Tag Archives: Uganda

Justice for Ugandans!

I feel great sorrow and anger for the bombings in Kampala. No people deserves acts of cowardice like this one. But I feel special pain for what happened to the Ugandans, as they were son lovely and welcoming when I visited their country back in January and February. I send all my sympathy to them, hoping those who did it will be arrested and punished, and that beautiful green African country can have peace and happiness.

Cacería de gays (en Proceso)

Por Témoris Grecko / Kampala, Uganda (publicado en Proceso, 11 de abril de 2010)

“Salimos de la iglesia completamente asqueados”, dice Lulu Owori, una estudiante de trabajo social de la Universidad de Makerere, en Kampala, la capital de Uganda. “Yo estaba disgustada porque me parece que el pastor abusó de la congregación. Pero la mayoría de la gente estaba de acuerdo con él y muchos decían que había que buscar homosexuales para matarlos. ¡Yo no volveré a misa con él!”

El miércoles 17 de febrero, Martin Ssempa, ministro baptista ugandés, les presentó a sus seguidores un audiovisual muy poco común en las ceremonias de cualquier religión: era una compilación de imágenes de pornografía gay. “¡Ahora ven lo que hacen los homosexuales! Éste le está comiendo el pene a este otro”, describió, “ahora éste le lame el ano a este otro”. “Y después pasó a cosas más fuertes, con puños y objetos”, prosigue Lulu, “frente a niños y niñas, y personas que nunca habían imaginado algo así y que exclamaban muchos ‘ah’ y ‘oh’ de la impresión”. Al introducir su espectáculo, Ssempa había explicado a los 300 asistentes por qué lo hacía: “El mayor argumento de los homosexuales es que lo que uno hace en la privacidad de su habitación, no es asunto de nadie más. Pero, ¿saben ustedes qué es lo que ellos hacen en sus habitaciones?”

A pesar de las críticas, Ssempa ha manifestado su intención de realizar más de estas presentaciones. Su objetivo es generar apoyo para la llamada “Ley Anti-homosexualidad”, una iniciativa que se encuentra actualmente en discusión en el Parlamento de Uganda, bajo la cual se impondrían penas que van desde uno a tres años de cárcel a quien sepa que alguien ha tenido relaciones con alguien del mismo sexo y no lo denuncie antes de 24 horas; hasta pena perpetua para casos “agravados” de homosexualidad, como tener sexo con menores de edad o personas con discapacidades. Otras “ofensas” a castigar son “promover la homosexualidad”, “conspiración para involucrarse en actos homosexuales”, “utilizar intoxicantes para tener relaciones homosexuales” e incluso el simple “intento de tener relaciones homosexuales”. Todo esto pone en la mira no solamente a quienes sostengan este tipo de actividades sexuales, sino a los activistas de derechos humanos que no denuncien a una persona gay. Bajo estas normas, quien le invitara una cerveza a alguien y fuera malinterpretado y denunciado, enfrentaría dos cargos por lo menos: el “intento” (siete años de cárcel) y el “uso de intoxicantes” (tres años).

Todavía hay una medida más extrema, prevista para quienes tengan VIH y sostengan relaciones sexuales, y para los “reincidentes”, aquellos que ya fueron condenados por estos motivos y vuelvan a infringir la norma: pena de muerte.

MISIÓN CRISTIANA

Martin Ssempa planeaba celebrar una “Marcha de un Millón de Hombres y Mujeres” en apoyo de la iniciativa de ley. Por razones de seguridad, el ayuntamiento de Kampala no lo permitió. Pero el de Jinja, una ciudad dedicada al turismo que se encuentra en la boca del río Nilo, sobre el Lago Victoria, no tuvo objeción y unas dos mil personas salieron a expresar su odio contra los gays. Una de ellas, Okware Romno, de 32 años, aseguró: “Yo tengo un versículo de la Biblia, Levítico 20:13, que dice que a los homosexuales hay que matarlos”.

“Este tono religioso no es casual”, afirma Monica Mbaru, de la Comisión Internacional de Derechos Humanos de los Gays y las Lesbianas. “Los líderes religiosos han sostenido una campaña muy fuerte contra la homosexualidad y los líderes políticos africanos, que les tienen un gran respeto, tratan de apegarse a lo que ellos dicen”.

