Saturday, November 27, 2010

A trip around lake Kivu

Often when I read people's travelogues I get a frustrated, annoyed, and even something resembling jealousy. It's a strange sensation which I've never really managed to put my finger on but which I associate with a feeling of "I could have done that". It is all the more present when I've actually  been to the place being written about.

But this time is different. I've just spent hours reading this little account (there are 20-odd posts) of one man's month long trip around Lake Kivu, on the border between DRC and Rwanda. And what is wonderful is that there is so much of it which is not really new and yet it is not annoying but a genuine pleasure to read. He didn't travel very far, he didn't do an awful lot (even he basically admits at one point that he spends lots of time sitting drinking coffee and writing about his days spents wandering around to find somewhere to drink a coffee), but he captures a lot of the tarnished beauty in these places, the feelings of freshly arriving in some of these places with little to see or do and being conspicuous, and the frustration one can feel with oneself for becoming quickly annoyed by friendly people met on the street, by just not feeling in the mood for being where you are, feeling uncomfortable about taking photos in the street but really wanting to, by just getting a bad feeling about somewhere for no good reason beyond one's mood, but also for finding great pleasure in switching off to the whole travel thing and enjoying a book sitting in a nice lodge once in a while.

I'd been to only one of the places he went, and stayed in the Bethania place run by nuns  for a weekend once while on a UNIDO job in Rwanda. I had a similar experience of walking around and being impressed by the beauty but also by the poverty of it, and also left with a feeling that it was nigh on IMPOSSIBLE to be by oneself anywhere in Rwanda... He doesn't say so much but it's a feeling you get.

This reading also happened to tie in with me reading Gerard Prunier's account of the Rwandan Genocide and its knock-on effects in the Kivus - a combination I can recommend actually. I'm still only a third through but it is, I have to say, an interesting read. Especially after believing that Gourevitch gave the authoritative account. Well-written as his is and balanced as it seemed at the time, the different picture painted by appears much more in line with what we are now seeing in Rwanda, particulalry prior to the last election. He also picks up on a lot of subtle distinctions which I only really learnt about when there, e.g. the difference in perspectives and stereotypes between the "Ugandan" Tutsis who arrived, those who had stayed all along, those who dispered into other neighbouring countries, moderate Tutsis who also returned post genocide etc. Indeed it is a miracle that there isn't more strife now even if the risk of further violence is clearly far from over. Nonetheless, as the traveloguer shows, despite it all, you can still go for a cruise down Lake Kivu and enjoy a relaxing Sunday on the lakeside (more or less...).  

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