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The rising hills and the dipping valleys of the DRC are picturesque from the little cabin. Its nose slices through the low clouds with ease, although the turbulence increases with each.
This flight will only be 30 minutes. We will fly from Bukavu to Kitutu in Mwenga territory of South Kivu province. Kitutu is just 150 kilometers south west of Bukavu.
This short hop is necessary. Without the noisy, nose-propelled little caravan plane, this journey could take at least two days because of the state of the roads and the possibility of a truck getting stuck and blocking the way.
But Kitutu is not our final destination. This is the closest this little plane can get us. On this day, two journalists and I are heading beyond Kitutu to a village called Kakemenge. This village is a mere 250 kilometres from Bukavu. But this is Congo, so allow me to repeat this distance in other terms. By land, this journey takes not less than three days.
I’m grateful to the east for the shiny motorbikes. If you cannot find one, then you've too far. From the plane we hop on to the roaring masters of the jungle. Our riders are all enthusiastic young men happy to land this gig. It is hard for young people to find employment in this country. Most are lured to the mines by the “easy” income. Not many get out alive.
Over the top of the bikes roar symphony, the rhythmical honking just adds to the jungle music.
A few minutes out of Kitutu town, the road turns into a footpath; soon after, it is one deep rut –the only thing that fits in is the motorbike’s tyre. My backside is numb by now and so is my face. The wind and dust have numbed all feeling. We’ve been going for over one hour now. Mostly sliding and sloshing through murky grey sticky mud, the possibility of landing flat in a ditch looking ever so realistic. I occupy my mind with the raw beauty of the jungle.
The bumpy and winding track soon dips, forcing my numb limbs to work extra hard to keep my body on the bike. A vast mass of dirty brown water brings an unexpected but welcome relief to my aching limbs. But at the same time it raises a great deal of concern; for there is no bridge.
This is River Elila, one of the many that snake through Congo, eventually joining the spectacular River Congo that pours into the Atlantic Ocean.
A few minutes and a motor-driven wooden boat docks. Motorbikes go on first, then goods, and last in are people. We watch one trip, perhaps this will help build confidence; luckily the dugout canoe whose rims are inches above water quickly reinforces faith in the boat. We are on, the throttle sends us darting across the strong current and in just two minutes we are docked; and relieved.
Back on the bikes for another excruciating 40 minutes before my rider triumphantly announces that we are now in Kakemenge. I look forward to getting off the bike. I’m not sure whether to be grateful that we’ve arrived safely and impressively without a dot of mud on us; or just be glad that I could finally get off the bike and rest my aching body.
Later in the evening while resting on the luxurious sofas in the Oxfam base and sipping some warm primus, I cannot but salute the aid workers who make this trip every so often; sometimes in heavy rain, they tell us.
Oxfam is busy laying pipes to bring water from the catchment hill overhanging Kakemenge to villages as far as 80 kilometers down the road; People in Need is providing primary health and maternity services at a reduced cost; their clinic treats over 300 people every month, while the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI) has helped those people returning to the village to recover their livelihoods.
All these organisations face huge logistical problems in bringing supplies and aid to the people who have suffered the effects of conflict in the past.
The local people have shown immense resilience. With continued peace, good governance, and support from aid organisations, they will no doubt be on the way to recovery. After all, Congo is rich in uncountable ways.
Seeing Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva on a motorbike the next day gave me a sense of comfort. But as soon as her helicopter took off, I groaned in anticipation of the return journey.