Aunque jerarcas ugandeses de las iglesias Católica, Evangélica y Anglicana emitieron un comunicado conjunto en el que desaprobaban la pena de muerte, utilizaron en él una retórica de condena en la que se refirieron a la homosexualidad como algo “detestable”. Otros ministros, como Ssempa y el influyente arzobispo Henry Orombi, han tomado como misión conducir la campaña en apoyo de la iniciativa de ley. Y tampoco se olvida el papel que misioneros cristianos extranjeros han tenido en todo esto.

Una nota del londinense The Times, del 17 de enero, revela: “La atención en Uganda está puesta en la visita de tres evangélicos de Estados Unidos, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge y Don Schmierer, justo antes de que la ley anti-homosexualidad fuera presentada. Ellos impartieron seminarios para miembros del Parlamento y funcionarios del gobierno, en los que la homosexualidad fue descrita como una enfermedad que puede ser curada”.

Lively, presidente de Defend the Family International y quien afirma saber de homosexualidad “más que nadie en el mundo” porque alguna vez fue gay, dijo a los asistentes que legalizar la homosexualidad sería “legalizar el abuso infantil y el sexo con animales” (también ha afirmado que el genocidio en Ruanda fue llevado a cabo por gays y que el sida es un castigo divino por la homosexualidad). Brundidge trabaja como “asesor de reorientación sexual” en la International Healing Foundation y lleva grupos de cristianos a morgues para intentar hacer que los muertos se levanten.

La iniciativa fue presentada en octubre por David Bahati, un miembro del Parlamento oficialista y cristiano renacido, que tiene ligas con una sociedad semiclandestina occidental, según Jeff Sharlet, autor de “La Familia: fundamentalismo secreto en el corazón del poder estadounidense”. El libro establece que los miembros de la Familia, casi todos legisladores y funcionarios republicanos pero también algunos demócratas, creen que Cristo dio tres tipos de mensajes: uno para un círculo estrecho, otro para un circulo mayor y uno más para el resto de la humanidad, incapaz de enfrentar la verdad. Por lo mismo, los miembros de la Familia dicen saber con exactitud qué es lo que es bueno para el mundo. Sharlet afirma que Bahati dirige el Foro de Liderazgo de la Juventud Africana, una extensión de la Familia, y organiza sus desayunos nacionales de oración en Uganda.

LA INTIMIDAD ES DE LA NACIÓN

La homofobia es una actitud prevalente entre los políticos ugandeses. Yoweri Museveni, presidente de Uganda desde hace 24 años, ha dicho que la homosexualidad “va contra dios” y que “los europeos homosexuales están reclutando en África”. Su ministro de Ética ha afirmado que “la homosexualidad es una perversión moral que no se debe extender”. El 22 de febrero, en un foro sobre derechos humanos, el miembro del parlamento Otto Odonga afirmó que “mataría a mi propio hijo si fuese gay”. Ni en New Vision, el diario oficialista, ni en The Monitor, el de la oposición, hay registro de declaraciones de personajes relevantes en favor de los homosexuales. El opositor Partido Democrático se ha pronunciado apenas por hacerle algunas modificaciones menores a la ley propuesta.

La discusión de la iniciativa va muy lenta, a pesar de este consenso. Muchos ugandeses están indignados por lo que perciben como una ofensiva ilegítima de líderes occidentales: el presidente Museveni se quejó ante la prensa en estos términos: “El primer ministro de Canadá vino a verme, ¿y de qué hablaba? Gays. El primer ministro británico vino a verme, ¿y de qué hablaba? Gays. La señora Clinton me llamó por teléfono, ¿y de qué hablaba? Gays”. El presidente Barack Obama ha calificado la ley propuesta de “odiosa”. Los promotores de la legislación han denunciado que el presidente Museveni ha hecho que el proceso de aprobación se estanque a causa de estas presiones, y que debido a ellas, la pena de muerte podría ser eliminada del texto. Otros creen que los parlamentarios sólo están esperando que la atención del público occidental se dirija a otro asunto para aprobarla.

Dentro de Uganda, la lucha contra la propuesta está confinada a pequeños grupos de activistas que se arriesgan a ser arrestados si se manifestan en público. El sábado 14 de febrero, en un hotel de Kampala se realizó la conferencia “De pie del lado del amor: reimaginar el Día de San Valentín”, con asistencia de apenas 200 personas. “La convocamos en secreto para evitar que la policía la interrumpiera”, explica Abdallah Wambere, un activista gay que participó como maestro de ceremonias. “Las leyes en vigor ya nos persiguen, la homosexualidad ya es delito y no tenemos derecho a expresarnos”, continúa, “la nueva iniciativa sólo es parte de una campaña que afecta a todo el continente africano”.

