Tag Archives: Maniema

Flyga från Kindu till Kanada

(I put the title in Swedish so I could justifiably spell Canada with a K, because alliteration is awesome)

On the evening of June 28th, I landed in Vancouver without telling anyone but my family. Getting there, from my current home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was a rather long process. If you add up all the time I spent in the air to get from Kindu, Maniema Province, DRC to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada it’s a short little 22 hours spent airborne spread over three short hops within DRC and three longer leaps from Rwanda to Kenya to the Netherlands to Canada.

First, I had to fly domestically from Kindu to Goma. I caught a ride on June 23rd on Busy Bee, a great little charter airline we often use. That flight touched down in Punia, then Lubutu, then landed in Goma.

En route from Kindu to Punia, one of many tributaries of the mighty Congo River:

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The pilot and co-pilot gave me permission to take this photograph on the ground in Punia:

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Just before landing in Lubutu:

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En route to Goma, North Kivu Province:

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Some of the wealthier residences in Goma are waterfront properties on Lake Kivu:

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After a few days in Goma, I caught a bus from the border to Kigali in Rwanda and a taxi from downtown to the Kigali airport, where I watched the World Cup football match in which Germany destroyed England. Rooney wasn’t very happy with his team’s lack of success:

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From Kigali I flew to Nairobi on Kenya Airways, which actually provides a small hot meal on this short (just over one hour) flight, much better than Canadian airlines such as Air Canada and Westjet who don’t give a meal on a four and a half hour flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Kenya Airways planes at the gates:

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I spent the night in Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) – many people tell horror stories that remind of trying to sleep in Stansted airport, but in JKIA if you head toward Gate 3, down some stairs from Gate 4, you’ll find the sleep n’ shower facilities which were very useful for me. Also, at Gate 14 there’s a coffee shop called Java House with very tasty espressos. Gaining altitude outside Nairobi:

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Nearly nine hours later, I landed in sunny Amsterdam, where I boarded a KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) flight for Vancouver. KLM planes on the tarmac:

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Direct flights from Europe to Vancouver always fly over the Arctic, as it’s the shortest route, so we got to see some white scenery over Greenland and northern Canada:

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Finally, we passed just to the south of Bowen Island and came in for the usual east-facing landing at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, with UBC on our left:

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On July 13th I left Vancouver to do the exact opposite flight route, which was much more tiring because of the lack of sleep, and when I arrived in Kindu yesterday (July 17th) I slept from 1:30pm until 9:30pm and from midnight to 6:00am today.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Some of the funniest things a traveller can find in many developing countries are signs. Here are a few of the funny or interesting ones I’ve seen so far:

At the Kindu airport MONUC base:

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Mobutu was deposed by a rebel army in 1997 after nearly 32 years as President of DR Congo. The rebel leader who became President was assassinated in 2001 and his son has been in power ever since, yet one of the main roads in Kindu is called Mobutu Boulevard and one of his sons is Minister of Agriculture.

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Back at the Kindu airport MONUC base:

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Note the swimmer in the pool, defying the rule:

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On a plane in Maniema Province:

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A pharmacy in Kisangani, Tshopo Province:

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The balance is a nearly universal symbol of justice. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the balance on this decaying building accurately reflects the situation in a country which has been receding instead of developing for the past few decades:

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3 weeks in Lubutu

After spending the first two months of my humanitarian logistics field placement with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin) in Kindu, I was invited to fly north up to Lubutu to act as the interim logistician while the usual guy was on vacation. On May 19th, I flew up on a little Busy Bee Congo Let L-410A, which landed at Tingi-Tingi airport just outside the town of Lubutu. Tingi-Tingi is not much of an airport… although it has an official ICAO airport code, it’s actually just a straight section of the road that links Lubutu to Walikale. Merlin staff block both ends a few minutes before the plane lands so there aren’t any people or vehicles on it.

Takeoff after my arrival in Lubutu:

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This is the market on Lubutu’s main street, the same road as in the first photo but a few kilometres from the airport:

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Merlin’s Lubutu base supports 27 health centres in the Obokote and Lubutu health zones. During my first week there, I got to visit several of them. On the way to one such centre, this was the view of an MSF vehicle in the driver-side rear-view mirror of our LandCruiser:

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Inside one of the health centres:

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We also visited a few water sources that Merlin had rehabilitated to provide safe drinking water to local communities:

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One Sunday, a couple of us went to the Lac Vert (Green Lake) which is located 8km along a muddy old track through the jungle. It’s not the easiest road, as this very sketchy bridge demonstrates:

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There wasn’t really anything to do at the Green Lake other than swim and take photos of strange insects. I’m saving the bug pics for another post though.

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Lubutu is a 4 hour drive from Kisangani, the 3rd largest city in the DR Congo, so getting peanut butter, Dairymilk chocolate bars, and biscuits is pretty easy. Put these three together and you have a Lubutu Manwich. Try it sometime, it’s delicious:

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Of course, no blog post about a town is complete without a sunset photo or two. This one was taken looking directly West while driving home from the office:

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This was taken looking North-West through the wire mesh covering the window of the office which I called my own for 3 weeks:

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Cyclists, or tolékistes as they’re known in the DRC, frequently transport either goods or people from place to place. This guy seems to have decided he could make more money with a bench full of passengers than a single one on his rear rack:

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At the house, Mike (the boss) had 5 cute puppies which liked to run up and play with anyone’s ankles, regardless of whether said person was moving or not. One day I heard a loud squeal and looked down to see an airborne puppy, flying a few feet through the air ahead of my moving leg – it had been scooped up by my foot as I was walking full speed.

