Wednesday, October 2, 2013

beef. it's what's for dinner

So today we think we found it. The real cause of the problem, and this unsustainable lifestyle, that is, actually, at the moment not yet a problem. DRC is huge, space is not an issue, people cut down the forest like it is limitless, and in a way it is. But not for long.
Monsieur Ntondo took us around in his land rover, showing us some of the camps that houes the workers, some more pastures, and remaining gallery forests that you can see have been visibly reduced. It’s a sad landscape, chopped and burned trees, ovens to make charcoal and a few lonely huuuuuge trees that remain – they are probably too big to be cut down. We go to another village, ikoki. The chief and his deputy is away. This is kind of a good thing, perhaps we can really talk to the people – we want information on how much crops they grow, how much area they use, how they earn their livelihoods.
We thus have a meeting with the chief’s 3 sons. One of them calls the chief and asks for his permission to talk to us, we are given the ok. Same drill as the day before, i try and speak for our group while someone translates into lingala. An odd moment is when the village brings their own translator, they don’t want monsieur ntondo to twist our words. But everyone speaks french so they don’t really need a translator but anyway. We introduce ourselves, tell them why we are here and just jump into the questions. How many houses are here? How big is the average household? That sort oft hing. And the chief guys well they seem clueless, royalty. they just shrug and it’s mostly these younger teenager guys who answer. 53 houses! Everyone has 7-10 kids and 10 chickens! When you ask them to count average things, like how many sacks of manioc they sell downstream a year it gets a little complicated, but joachim, one of our german consultants is chain smoking, making calculations, vewy interested. They tell us how every year they burn all the savanna (one of the problems we are trying to solve is that the villagers make these huge savanna fires in the dry season,  and that spills over into monsieur ntondo’s cow pastures). So we ask them, Why do you burn the savanna?
To make it easier for the women to walk through it.
They generally seem to like our questions, like we are on a little game show. It becomes obvious that these people are pretty well off. Relatively speaking. Of course, they could be bragging, but it is clear they have fish, they hunt, they have lots of food, they have space. There are chickens everyhwere, and goats. A goat starts bleeting urgently behind me. It seems paralyzed or something, calling to her friends. It keels over and dies. One less goat. We figure this village is better off than the others because they are on the river, they can sell food, charcoal at markets, even kinshasa if they wish. I ask them if they have any questions for us. One latecomer comes to the meeting and raises his hand and asks what the heck we are doing here. Everyone hisses at him, you are always late! Go away! He then starts to say his big problem is that they don’t have enough guns to hunt the animals they want. They want us to give them guns. Uh, sorry my friend. Eat more fish!  We ask them how much fuelwood they use and they say, one basket worth. How big is a basket? And one of the mamans proudly models her really nice backpack basket. I totally want one.
We ask them to take us to a place where they have cut down and burned the forest and planted manioc and corn. They are thrilled. The whole village comes with us on a walk. Sadly, my photograhper is nowhere to be seen. He likes to wander off and talk to people and comes back with lovely portraits of kids and mamans, which are very nice for a gallery exhibit but we have very little use for. We want to show the people, in their surroundings, how they are using nature, how they are cooking, it’s not really enough to see just their face. I ask a kid to run and go find him.
As we take the path into the forest, through recently torched savanna we cross all these young women, carrying palm fronds on their heads, piles of wood, everything, it’s the picture we’ve been looking for – the people using the forest in various ways, edouard where are you? We finally arrive to the site. Carnage. Huge burned trees, still lying there and in between little corn plants, manioc. They are very proud. This is so hugely wasteful. I am talking with the germans, it would be so simple to reduce the burning, and allow them to stay on their land longer and they wouldn’t have to keep cutitng down forest. But this is exactly what we are looking for. A problem with a relatively (?) simple solution…though changing people’s traditions is not simple. But at least we know what needs to be done. Edouard is still not there so i am taking pictures with someone’s crappy digital camera. Grrrrr.
So this is it. I thank our villagers profusely, and translating for joachim, i am standing on a burned tree trunk, make a litlte speech on how we want to thank them, and hopefully work with them in the future. Edouard finally arrives and photographs me and i look like i’m a preacher or something…not what we were going for. I look over and joachim is smoking, contently….along with 8 other villagers, surrounded by clouds of smoke, huge smiles on their faces. „my personal supply“ joachim says and yes, i guess it’s better than giving them money, which is what they usually ask for.
We walk back and the gun guy asks me again for guns. I am trying to explain to him, in simplest terms that if he kills all the animals, and since there is less forest every year there won‘t  be any more animals to kill! His children, grandchildren may never even see what a buffalo looks like! He laughs, there are plenty of animals (i have yet to see anything but one type of bird this whole trip). So he asks me for mosquito nets for fishing. Yeah, i bet he wants the one impregnated with insecticide too, they are particularly effective at catching and killing everything.. his friends all crowd around as i try to explain that every time he eats a baby fish, he is essentially eating 100 future large fish – isn’t better to just eat large fish, and let the small fish become big? He laughs like i am totally crazy. Go back to europe you mondele, you don’t know what your talking about! I try to tell him how it was in mozambique, people starving, no fish left because they catch everything…mozambique is millions of kilometers away, DRC is huge! Vast! God gives them everything they need in huge abundance! Look madame, we give you one of our chickens! And one of the chief’s son’s hands me a chicken. I don’t know what to do with it, i’m petting it, showing it to the formerly vegetarian journalist. We toss it in the back and drive off. It freaks out a few times cluckclucking and flapping around the truck. The cook meets us at the car, and then cooks it. This is only night we will not eat just beef my friends!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

C'est une entreprise qui me semble décourageante. Mais que peut-on espérer de ces pauvres gens qui survivent comme ils peuvent, dans le présent.