back up the Lomami in August for a final marathon push to get the remaining information needed to fill the holes. At the end of the year we will again lay all the information on the table.

THEN WHAT? Information is only a first step. Then (and now as well) we have to move towards protection.

How do we do that? One thing is certain, to get a protected area that is believed in on the ground and not merely a piece of paper in a distant capital city means we need a lot of support and at all levels — we will need a lot of people pushing with us.

BUSHMEAT 5 : Ashley Goes South, Up the Lomami

And what do they find? More of the same. Alas.

Ashley, Bernard, Kahindo, Dino with all their field teams , headed south in both dugouts.
Ashley peering from pirogue
The teams heading south to do inventory circuits in new areas.

They stopped at the village of Ngoma Myuli, in the Province of Kasai Orientale and within the new Sankuru Reserve. It is a small village of just over 30 people. The ethnic group is Balanga.
lomami village 1
Ngoma Myuli is a small pleasant village.

Ashley says this:

“They are friendly and open, but have no scruples about hunting. That’s how they make a living.

They proudly showed us yesterday’s catch. It includes monkeys and among them a bonobo.
4 dead monkeys killed by a calibre 12 shotgun
They caught two black mangabeys, a black and white colobus and a local variety of blue monkey.

There is a 12 gauge shotgun. That is what killed all of them. There are no military weapons: No AK47, No FAL and no outlaws or brigands terrorizing the population.
This old gun has been modified for use today to hunt Bonobos and monkeys
The headman demonstrated his old 12-gauge for me — that was all he needed to make a life from bushmeat.

The bushmeat is carried to the village of Kindu. It takes at least 3 days to get there: pirogue and bicycle.

Sold in Kindu, the dead monkeys are each worth 8000 Francs Congolais or $14.50 That is more than twice the mark up from selling them here to a traveling merchant . But the bonobo – now that is real money – if smoked whole and sold in Kindu, it could get 50 US dollars, maybe even a bit more.
Bonobo head in the village of Ngoma Myula
Head of male bonobo killed in same hunting trip as the primates pictured above.

This is the challenge to conservation. How do you turn good people away from a good living with no alternative of equal value to offer ??
The hads of the dead bonobo male
How can the hands of these two species be made more equal in our use of this land?

For more information about bushmeat hunting in the TL2 landscape:
http://lomami.wildlifedirect.org/2008/03/09/bushmeat-4-tl2-in-the-middle/
http://lomami.wildlifedirect.org/2008/02/26/bushmeat-3-the-history-of-hunting-in-tl2/
http://lomami.wildlifedirect.org/2008/02/03/bushmeat-2-not-for-pot-species/
http://lomami.wildlifedirect.org/2008/02/01/bushmeat-1-a-healthy-lunch-from-the-tl2/

About bushmeat trade – general:
http://www.bushmeat.org/portal/server.pt
http://bushmeat.net/links.html
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080122-refugees-bushmeat.html
http://www.zoo.cam.ac.uk/ioz/projects/bushmeat.htm

Different views of bonobo:
http://lolayabonobo.wildlifedirect.org/
http://bonobo.wildlifedirect.org/
http://bonobohandshake.blogspot.com/

A House filled with laughter up the Lomami.

Of Laughter, there is an abundance. Of Happiness?

Our reception at Obenge
The women grabbed our red plastic chairs and heaved us up over their heads. We were marched about like queens in the cheering throng.

Our dugout had barely landed in Obenge when the women of the village came dancing and singing to greet us. They surrounded me and the Mama A.T. where we were sitting in the plastic chairs that we had just carried up from the dugout. The chairs were lifted again, this time with me and Mama A.T. in them. And the women carried us around over their heads, singing and dancing the whole time. Quite the enthusiastic greeting ! I guess we were almost unimaginable to them: two women who represented authority, state authority and project authority. Something for the village women to dance about!

From the start, it was the women of Obenge who interested me the most. In some ways they are so strong and determined, in other ways so powerless.
Madawa and washie's baby
Madawa holding her nephew, Washi’s, son.

John had a joking relationship with Madawa, the woman who managed the Losekola primate camp. As we hiked out to the camp she and John were constantly teasing each other “Ahh, Madawa I think I dropped some money would you go back and find if for me” “If you dropped any money it is already in my pocket and you won’t find it again.” She had an irresistible smile. At Losekola we ate her food and drank the water she carried.
getting into camp in the evening
We arrived exhausted in camp in the late afternoon. Madawa, who walked out with us, prepared hot bucket baths, fetched drinking water and heated supper. A fine woman of great stamina.

I was eager to get to know her. We could communicate in simple Swahili and she also spoke some broken French. Kinyamituku was her native language. She and all of her family came from the north edge of TL2 – between the Lomami and the Lualaba.

Not surprisingly, as I ask her about herself, it is “her men” she wants to talk about.

She points out her son in a distant field as we return to Obenge from the Losekola primate camp.
He is now almost 20 and it is he (she tells me several times) who built their house that she proudly shows me.
TL2 visit_MamanMadawa's house
Madawa in front of the house her son built.

And who were the other people living in the house?
Willy closing camp
Willy Conader closing up camp at Losekola. He and Washi stay in their Aunt’s, Madawa’s, house.

Conader. Remember Willy Conader? His wife was stolen by the Maimai and his youngest son died a couple months later in “captivity”. Conader is the nephew of Madawa. Like her he is of the banyamituku ethnic group and born in the village of Kobekobe further east in the forest towards the Lualaba. Conader works hard to please Ashley and John. His goal is to earn enough money to bring on another wife so that he can reclaim his two older surviving children, a girl and a boy. Now they are in Kobekobe with Madawa’s brother.
searching the canopy for primates
Conader helping me search for primates in the forest canopy.

Washi. Washi, another porter with the project seemed the happiest of Madawa’s family. He too is a nephew of Madawa but his wife and children are living with him in Obenge.
Washie wife and baby
Washi lived with his wife and baby and delightful son, below, in Madawa’s house.
at mamamadawa's
Most living happens outdoors so not much room is needed indoors, just a space to sleep.

It was Madawa’s own story that I really wanted. When their son was just two years old, Madawa’s “husband” left her near Kobekobe and came with their son to Obenge. It was his right. The children belong to the husband. He was a bushmeat hunter but when the boy was barely ten years old his father died. Madawa got the information and immediately came to live with her son. Together they built the house where they now live.
two doors in
The painted church in KobeKobe where Madawa was born and where she waited until she could rejoin her son in Obenge.

This almost seems like a story with a happy ending –except, according to Madawa: After the Obenge massacre of 2001, at which time Madawa and her son had managed to flee into the forest, they were left with absolutely nothing. Dracula took or destroyed everything in every house in the village. Then Colonel Thoms came and he was the “colonial” master of Obenge. All the young men worked for him including, of course, Conader and Washie.
Conader at Losekola
Left to himself, Conader quickly becomes pensive, never sullen but rarely jovial.

Now maybe things will change. Even if it is only slowly. Madawa laughs and hugs Wahsi’s son, Sahive. I hope it is a justified optimism. We all like happy endings, and how could fate resist a smile like that??
MamaMadawa _  Losekola cuisine
Madawa in the Losekola kitchen. There is always hope where there is a smile like this.