Varios eventos recientes avalan su dicho. El 12 de febrero, los asistentes a una boda simbólica de homosexuales en el puerto keniano de Mombasa estuvieron a punto de ser linchados por una multitud, tras lo cual intervino la policía que, en lugar de someter a los atacantes, arrestó a cinco invitados. El día 22, en Malawi, un gay de 26 años y otro de 20 fueron presentados ante el juez bajo la acusación de “indecencia”, por lo que pueden ser condenados hasta a 14 años de prisión. Fueron aprehendidos durante una ceremonia privada de compromiso y encerrados en una cárcel de alta seguridad, donde viven en pésimas condiciones y, según sus defensores, han sido objeto de palizas y violaciones. El 27, los diarios kenianos publicaron una nota en la que presentan a los gays, en general, como “un riesgo para un gran número de kenianos”, ya que “un 60% de ellos se acuesta con hombres casados” (a quienes nadie obliga a solicitar estos servicios), a pesar de que se trataba del resultado de un sondeo realizado a un grupo específico: los 739 prostitutos del distrito de Mombasa.

La encuesta global Ottoman LGBT (lesbianas, gays, bisexuales y transexuales) 2009, que evalúa las actitudes populares hacia la homosexualidad, coloca a Kenia como el país más homofóbico del mundo, con un 98% de personas que contestó que “la homosexualidad es un estilo de vida que la sociedad no debe aceptar”. Lo siguen Mali, Nigeria e Indonesia.

La prohibición de la homosexualidad es una herencia de la época en que estos y otros países eran colonias de Gran Bretaña: en las legislaciones heredadas se castigan “las relaciones carnales contra el orden de la naturaleza, con hombre, mujer o animal”. A esto se suma una actitud popular de rechazo, que se expresa en comentarios como el de Ritah Natukunde, una informática de 22 años: “La homosexualidad no es algo africano, es algo que trajeron los europeos para pervertirnos y dominarnos”.

“Es un problema de ignorancia”, explica Noma Pakade, de Behind the Mask, un grupo de lucha por los derechos de los gays y las lesbianas que actúa desde Sudáfrica. “Cuando la gente escucha la palabra ‘homosexual’, piensa en pedofilia”. En efecto, uno de los argumentos más poderosos en favor de la iniciativa es que la homosexualidad es una condición que se puede quitar y que, igualmente, se puede adquirir, e incluso “contagiar”: la alerta que han lanzado religiosos y políticos de que los homosexuales “reclutan” va dirigida a los padres, que temen que a sus hijos los “conviertan” en gays. “También se cree que todo es promiscuidad”, continúa Pakade, “no entienden que una relación homosexual puede estar basada en el amor e involucrar a dos adultos conscientes, tal como ocurre con los heterosexuales”.

Además del legado británio y los prejuicios, influye el activismo religioso, como el del pastor Martin Ssempa. En su página web se autodescribe como “asesor del gobierno” y se presenta como “una voz apasionada en la lucha global contra el VIH/sida”. Su lucha contra el virus rechaza totalmente el uso del condón, todo debe basarse en la abstinencia hasta el matrimonio y, después, en la fidelidad. Uno de los logros del gobierno de Museveni ha sido una eficaz campaña contra el VIH que hizo que la infección descendiera de una tasa de 12% a un 4%, hace diez años. Pero entonces su esposa se convirtió al evangelismo y el enfoque sobre prevención cambió, para adoptar la posición que sostiene Ssempa: la tasa se elevó hasta el 6.4% de hoy.

“Hay que ser fiel a dios”, dice Ssempa fuera de su iglesia en Kampala. Atiende a mucha gente –es un hombre popular– y no tiene tiempo para un periodista: “Ya sé de qué quieres hablar”. Se muestra amable pero poco dispuesto a conversar. En la solapa, lleva un pin que dice: “Ugandeses contra la sodomía”. Tras advertir que “el lobby de activistas homosexuales se ha apoderado del mundo occidental” y “no nos van a imponer las costumbres anticristianas”, accede a responder por qué le importa tanto lo que la gente hace en la intimidad: “En África, lo que tú haces en tu habitación afecta a nuestro clan, afecta a nuestra tribu y afecta a nuestra nación”.

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A genuine artist in Uganda

Just when I was leaving Uganda, photographer Benedicte Desrus arrived there… it’s such a pity, because she is doing an amazing work there on topics I’m interested on and I’d love to have worked together. Take a look at her pics on homosexuality and the antigay bill in Uganda (my story on Mexico’s Proceso weekly, currently on sale, is on the same issue).

