Captain’s Log – 6 Oct 2012 – Bridge Out in the Wild Wild West…East

A car crosses the river as men pull on ropes, bail water and shout encouragement to each other. I even got in one of the lines and loaded a few cases to join in the amazing sights and sounds.

Flew into Epulu twice this week.  The bridge collapsed again.  Last time it was repaired with parts from the old bridge at Komanda which had collapsed as well so they might not have been the strongest.  I think they were from way back in Belgian times.  Anyway, the big truck and trailer rig that took the bridge down was in the river just sticking up above the water line and all around were barges and canoes and cars and loads from all the trucks that were backed up by the hundreds, waiting for the bridge to be repaired.  It was like a scene out of the old Mississippi stern-wheel river boat days  with hundreds of strong black men glistening in the sun under the weight of 50kg sacks of grain amidst the cacophony of men shouting orders, cases of bottles rattling as they are unloaded, arguing, prodding and the overall buzz of the working crowd.  I even saw some of my Pygmy friends each carrying 2 cases of beer on their heads.  It was a sight to remember.  I often feel like I get to step back in time and see things from the past come alive again all around me.  It is one of the best parts of my job.

Men pull a barge across the fast flowing river by hand on ropes attached to each bank.  You can just see the trailer of the blue lorry/truck that took out the bridge,  as well as itself.

Rangers look at the broken safe in the burnt out administration building at the Okapi Reserve Station in Epulu.

Then there is the whole “outlaw/lawmen” thing, where law and order are just not part of the equation and there is a casualness toward life and the value of people, where only profit and personal desires matter.  Whether you’re wearing the star or not.  The ICCN station at Epulu Okapi Reserve was a perfect example of that.  The administration building was a burnt out shell.  The safe lay on the floor on it’s back, the door ripped off.  All the money stolen like something out of the wild west in the United States.  I heard more of the story from my friends who had been there when the bandits came into town at night, over the bridge behind a truck then jumped out to have a gun battle with the guard at the bridge.  He was killed along with the driver.  These were not sidearm six shooters but a couple of 50 caliber machine guns and lots of AK-47s.  Vehicles burnt.  Homes burnt with people still inside.  Women raped.  A guard and wife “necklaced” with a tire around them had fuel poured over them and were lit on fire.  Many people abducted to carry stolen goods or be “wives” for the militia men.  All the research center’s 15 captive okapi killed and left to rot. It was all shocking.  Witnessing these things is one of my least favorite parts of this time warp we live and work in.

Burnt out Admin building at Epulu. Notice Satellite dish at the far end installed by MAF IT guys. It is full of bullet holes as well.

And yet I get a lot of joy from being able to be a part of the solution.  Well, that sounds a bit grand.  Sometimes it is just helping to clean up the mess or an encouraging word.  So little when you think of it, it’s almost like nothing at all.  Still I don’t want to do nothing.  Sometimes all I can do is put my arm around someone and say “I am sorry.”  I guess, if that is all I can do…I will keep doing that.

Burnt out hulk of one of the rangers vehicles behind his house, which was also burnt while one man hid in its attic.

A literal Gold Rush mentality; panning in every stream, the opening up of new areas discovered, wealthy “city” people building palatial 3 story houses, while on the outer edges homesteaders live a log cabin style of life, all round out the feeling that we have stepped back into a time that is legendary in American culture and folklore.  I really do love bringing my time machine into these places.  This turbine engine, auto-pilot, temperature controlled, digitized flying machine that drops out of the sky with GPS knowing my exact position to within mere feet is an incongruity next to scenes where river porters, cooking fires, hunting for food with bow and arrow and holdups from ambushes set up on the dirt roads describe the wilderness that is the Wild Wild East of Congo.

Cases of the local Primus beer wait their turn to be loaded onto one of the rickety wooden barges or long boats, while men bring more cases, two at a time, on their heads.

Aerial View of the Epulu River bridge with hundreds of trucks backed up the road.  This is a very unusual sight for this sleepy forest village.  Barges and canoes take up the slack while work is carried out on bridge repairs.

Dugout canoes transporting people as barges are loaded with the smaller vehicles. The trucks must be unloaded and the cargo moved to be loaded on barges to cross the river, then unloaded again and taken to trucks on the other side where they are loaded again for onward transport.  My friend Mike McGregor says, “Here is one difference between the U.S. and Africa: When we have a problem we throw money at it. When Africa has a problem they throw people at it.”

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5 Responses to Captain’s Log – 6 Oct 2012 – Bridge Out in the Wild Wild West…East

  1. LuAnne Cadd says:

    Thanks for this update on Epulu, Jon. It still breaks my heart what happened here.

  2. Paul says:

    A great report Jon. I was sad to hear about this OKAPI raid earlier on this year, so …. so …… pointless. There are so many people want to make a success out of life in DRC and unfortunately there are those that seem intent on destroying all their efforts in one destructive blow, without consideration for how that messes with those people’s lives. Sadly, I don’t see a solution for this problem being enforced in this century. Great to hear that you are at least there to offer some moral support to those who have been unfortunate enough to be affected. Keep up the good work Jon. Cheers Paul

  3. anarchobuddy says:

    The popular misconception of the American West is a fiction created by western books, television shows, and movies. It actually was comparatively orderly:

    • jcadd says:

      Hi anarchobuddy, Having lived in war zones many years of my life, I know that the most dramatic of events are what make the news. I am sure that was the case with the “wild west”. It makes the best reading. We have no shortage of Laws and orders in Africa. There is the accompanying bribe and way around for those who want. I am in a unique position to see much of the bad… and good, first hand here and love living in the making of Congo history that parallels much of the American west, even if it is not ALL about the disorder.
      There were some “colorful characters” in our history though, (Buffalo Bill Cody, the James gang, George A.Custer and Wyatt Earp) with an accompanying trail of bodies, be it buffalo, indians, or outlaws, in their wake. It’s a very interesting story. I really enjoyed Ken Burns doc on The West. Thanks for writing in. Jon

  4. John thank you so much for sharing prayers be with you my friend……..Mike

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