Irene and I are sitting outside a supermarket in downtown Goma, DRC where they have wireless. Goma is the city in Northeastern DRC with rebel generals outside and frequent bouts of conflict. It is is home to some of the highest rates, worldwide, of TB and AIDS. They also have a live volcano which periodically engulfs the town.
We are visiting some WYA members here who have arranged for us to speak to a group of University students about peace, good governance and HIV/AIDS. These members really want to spread WYA's message of dignity to more youth, and especially students. We discovered last night that there have been 3000 reported rapes this year since January, as one small indicator of the difficulties faced by youth in this area.
I last visited Goma in February, 2007. At that time we drove over roads composed half of dirt and half of hardened volcanic lava. The roads were incredibly bumpy and the town was in recovery. I was looking forward this visit to seeing what improvements have been made. None. The roads are, if anything, worse and the town looks the same as it did previously.
Coming from Rwanda where it takes only a few months to notice improved roads, more businesses, etc. the contrast is stark. As Irene keeps saying, it demonstrates the incredible importance of leadership within the country. She also keeps suggesting that Kagame take turns as President of each country in East and Central Africa once he finishes in Rwanda.
We spent the last couple days in Rwanda also meeting with members and hopefully we'll have a WYA club at KIST university to work alongside our members at NUR. Alain also arranged for us to speak on Umucyo radio about WYA, the English language radio for Rwanda.
In Rwanda, there are few reminders that it is still emerging from devastation and poverty. One reminder is that you cannot book on their national airline without going in person to the office and paying. There are also few places in Rwanda that accept AmEx or Mastercard, only VISA. As I don't have VISA, I ended up spending the last of my American and Rwandan money to book the flight, paying exorbitant Mastercard fees to get some more out, and thankfully had just enough left for Irene and I to cover our visa fees at the DRC border.
We've been taking the motorcycle taxis each day to get into town and back to where we're staying at night as it is a bit far from the downtown. We'd been lucky to have competent drivers on each of our trips, until the night before we left. I got onto the back of the motorcycle and felt he was going much too fast, but decided to remain quiet rather than get him angry. I finally spoke up when he swerved and nearly hit Irene's motorcycle, then swerved again and nearly hit a car. I asked him to please drive slowly. He would speed up whenever we could, even when we were headed for stopped traffic, then he would stop abruptly and swerve continuously to find an opening. The only reason I remained on is I was concerned if I got off sooner than the destination that he might get angry and I didnt want an argument with him alone at night in Kigali.
Thankfully we arrived safely and also discovered a nearby bus stop to take in the future. For now I must jet, we are off to speak to the youth of Goma. This keyboard is also written in English but set to French so I have had to guess at many keys here...