God, Truth and Religion: against the institutional control of faith

–There is only one God and one Truth. These are our God and His Truth. Everybody else is fatally wrong and they will suffer for their sins. We are the only ones to be saved.

Who told me this? Was he a Buddhist? Mmm, no. With a different wording, Buddhists told me the same thing in Luang Prabang (Laos), in 2006, and in Kumbum (Tibet), in 2008. Was he a Hindu? No, Kali Hindus told me this in Nasik (India), and Krsna Hindus did it in Varanasi, both times in 2005. Nor was he a Sikh, because that happened in Amritsar (Punjab), in the same year. He wasn’t an Evangelical pastor, this guy said that to me in Kashgar (Xinjiang), last year, and another one did recently in Kampala (Uganda). Nor was he a Jew, this old Haredi man “taught” me this last November in Jerusalem. Of course, he wasn’t a Catholic: I’ve been hearing this in Mexico since I could understand language, and more so now, when fundamentalists have a big say in our government.

No, he was a Muslim. Not the first one, I’ve been reminded of the obvious Truth of Islam in many countries, from Xi’an to Madrid, with stops in Iran, Syria and Kenya. And as so many others, from all religions, this pious man from Cairo who spoke to me this morning, could not accept that people from every faith believe that theirs is the only divine one, that all the others are infidel and wrong. They, as this Egyptian friend, present as the very only evidence of their statements the visible truth of their word.

To my eyes, religion distorts and manipulates people’s faith. Some say that, without religion, we would still be living under the law of the jungle, that religion has given us moral and ethics. They rush to dismiss the humanity’s ability to develop and teach herself moral and ethics. This is false, and as an ancient, massive and living evidence of this I provide Confucianism, a strict philosophical doctrine without a God that has ruled the lives of hundreds of millions of Asians since long before Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism were invented.

One of the perverse things of religions is that, as they give you a moral and an ethics that you should always follow, they also give you the very only valid “reason” for which you should burn, steal, rape, hurt and kill: for the sake of religion. Religion teaches you that you should restrain yourself and respect your neighbour, life, property, nature. That’s good. But it also tells you that, when God is enraged (and it is the men of religion who will tell you when is it that He is enraged), you should kill by sword and fire, and that you shouldn’t feel remorse or regret for this: you are justified because God is with you. Don’t think, don’t feel, just obey His divine word and find satisfaction in that. (Perhaps with the sole exception of Buddhism, but Buddhist monks were behind many bloody Tibetan wars, as they were behind brutal slavery until just half a century ago.)

I’ve seen the rage of God in several countries. Or rather, the rage of people who thought they were acting on behalf of God.

Not all religious people are like that, of course. I have a deep respect for religious people who, in turn, show respect for others. For the others who believe in something different. And for the others who don’t believe. Sometimes I think that these kind of religious people are not exactly religious, but rather people who have managed to live their faith apart from the perverse call of religion. Many of them, though, will tell me that they feel religious themselves, and I’m no one to tell them they are wrong.

So let’s talk of organised or institutional religions, then, whose shortcomings, evildoings and contradictions are there for those who won’t close their eyes. Religion is something far too delicate to be touched by the hands of mortals, but it can’t be spared from them because it was created by mortals.

A recent example comes with the latest scandals of paedophilia within the Catholic church. The Pope wrote a kind of apology letter to the Irish people, which fell far short of satisfying the victims, as they publicly stated. The papal spokesman, Federico Lombardi, denounced an anti-Catholic plot and complained that the Vatican is being unfairly mistreated for this matter, for peadophilia is as common within the Church as it is in any other human institution. Is he accepting that the Church is as low and worldly as a rugby team or a State-run orphanage? Does the Church want to be held to the same standards as any other organisation? As The Economist magazine stated: “That sits oddly with the Church’s claim to represent God on Earth and with the trust and respect it expects from the faithful, particularly from children (exemplified in the priestly title: ‘Father’)”. From The Economist too: “If you preach absolute moral values, you will be held to absolute moral standards”.

But religions are not self-critical. They can’t be, as each of them claims to be in exclusive possession of the God’s Truth, and God is perfect.

The fact is that religions, in their institutional forms, are mere human creations based on myth and legend, with no real arguments to pretend to have a better truth than any other human explanation of existence. They sustain themselves in their own sayings, no more. Still, they tend to meddle with other people’s lives, they dismiss everybody else and, thus, they justify and provide the moral ground for their faithful to abuse others.

