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Exploring Africa’s Goma Region: Diary: Day 7

FLI Floris Buter 2 Virunga National Park

The 7R Future Leadership Institute is following Belgian Floris Buter from the Virunga National Park on a week long field trip in Africa, in order to gather topography data for a hydro-power project. The collected data are to be wired to the Belgian engineering firm TPF. They need the data to make a feasibility study.

Since Floris is moving in and out the jungle the communication depends on the availability of a working internet line, which results in diary fragments coming through in a rather chaotic way.

Today you will find a report of his seventh day, in which he reveals -to the surprise of many- he will leave the Virunga National Park Project. He orders a goat to be bought, killed and cooked for an improvised goodbye party in the newly built kitchen of one of the MicroHydro Power Plants he helped build over the years.

Topographical Feasibility Study In Hydro-Power Project

Day 7, 17th of June 205

08:00 We leave the Albertine Hotel in Beni. We pick up Léon, who is also going to Mutwanga, to work in the soap factory that is being built there.

08:15 I send a textmessage to Ricky and ask him to find, to buy and to kill a goat for me in Mutwanga.

08:49 Cows on the road with big horns coming from Uganda, on their way to Butembo.

09:22 Arriving at Nzenga, where we drop Léon at the soap factory. Esther sends a textmessage.

09:43 Arrival at the Mutwanga center. We buy biscuits, sardines and water. We leave Mutwanga for Mwenda.

10:15 Mwenda Hospital. We climb the Lusilube river. I explain Zébédée what he needs to do and what areas of the gorge he must map on his next topography mission.

13:45 We go back to Mutwanga, to the MicroHydro PowerPlant.

14:01 I meet Ricky, the Operations Manager and walk with him to the OPE. We talk about the fact I will be leaving the project and Ricky wonders how he has to arrange things from Mutsora when I’ll not be there anymore to help him arrange approve his needs.
I tell Ricky he should come more to Goma. He shivers and explains me his wife and young children are now living in Beni. Going to Goma is therefore not attractive to him. I confirm it is a shit place to work because the office is too small, there is no seat for you, internet doesn’t work for you, your IP address is rejected by the router all the time. It’s just shit to be there if you’re not there permanently.

I walk back along the canal down the penstock passing the power plant reaching the car where my telephone is charging. I see Médard and he starts laughing. A natural reaction of him when he sees me in combination with the words ”vraiment, vraiment!” which means something like “really, really!” in English. I shake his hand and we do the North Kivu in-crowd Nande salutation: we bounce three times with our head into each other from the left to the right to the left.

Ricky then takes me inside the power house and shows me that one of the indicators of the hydraulic power pack is in the orange zone and about to enter the red zone. He reminds me he sent an email regarding this issue and asked the head of the garage whether he could address this hydraulic oil problem. No response. Everybody is busier doing other things then helping the already up and running power plant in Mutwanga.

Ricky ends his explication by telling me that when the indicator will enter the red zone he will stop the power plant followed by sending an email to the Park Director with the subject: MUTWANGA POWER PLANT PREVENTIVELY STOPPED. WAITING FOR OIL FOR HYDRAULIC POWER PACK UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. And then see what happens. I totally agree with him that that’s the way to go.

I inform Léon via sms food and beers will be served at the Mutwanga PowerPlant. He responds immediately by saying that he’s on his way.

FLI Floris Buter 1 mutwanga_group

Picture (2013) from the Mutwanga hydroelectric plant. The construction of the MicroHydro power plant is a big first step on the path toward helping the Virunga park fund operations even when tourism is closed by conflict. The power plant was built with support of the European Union and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation.

We walk back from the penstock to the newly constructed kitchen for the Mutwanga HydroPower staff. There are beers: Simba’s and Peak 7,7’s, both made by the Brasimba brewery in Beni. There are soft drinks too: Djino’s coke, tonic and fruit juices, also produced by Brasimba in Beni. Then there is the food: cabbage salad with onions and tomatoes, fried potatoes, fried ndizi’s (banana’s) and the goat I previously ordered. There are roasted and salted peanuts and there are normal bananas.

Léon arrives together with Richard who is the Sales Manager of the Brasimba brewery in Nord Kivu, based in Beni.

