As usual we had Sundays off. So, once again, Mohammed and I decided to go out for a drive. We decided to go to Watsa, which is about 20km south, away up in the mountains (not really big mountains, but larger than hills). The camp site is next door to Dorba, and that’s the only Congolese city I had seen thus far, so this was going to be a new experience for me.
The drive up was beautiful. I hope the pictures do it justice, but the landscape is like something I had never pictured in my head. It’s not really jungle, it’s also not forest, but it is some very green mix of the two. The road was fine, the views were great, and I was having high expectations of Watsa.
When we arrived though, it all kind of changed. It was actually kind of creepy. There began to be fewer and fewer motorcycles on the road, and not a single car. In Durba motorcycles are constant, and cars are very frequent as well, but here, almost nothing. People stared at us from all sides. I think it was because they could tell Mohammed was a West African… Okay, I had to throw in some comedic relief in this story about a creepy town. Obviously, they stared at us because we were in a nice truck, and because I was white, but realizing this, it hit me as to why it was so odd.
You see, the Congo used to be a Belgian colony, and Watsa was their mining headquarters for the area. So, they used to be accustomed to seeing non-locals, and nice vehicles. We even have some Dutch buildings at our camp site as well, but they’ve been renovated and look really nice. Here however, they hadn’t been touched. They were dirty, run down, and looked like something out of an apocalyptic movie. There were street lights in the middle of fields, with nothing around. Nice homes that would still be nice today if it weren’t for a layer of dirt over them etc.
The worst part about all of this though, is that they were still the nicest buildings in the town, and the Belgians left in the 1960’s. Thankfully, there was one exception, and that was a very beautiful church that was very well kept, and there is a picture below. Overall though, the town was not exactly picturesque. Now, this is not meant to be a criticism of the locals, or the country as a whole. It is a criticism of war, and of people being too risk averse to doing something about it.
Bear in mind that I feel incredibly safe here, and am looking forward to my time here, but I am still surrounded by some of the most dangerous parts of the world. The LRA is about 150km north, there is an Ebola outbreak 200 km east, and a rebellion with well over 200,000 solders involved to the south. Watsa looked post-apocalyptic because in a sense, it was. This place was one of the most war-torn parts of the world up until 5-10 years ago, and only recently does it know what it’s like to have stability.
I’m afraid that if it wasn’t for our Kibali project, Durba would look much the same. Thankfully, despite its history, NGO’s, businesses, and migrants have come to our area peacefully, and are trying to bring commerce back and development back to the region.
In a few years my hope is not that the old Belgian buildings are renovated and returned to their former glory (though that would be nice). My hope is that they won’t be the nicest things in town anymore, and that people will remember Watsa for it’s amazing scenery, instead of its war-torn past.
Thanks for reading, sorry to be slightly melo-dramatic, but it was an experience I felt needed to be shared.
Rusted, dirty etc.
A beautiful exception. The grounds were also really nice and well kept. It is inspiring to see it last so long and remain in such condition despite some pretty dramatic times.
If you look closely, there is a light pole in the middle of the shot. Really strange to see them so randomly placed, but the view behind was incredible.
The view of the drive to Watsa.
A panoramic shot of the view going home.