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One of the puppies was promised to Pam, the boss at our Punia base. June 11th, the day I finished my three week stint in Lubutu, I was flying to Goma with stops in Punia, Kindu, and Kampene on the way, so I was assigned to take the puppy to Pam in Punia. Mike and Okame (one of our drivers) boxed her up in an old inverter box with holes cut in the side, and off we went to the office for a few hours of morning work before the plane’s arrival:

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At the office the puppy ate some food and napped. Then, when it came time to head to the airport, she was put into a bigger box with holes cut in the sides and the seams taped shut. On the drive from the office to the airport she peed in the box (luckily we had put some plastic sheeting in the bottom) and then proceeded to lick up her own urine. In the small plane, I had to keep her on the seat beside me to make sure she wouldn’t break out of the box and run amok in the plane. About midway through the luckily short (15 minute) flight to Punia, she vomited inside the box and then for the next five minutes proceeded to lick that up too. As we descended for landing, she spent the final 3-4 minutes trying to break out of the box while I made sure she didn’t. She may look cute, and it was quite funny in many ways, but I think next time we should find someone with a tranquiliser dart before flying a puppy anywhere.

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After spending the weekend in Goma, I returned to Kindu along with a bunch of other staff members, where I spent the next week as interim logistician there before making another trip back to Goma on June 23rd.

Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell – Part 5a: Construction and Rehabilitation

Depending on the organisations by which they’re employed, and the projects to which they’re assigned, humanitarian logisticians may become involved in construction or rehabilitation projects. People with civil engineering backgrounds and some management experience often make very good humanitarian logisticians for this reason. I studied international relations, politics, and French for my bachelor’s degree, and humanitarian work for my master’s degree, but I used to party with civil engineers (and all the other kinds of engineers) at UBC so I can pretend that I know a bit about all this stuff.

This is a typical centre de santé (health centre) supported by Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) in Obosango which is in the Lubutu health zone of Maniema Province in the DR Congo:

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This is a maternity which is in the final stages of being rehabilitated by Merlin in Osso, which is also in Lubutu health zone. The funding for the rehabilitation came from JOAC (Jersey Overseas Aid Commission), while funding for the medical support (drugs and medical equipment, trainings, staff incentives, etc) for almost all of Merlin’s activities in Maniema comes from DFID (the UK Department for International Development).

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The facilities in Osso, as you can see from the previous two photos, are a notch above those in Obasango. If there was money to rehabilitate the more than two dozen structures in the Lubutu and Obokote health zones, it would probably be done, but with the funding available two structures were chosen for rehabilitation and two for construction from scratch. These buildings are built using fairly simple construction methods.

Sand and gravel are donated by local communities and transported by Merlin to the construction sites, where cement powder provided by Merlin is mixed with the sand, gravel, and water to make cement for the foundations. Sand:

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For the walls of the buildings, clay soil is donated by local communities and turned into bricks using brick presses, then baked in brick ovens like this one:

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Once the bricks are ready, the walls start going up along the contours of the foundation as in this maternity being built from scratch in Omoyaki, in Obokote health zone of Maniema:

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The brickwork for the Kabakaba maternity starting to go up:

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This is the maternity in Mukwanyama, which is nearly finished being rehabilitated:

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Once the building is finished, the brick walls are covered with cement-based plaster, then painted. The second photo in this post shows what the plastered and painted walls look like at the end.

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At each structure supported by Merlin, a signboard is erected to let people know what the building is for, and who is helping support it:

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Of course, there are many, many problems that come up with building or rehabilitating buildings in places like the DR Congo. For example, the community usually needs to help with a certain amount of free labour. Sand, gravel, and clay are needed and if these were not donated by local villages the work would be far more difficult. Communities don’t always understand the usefulness of a health centre, and may even oppose the disruption that construction or rehabilitation can cause to their villages. Various levels of local government may try to impose harsh restrictions that prevent NGOs from working efficiently. If construction workers, masons, and roofers are brought in to do some of the work, the local community may become upset that local villagers are not being given the opportunity for paid employment to work on the project. When community members are responsible for part of the project, such a making and baking the bricks, they may simply not do it because they feel they need to spend their days tending their crops.

For all of these reasons, and many more, construction and rehabilitation projects can easily stumble or even fail completely. The two foundation photos of Omoyaki and Kabakaba (above), for instance, show halted works – the villagers had stopped working several weeks before for a number of reasons. In the photo below, the foundation of the Lubao centre de santé in Kailo health zone is barely visible. All that greenery you see is growing where the floor should be. This foundation has lain untouched for two years.

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In order to avoid problems like this, and to keep construction and rehabilitation projects moving along, a lot of community sensitisation is necessary. Staff members are needed to explain the importance of health for the local populace. These community sensitisers spend time in villages, often staying several nights at a time, motivating the community. With good sensitisers, the work tends to go relatively smoothly, and the sensitisation continues even after the buildings are completed so that the population actually uses them too.