The Land of the Blind

At 3 am, Wednesday, I was boarding a plane in Kigali.

As you approach the airport of the Rwandan capital, a security post blocks the road. Out come the bags, and everyone goes through the metal detector.

My day had started off on the border between Gisenyi, in Western Rwanda, and Goma, the mining capital of the DRC. In that sense, it wasn’t really a normal day… but it got a lot more weird later on.

Both cities—though Goma is huge by comparison, with over two million people—are at the northern end of Lake Kivu, a freshwater body with an area of 2400 km2. The lake is almost 500 m deep, and is a large reservoir of carbon dioxide. CO2 is dangerous if it is released as a gas at the surface—essentially suffocating the people, livestock, and wildlife that live on the lake shore.

But Kivu hides a much darker secret—in its deep waters lie sixty billion cubic meters of methane. Sixty cubic kilometers: a box shape five km long, four km wide, and 3 km high. Kivu is prone to limnic eruptions—one of three lakes that undergo these types of overturns, triggered by volcanic activity.

Overturns, in which the deep water and the gases it retains come to the surface, occur in Kivu once every thousand years. A cloud of gas one hundred meters high will cover the lake and cause a major catastrophe—it will kill everything.

Sitting on the Congolese border. Goma has all the attributes of a mining boomtown: obscene wealth, desperate poverty, a war zone twenty clicks north of the border, regular outbreaks of Ebola, and Sunseeker yachts cavorting in the lake.

But the border between Gisenyi and Goma is a catastrophe zone every day, and people just go about their business. Older people, the mzee, are not visible—presumably they’re all dead or dying. This part of the world has little compassion.

The Zairean dictator Mobutu had a palatial home in Goma—when the city was occupied by the rebels in 1996, the villa was found to contain five brand new Mercedes, two ambulances, and a Land Rover with a podium.

Everything’s a hustle and everything’s a hassle—life on the frontier of the DRC.

After all this excitement and a couple of boat rides on the lake—where the Rwandan government has great plans to increase fish farming—I drove the long and dangerous road back to the capital. Nobody breaks the speed limit, not least because there’s a speed trap every two miles, but overtaking on blind corners is clearly part of local tradition.

Back in Kigali, the road took me past the presidential palace, which goes on for a mile or so—multiple access lanes blocked by concrete barriers, men armed with AK-47s, all reminders that Rwanda has a checkered past.

Later that evening, I was forced to return to Europe for medical treatment, a rather unexpected turn of events—three planes and thirty-six hours later, a retinal tear was fixed with three hundred twenty-one laser shots—things are now on the mend.

Two days before, on my way to Kamembe, opposite the DRC city of Bukavu on the southern side of Lake Kivu, I stopped at a memorial site for the Tutsi and Hutu tragedy.

The town is called Murambi.

The memorial site was a school back then—now the grounds cover the bodies of fifty thousand Tutsis shot and hacked to death by the Hutus. Toward the back, there are rows of rooms with perfectly preserved skeletons, whitened with lime, features still visible. Men and women, children too.

Perhaps my eye clouded over at the sight of such terrible evil.

The French army were at hand to prevent the massacre.

They did nothing.

Actually, that’s not quite true.

They built a volleyball court to hide the dead.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TIR-AF-CE-FT-2019.jpg

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones

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