Monday, 11 July 2011
People watching at the DRC border
Today I spent a whole hour in the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi watching people cross the border into the DRC. We won’t go into why I was there at this particular time but I must admit people watching has never been so interesting. The first thing I noticed was how busy the crossing was. In fact it crossing the border looked like a daily, habitual process for scores and scores of people...and my itchy adventurous feet wanted to join them but I resisted at least for the time being.
The second thing I noticed was the sheer number of big new shiny black 4X4s streaming their way across with Congolese number plates. In the DRC you don’t have to pay any tax so cars are actually very cheap. But the cars were a little scary in a way, quite mafia like. I know I shouldn’t stereotype but I couldn’t help but imagine them to be driven by some black suited and booted guy with a gold tooth. Talking of vehicles I saw the most amazingly strange bicycle type contraptions. I wish I could have taken a photo but I had already sneaked a couple of shots of the houses across the border and I didn’t want some irate policeman coming after me. Apparently they are for disabled Congolese people to get around and transport things, although in reality rumour has it that they are used by canny businessman wanting to avoid paying tax in Rwanda... They were like huge wooden or rusty metal bikes where someone sits on top, there is storage space underneath where they sit and people run beside it and push it. You really need to see them to appreciate why I found them so bizarre. If I ever get an opportunity to photograph one I will.
Another thing I noticed was how the houses across the DRC border instantly looked very different. This was interesting because across the Rwandan border into Uganda everything looked quite similar to Rwanda for some kilometres. It was quite striking seeing two rows of houses opposite each other. On the Rwandan side the houses had shiny new metal roofs and on the Congolese side the housing looked really makeshift.
And the Congolese women looked like they worked so very hard. They were going across the border carrying the most enormous sacks on their backs, something I haven’t really seen so much of in Rwanda. Apparently thats how you can tell that they are Congolese and not Rwandan! I think that Rwandan women only carry things that will balance on their head, very sensible in my opinion. So basically from what I could see at the border it looks like a country of massive contradictions. Huge shiny new cars, big rolex watches (I saw people sporting these in Gisenyi!) and bling for the rich and a desperately hard life for everyone else....Ok need to get off my political soap box before I get myself into trouble....!