I think that believers on this or that, and non-believers, would live together and understand each other a lot better without the heavy pressure of institutional religions. It is inflamed Hindu priests who demand the faithful to burn mosques. It was Shinto Buddhist monks who conforted the Japanese soldiers who launched Chinese babies to the air only to pin them with their bayonettes in Nanjing. It is passionate Evangelical pastors who campaign to apply death penalty to gay people in Uganda. It is Shia Muslim ayatollahs who demand to execute young Iranians for expressing dissident ideas. It is Sunni Muslim clerics who call to kill all infidels. It is curly Jewish rabbis who promote the anhiliation of Gaza people and call Orthodox Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to stop the occupation of thy neighbour’s land. It was revered Catholic military priests who accompanied and gave moral support to the believers when they tortured innocents to death in Franco’s Spain and in Videla’s Argentina. It is also pious Mexican Catholic clergymen who are promoting legislation to send women to jail, the very victims of rape who have had to go through clandestine abortions. We don’t forget.

Yes, I know. There are also enlightened ayatollahs, rabbis, priests, monks, imams. But their good work doesn’t make up for the evildoings of the institutions they belong to.

There is no need for that, people should be able to gather to pursue their beliefs without an institution ruling and exercising power over them. Because at the end of the day, that’s what religions are: huge power mechanisms, with a strong tendency to invade other people’s lives. And for that, we have more than enough with our politicians and generals: let’s at least disposses them of the religious arguments they use to justify their wrongdoings. Evil should never be done in the name of God. Anymore.

A year on the road and a birthyear with the Sun

Dear friends:

Last March 2 it was a year since I flew out of Mexico and started this second round-the-world trip. I’m in Nairobi now, which has trapped me just as it did back in 2005. And, as I decided that I will turn 40 once and only once (not tempted to repeat), I won’t have a birthday, but a birthyear with the Sun. Therefore, I’m also starting here a series of celebrations which should follow the fireball in the sky: from South to North as the Boreal Summer approaches and the Austral one heads off, and from East to West as the light chases away the darkness.

In this year I have seen things that have made me feel ever more amazed about our world, its nature and its peoples.

First of all, I watched in big close-up the Iranian Green Revolution. It was a unique chance to witness the bravery, generousity and glamour of a wonderful people rebelling against the military-religious dictatorship that rules them. If it was only for this experience, the whole trip is worth it. As long as the authoritarian regime is in place, I won’t be welcome back in Iran, which makes me very sad. But I believe in the Iranians and trust that they will get rid of that fanatic, corrupt cast of pious cheaters, liars and killers. I wrote a book on what I saw and heard, which shall be on sale in Spain (a little later in Mexico and Argentina) by mid-April. It’s title is “La ola verde. Crónica de una revolución espontánea” and it will be published in Barcelona by Los Libros del Lince. It’s in Spanish, of course, and though you can dismiss the possibility that some foreign publisher would like to acquire it and translate it into English, this is not very likely. As one English writer puts it, “we English native speakers stopped reading foreign language authors since Voltaire was alive”. Hope dies last, of course, so we’ll see.

I’ve also seen the pledge of the Uyghur people from Kashgar, pushed far from their homes as the Old City, a crucial stage on the Silk Road, was being bulldozed by the Chinese government to build huge appartment blocks in its place. I saw huge Buddhas in the Mogao caves and six-hundred metres sand dunes nearby, in Dunhuang. I crossed the snowed Pamirs and the Tian Shan, now in Kyrgyzstan, where my belongings ended in some thieves’ hands. Then, in Uzbekistan, I went to the now-defunct Aral Sea, where ship corpses strangely lie on the sand in the middle of the desert.

Iran was the highlight. But I was almost caught by the police commiting journalistic crimes and had to escape to Armenia, where I made a detour to Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied, utterly destroyed Azeri city of Aghdam. In Georgia, I went up to Kazbegi, a wonder in the Greater Caucasus, in Georgia. Then I took a little holiday. Sort of, because I went to Barcelona to write the book, but my dear Catalina and many other friends, old and new, made me feel the most welcome.

Back on the road, I went to the Turkish Kurdistan and then to one of the most amazing cities on Earth, Istanbul, where I was also warmly received. In fact, this part of the trip makes a big contrast with the Central Asian one, which was tough for many reasons, being the main one a deep feeling of isolation. Now, and for months, I’ve met lovely people in almost every place. Like Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Accre, Jerusalem, Ramallah… and Mama Africa: it was a coming back home. Uganda, Congo (with it’s volcanic eruptions, an eclipse, gorillas), Ruanda, Uganda again… and now Kenya.