I start with a Simba, take a seat and enjoy my drink. Then Ricky says I can open the buffet. I feel I’m sitting way too far from the buffet table to do this, so I conveniently pass my plate to Jonathan, the high voltage electrician, and ask him to put a little bit of everything on my plate from the buffet. The plate comes back and I start to eat. When I take the last bite Médard says: “On peut vous encore servir!” (We can serve you more food). I gladly accept and before I know it I have a new full plate in front of me. I add pili pili and continue eating.

After a while -I am already on my second beer, this time a Peak 7,7- everybody starts moving, eating the last things from the buffet. Unrest arises and the happy family dinner is about to fall apart, when Ricky gives the suggestion: “Chef, vous n’avez pas un mot à dire?” (Chief, don’t you have a speech to give?) I don’t feel comfortable doing this, besides I enjoyed the silence and the laughter of everybody just sitting, eating and drinking there. But, I must admit, it was a good idea to say something to all the people present at the party. So I stand up, turn the sound of the television down (playing video clips from a DVD) and start my speech.

I talk about I’m so happy I sent Ricky a sms to get us a goat, that he went out to buy it and kill it for us, that he arranged so much more than that. I talk about the idea I had to test the new kitchen and combine it with the message I am leaving the Virunga organization. I tell them I will miss everybody but that they will always be in my church (“My church” is my body & my mind, people know me for saying I don’t go to church, because I am always in my own church).
Some people react emotional while I am giving the speech. I’m actually starting to like this speech thing and I am curious what others would say if they had the floor. I wrap up, suggest the group we will pass on the “parole” and I start by giving the floor to Médard.

Médard is the Customer Care Manager of the MicroHydro Plant in Mutsora and he is famous for his speeches that sound and look like he’s a preacher. A natural. Although his speech is not bad, I must say, I cannot really remember what he says about me. I am a little bit disappointed in Médard and his speech. Médard gives the floor to Ricky to say something.

Ricky virtually chokes. After some babbling, he can in the end only say that words cannot describe what he feels. His eyes are wet. Ricky urges Zébédée to take over.

Zébédée is a straight forward guy and says to everybody a goodbye is never a real goodbye as long as you keep somebody in your heart. Philosophically he says that at any moment in time, paths may cross again. He ends by telling an anecdote of us being everywhere in the field from Beni to Walikale territory, speaking to MaiMai and FDLR. He remembers I always told everybody “we had to do our work, rebels or no rebels, find the river, measure the flow rate, measure the drop and get the hell out of there before the sun sets”. “Pour nous, la peur? Ça n’existe pas.” (“For us, fear ? That doesn’t exist”)

Jonathan speaks, Eloïs speaks, Djuma speaks, Alexi starts with: “Depuis je suis née” (since I have been born)…. Everybody starts laughing and he stops. When the room is quite again he finishes his sentence: “I have never seen a muzungu like Floris.” He’s basically calling me a Congolese in a white skin. He wonders how people would look at me when I’d be going back to Europe. “Will they see you as one of them or as one of us?” I don’t know whether I should take this as a compliment or not. I also wonder and think that this is probably the reason why I will not be working anymore for Virunga after the 30th of June. Oh yeah what the hell.

A ranger, I’ve never seen before takes the word and addresses me for all the rangers. He says he doesn’t know me but that he really enjoys this get together and that he has heard stories from his friends Fiston and Fabrice about their mission to the Lukwaliha and Mwenda sites when TPF was here. He praises me several times, people applaud, he continues, people applaud again.

Jonathan comes up to me and urges me to go outside for a photo while it is still light. Everybody leaves the kitchen and we make a group photo. I stand next to Ricky. I see my favorite guys standing in front of me holding their photo cameras. I yell at them they should come into the picture, they should leave taking the pictures to others. Picture after picture is taken, this goes on for minutes and minutes. I start counting down from ten and when I’m at zero I start again at 59. Everybody laughs. I do it 5 times in a loop and everybody keeps laughing and making pictures. It’s great. It’s a kind of love. It’s cool.

After all this hugging and kissing in the air with smelly Congolese superhero’s, I walk to the car (smelling the worst myself), bump into Papy who hands me the car keys and asks me a favor. He asks if he can go to Nzenga and whether I can drive the car up to Mutsora Station. Yes, no problem.

18:56 Arrival at Mutsora Station. I do some mails, WhatsApps and writing.

21:58 I go to bed.

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