Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Earthquakes and other unheard of events

There was an earthquake to hit eastern congo two days ago, though not much has been reported on it (check out this link for an article: http://irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=50508&SelectRegion=Great_Lakes&SelectCountry=DRC). A few people have died but there was remarkably not too much damage. Buildings in that area (Kalemie) are not structuraly sound but they are rarely above one story. More interesting perhaps is another tragedy that killed 20 or so people (I've heard different numbers) a couple of weeks ago. People often ride on the tops of train for transport, and dozens were swept off a train heading from Lubumbashi to Kindu by support beams on a bridge. Again, there was little reported on this, though the BBC had a mention.

Not to have a downer of a post, but on this theme of routineness by which people in third world countries face death and loss, I'd like to mention the saddest thing I've seen since my arrival in Africa 16 months ago. Incidentally, this incident was never reported in any press. I was in Niger, driving in between some very rural villages that had no roads connecting them. We got a little lost and ended up in a village not on our list to visit. There we asked a few men for directions. They gave them to us, but wanted to show us something. We got out of the car and walked towards a large whole in the ground where the earth have caved in on itself. It was about 8 meters in diameter. It used to be a well and it had collapsed five days before. Seven women, several with babies on their backs, had been gathering water when it caved in. They all perished. Some of these wells were dug more than 50 years ago and don't have proper support beams. Three men tried to retrieve the bodies and were killed when it collapsed farther. I imagine them with the ropes tide to their waists that were held by there brothers and friends, and how these same men had no choice but to flee as the ground gave way. In addition to the deaths they also lost their principal water source. But what surpised me was the way in which the event was recounted. The even tone of the voices of the men. I saw in their eyes that they wondered why this had happened to them in particular, but that they did not queston why such things happen. I saw acceptance. Death is very much a part of their lives. In America - in most any western country - such an event would have been front page news. But there we were the only outsiders to see what had happened, to hear their recount, and to have the scene imprinted on our minds. The men never asked us for help - not for a new well, not to help them retrieve the bodies, not to help the families of the deceased. They just wanted to tell the story.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kingston Girl said...

The selectiveness of the media is something that always drives me mad - when hurricanes are mentioned on american or british news, the story is often that they are heading for Florida - not that hundreds of people were killed in Haiti in floods because their land is so deforested.

That, along with people's differing acceptance of death, just goes to show that the world puts different 'values' on different lives. Sad.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Steve in Wisconsin said...

I thought about you and Double-0h when I heard the earthquake news. Glad to hear that you're both fine and that loss/damage was minimal. Thanks for sharing the story from Niger --

5:49 PM  
Blogger Black River Eagle said...

I read something once a few years back in an HRW report about the situation following the wars in the D.R. Congo. There was this one account of an eyewitness describing the unspeakable violence and predatory behavior of the various militias operating in the eastern D.R.C. in 2000-2002.

I remember this one passage where a survivor of a slaughter swore that "nobody cares about us, that even God and the angels in Heaven have abondoned us, that nobody cares...". I couldn't sleep properly for months after reading just the beginning of that report, and somehow I knew that my life had changed forever from what I had begun to learn about the D.R.C. on that day. That survivor was wrong, some people give a damn.

I believe those men at the well in Niger somehow knew that you might take the story of their suffering for their loss of their women and children and neighbors to the world someday, that you travellers were their only chance. You did not let them down today Sahara Sarah.

Thank you for sharing this story and so many others with us and thanks for the wonderful photos. That goes double for the whole Krazy Krew of bloggers down in Kinshasa and Kindu as well. Have a safe and relaxing trip home to your family and friends for the holidays.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Congogirl said...

I actually posted about the train event and was thinking about you, in fact linked to your site on my post. This is an aspect that I didn't address, but is true, and particularly in light of dealing with the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I think that you have hit the nail on the head as to why I could not stomach the media.

Also, you are probably in the air right now -- welcome back. Where will you be during your break?

8:10 AM  

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