Fieldset
The Congo River

In Malemba, life flows like the Congo River. Sweet and peaceful on the surface, at times violent and dark deep under.

In Malemba, life flows like the Congo River. Sweet and peaceful on the surface, at times violent and dark deep under.

In the morning, while walking to the office over sandy streets, you can see moms chatting among neighbors, frying sweet potatoes on a brazier, bouncing their little ones on their knees. You can see dads sitting under the shade of mango trees, chatting with neighbors, carving a piece of wood, molding bricks. You can see children playing in the sand, and soon they see you, and run after you shouting "Muzungu! Muzungu! " All salute you with grand gestures and shower you with smiles. Smiles you try to reciprocate, babbling a couple of Kiluba words [one of the Bantu languages spoken in Democratic Republic of Congo], triggering laughter.

Smiles all day long. Laborers coming to work and thank you for having given them a job, a cook nicely makes fun of you while trying to teach you a local “fufu” recipe, bikers come to collect their fare and, as they have come often, you engage in small talk. The hours go by, the heat becomes fierce, even the flies slow down. The smiles keep being bright and vivid.

Smiles at the hospital as well. When you enter the door and shout "wakamapoï" in the wings. When you greet a parent whose child is out of the woods. When in the yard you play with a toddler playing in a tub splashing water all around him. The sun declines, the shadows lengthen, the hens get back to searching crumbs to peck. Smiles are still huge and dazzling.

And yet sometimes you would rather cry. Of prostration, when after several days and despite all our efforts one of those tiny kids gives up, exhausted from measles, malaria, malnutrition, sometimes all of them. Of perplexity, knowing that without the intervention of MSF, hundreds of children would not have survived this epidemic. Of rage, hearing it would be yet easy to eradicate the disease if governments had some additional resources. Of despair, acknowledging that there is so much to do to improve the conditions of life that would take centuries and mountains moved to make a real difference.

Well, from time to time, we do see some tears. These are the sobs of a mother who lost her child and who falls to the ground in pain, or mourners marching ahead of funeral processions towards the cemetery, four or five times a day. Here, death is part of everyday life. People do not hide it, almost accept it. Here, it's the way it is.

People here are strong. A bit fatalistic, extremely dignified, and incredibly strong. And to receive the smile of a mother who makes fun of your clumsiness in Kiluba while in her arms, her child is struggling to breathe and could abandon every second is like a wave rolling in. It takes your breath away, it shakes you so hard that you do not know where the surface is anymore and it spits you on the beach, groggy.

In Malemba, life flows like the Congo River. Sweet and peaceful on the surface, at times violent and dark deep under.