Less of a Lushoi and more of a Gomatracienne

"The memory is still very fresh from numerous conflicts over the last 20 years that have unleashed violence to civilians and triggered massive population displacements."

Everybody around Goma has been glued to their radios to hear the latest from Burundi’s coup d’état.

Goma is the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Congo bordering Rwanda and Uganda, and memory is still very fresh from numerous conflicts over the last 20 years that have unleashed violence to civilians and triggered massive population displacements – the Rwandan genocide, the First and Second Congo Wars and the M23 rebellion. Latest reports cite 70 000 Burundians seeking refuge in the Congolese border town of Uvira, South Kivu.

These displacements disrupt local populations, their fragile economies, and create precarious health conditions. Locals fear the Burundian crisis escalating and triggering a new hotspot in the already recovering region. Time will tell.

I am no longer living in Lubumbashi, a Lushoi, I became a Gomatracienne upon moving to Goma at the beginning of April and life is very different here. For starters, there’s an active Volcano 15 km away, the Nyragongo – and I believe one of the world’s most active.


Goma's Nyragongo volcano from my bedroom balcony © JJ Tellez

The last eruption in 2002 partially destroyed the airport tarmac and buried several parts of downtown.  Secondly, while North Kivu is substantially less mineral rich than Katanga’s well known copper and others, it is a necessary passing route for minerals from inland Congo provinces to Uganda and Rwanda for transformation and access to world markets, and a factor that explains the many rebel groups, alliances, and border and ethnic tensions.

Thirdly, at 5000 feet, the altitude brings cooler temperatures at night and, most importantly, reduces the incidence of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which means I can stop my daily doxycycline malaria pills!

Lastly, for now, North Kivu does not have a professional soccer team. Shortly before I left I got a chance to see Lubumbashi’s Tout Puissant Mazembe (All Mighty Mazembe) play one of Kinshasa’s teams, or at least the first 15 minutes until the game was interrupted with tear gas from trigger happy security in the stadium. 

Lubumbashi's TP Mazembe stadium © JJ Tellez

TP Mazembe is one of Africa’s few premier league teams owned by the charismatic Katanga province governor, Moise Katumbe, a figure and story on his own.

Our Goma office consists of 70+ Congolese staff whose role is to support three field projects in North Kivu. The largest project is in the town of Rutshuru, 80 km north, supporting the General Hospital.

The second project involves the construction and rehabilitation of the same hospital. For these two projects we have around 20 international volunteers and around 200 Congolese employees. The third project is not yet operational but designed to be a partnership with established health centers to support HIV treatment and prevention in Goma.

Adapting to Goma has been easy. While the city is a bit chaotic with underdeveloped or destroyed roads, an active UN military mission, and hundreds of NGOs, there’re a handful of places to escape to and enjoy the view of Lake Kivu.

Admiring the view of Lake Kivu © JJ Tellez

We are five expats living in a two-house complex designed to be a half-way house between Kigali (4 hour drive) and the Rutshuru project.  Since surgeons and anesthesiologists rotate through one month missions on the field, there’s a substantial flow of expats coming through and an entertaining array of conversations to go along.

Needless to say, I no longer eat alone while listening to my Radiolab or Freakonomics podcasts; I nearly don't have any time left for blogging itself. I shall endure.