Tuesday, October 1, 2013

attack of the village kids

One of the goals of our travels here is to try and understand why people are cutting down these gallery forests. There seems to be little forest left in this mostly savanna landscape, but deforestation is also relatively low – there are small patches of forest remaining, cool, shady areas that are a welcome respite from the heat, with cool tannin waters….but they are constantly being burned and chopped down and converted to agriculture in little pieces. or worse, burned just into order to flush out the animals to hunt, until there will be no more left. Then what will they do?
So we want to talk to villagers and see how they feed themselves, what their needs are, how much income they earn from deforesting, in order to determine what would entice them to stop.
So we go to villages. The only problem ist hat when you roll into a village with a landcruiser with 2 white dudes sitting on the roof (they can’t stand being stuffed together in the back and have preferred to be nearly decapitated by branches), it’s hard to go unnoticed. Every human being under 12 years old screams mondele! And come running in packs and mob us when we climb out. I find these kids to be a bit more agressive than the typical village kid i am used to, they grab my hair and twist my skin, indian burns on my arms and even scratch me.
We stopped in a rather large village of ndjonkele, along the fimi river. 6000 people in these parts. Heaps of kids. I am chasing them, scaring them, throwing the frisbee. You can’t cause this type of disruption for long tho, after a while you need to go see the chief. So we send a messenger and we have an appointment. Plastic chairs and a bench are set up in front of some homemade loungers. Out comes the chief, dressed in bright red, i recall from a trip near here in 2007. The chief sits and looks none too happy. We are surrounded by hundreds of people in a curious semi-circle. We are asked to introduce ourselves and explain what we are doing here, through our lingala translator, flory. Despite the kids jostling to look at us and their parents slapping their heads away, it is completely quiet. We go around our circle, and the chief doesn’t even explain himself he jumps right into his questions. Why are you here. In this situation it is rather difficult to start inquiring about the data we are interested in, so we just need to discuss some background on the project. I start explaining the carbon map, the plane, in the most basic way and immediately all these hands go up. Lots of questions. The chief’s deputy, an angry looking young man with lots of arm muscles requests permission to question me direcly. the inquisition begins. First, he wants to know why his village, ndjonkele is never on the map of drc. There is kinshasa, there are territories, districts, but there is never ndjonkele. I promise that his village will be on my map. In fact, i will make him a map that shows his village, and only his village on a map of Congo. I will bring this to him when i fly out of their airstrip on Monday.
Anyway, they start saying that the forest belongs to them and they can do what they want with it, which is agriculture.  They are not wrong in this respect, but it’s all a little…tense. The chief is staring at me, intently, angrily. Kids are creeping up behind me and pulling on my curls, reaching for my elbows. Everyone else in the group is sitting there, smiling. I need to answer, kindly politically. The more i talk, the more i realize, how on earth do you get 6000 people organized to stop cutting down the forest. When there is nothing left, the soil will be depleted, there will be no more animals to hunt, and that’s it. Finally, they’ve had enough and we decide to adjourn. We get up and take a group photo.
The angry chief stands in the middle. At one point, edouard asks to take just a photo of the chief. He moves in close, the chief does not budge. At this point, everyone, everyone is completely silent. Edouard snaps some photos, you can hear the shutter click echoing throughout the huts. No one is moving. Edouard slowly turns the camera around so the chief can approve. He stares, emotionless at the small LCD screen which is reflected in his eyes. Total silence, which seemed to last an eternity.

Slowly, the chiefs face morphs into the largest smile we have ever seen, teeth and all. and everyone cheers at the same time.
Chaos. Kids jumping everywhere, photos! Photos! A hundred kids jump on my shoulders and pull on my earrings. A hundred mini zombies devouring me, i’m down on my knees, overcome. The deputy guy comes and pullst hem off me, and asks me for money. Oddly, he says this in english. „money“ my pockets are empty. Emmanuel, the driver, honks the horn and i make my move towards the land cruiser. Kids reach into grab my neck through the window! Step on it! 

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