A taste of luxury with an aftertaste of gratuitousness
25.07.2012 - 25.07.2012
The Emmanuel 2, the newest and pleasantest ferry working the Bukavu/Goma route, departs for its 6-hour journey at 7am, or 7:30, or in my case, about 8:10. The morning of my Bukavu departure, I awoke to find the recessed floor in my bathroom filled with just enough clean water from the leaking toilet pipe to allow me to down my antimalarial medication in the unquestionably contraindicated manner of tap water on an empty stomach and clean my hiking shoes at the same time. Expedient, as it was getting late.
Entering the port was one of those times when I did not regret the questionable sum paid to DRC tour operators for their arrangements and ministrations. The place swarmed with police and opportunists looking to rid you of your cash or your dignity. I was guided through untouched. Thank you, GoCongo.
Third class was with the cars and market goods, and it was packed. I was told that second class was preferred by richer Congolese over first class as there was a buffet, music, and a livelier atmosphere. First class, however, was the nicest I've seen on any ferry worldwide.
I would not have chosen the décor for my house, mind you, what with large-grain leather sofas with wide arms and shiny tables with inlaid faux Mother of Pearl; however, it comprised the entire top deck of the ship and was selectively populated. It was like six or so living rooms gathered into one, and it was an unexpected luxury. I rested, ate, enjoyed a few drinks, chatted with my guide, and took the occasional trip to the front deck of the ship to watch the Congo on the left, Idjwi Island and Rwanda on the right, and contemplate the situation I would enter upon disembarkation.
Goma has known war, and it was again a desirable target of offensive forces. The rebels needed a bigger bargaining chip with the Kabila government. The capture of Goma, the primary international exit point for valuable regional minerals and the most populous city in the Kivus, had been as unthinkable as it had now become fearfully plausible. Thousands of UN troops were repositioned to villages and stations throughout Virunga National Park just north of Goma, leaving a security vacuum in the places from which the troops had been pulled. The entire region was (and still is as of this writing) on the threshold of revisiting a recent history that most of its current inhabitants had been only lucky enough to survive the first time.
The city itself was still at peace, however; the airport was still under government and UN control; and, although the world media seems to have ignored them this time around, there were people there, PEOPLE, who were stoically dealing with another tribulation. A visit to Goma at that time, especially alongside a local, offered an incomparable ingress into a conflict that could as easily have been our own, were it not for the location of our birth. It may have been holiday brinksmanship, but I would leave richer in mind than I had been imperiled in body. It was safe enough, and I was going in.