So here I am, reporting on a year on the road… and inviting everyone to join me in this birthyear with the sun…

No time for siesta. Life is fiesta!!!

The celebrations actually started in Kampala’s Backpackers on New Year’s Eve and following weeks, with Sean, Adam, Kate, Clare, The Prince Formerly Known as Frankie, Andy, Rafa, Peter, Rachel and so many more! Nakasero nights, Kololo nights… Kabalagala nights and mornings! What a start!

And then Nairobi, with Laura, Melanie, Waireri, Sheila, Waringa, Cynthia, Peaches, David, Ben, David “Hacienda”, Wendy “Paloma”, “Rodríguez” and again, Adam, who took a few days off to celebrate with me in Westlands, Langata, Hurlingham and… well, not yet, but Madhouse should appear at some point.

What next?

Well, be aware: A party! Coming soon to a venue near you!

Next in line are:
Following the Sun from South to North: up to Cairo, by mid-March; Tel Aviv, late this month; and Istanbul, late April.

Then, from East to West: Barcelona, late May; Madrid, in June; and Mexico City!!! in… well, all this is temptative, so let’s say August.

The celebrations will have covered, by then, 8 cities in four continents.

Naturally, Mexico City’s celebrations should be rather quiet, my body will be quite diminished after all this, and well, it’s 40… but I paid everything I owed and was punished for every sin in the deserts of Central Asia and Iran, this is my only 40th birthyear, and that’s my beloved city!

(And the celebrations threaten to connect with the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence, in September… dammit!)

So, as you see, I’m not as serious as you no doubt thought I was. And you are welcome to be as unserious as you can in any, or all, of these fiestas!

Happy bithyear!

Con amor, Témoris

A year on the road

Today, March 2, but one year ago, I flew from Mexico to China and started this second round-the-world trip. I crossed Asia from East to West following the Silk Road, perceived the growing anger in China’s Uyghur inhabitants, resisted repeated police abuse in Kyrgyzstan, climbed ships stranded on dunes in the dissapeared Aral sea in Uzbekistan, witnessed a Green Revolution in Iran, sneaked into a closed military zone in a thoroughly destroyed city in Nagorno-Karabakh, survived a car race on a narrow mountain road in the Greater Caucasus, wrote a book in Barcelona, talked to a former Kurdish fighter in Turkey, got a Muslim name in Şanlıurfa (just the name), attended Friday noon prayers in Damascus’ Umayyad mosque, listened to foreign female domestic workers who had been enslaved in Lebanon, enjoyed tea with Bedouins in Palmyra, walked the ghostly buffer zone in Cyprus, sensed the hopeless hatred in Jerusalem, interviewed Palestinian hiphoppers in Ramallah, got lost in Petra, watched a solar eclipse and a volcanic eruption, and met great men and gorillas in the Heart of Darkness (Congo), felt the sadness of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke to a pious Christian pastor who wants to kill gay people in Uganda, and came to Kenya to visit old friends.

12 months on the road…

Chasing gays in Uganda

Are you one of those who want to kill someone because he/she is gay? Are you also a devoted Christian? Come to Uganda, here you’ll feel among your pairs and soon, satisfied: a bill proposing death penalty for gçays might be approved. And pastors support it showing gay porn videos to their congregations: “The major argument homosexuals have is that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is nobody’s business but do you know what they do in their bedrooms?”, asked pastor Martin Ssempa.

Dangerous traffickers

Crossing the border into Rwanda, the guards searched my luggage thoroughly. Being in Africa, you would say they were looking for smuggled merchandise… or drugs… or weapons, a good AK-47 hidden in my daypack! Well, no… they were looking for plastic bags! They are banned in Rwanda, a country of clean streets. Two US girls had bad luck and the guards emptied and confiscated their plastic bags just there!

Congo: Gorillas, volcanoes and eclipse

The Eastern provinces of the Republique Democratique du Congo, or DR Congo in short in English, are known for being the deadliest place on Earth, the land of the most terrible and massive crimes and the highest number of deaths since World War II. So you can understand that I was a bit wary when I decided to come here.

This feeling was accentuated because I had to come from Uganda via Rwanda, and the bus I had to take there belonged to a company called “Atraco Express”. In Spanish,  “atraco” means mugging and it didn’t make me happy at all that it was going to take place very quickly. This wasn’t the most appealing publicity trick I had heard of. I was wondering if “atraco” had any meaning in Swahili or Kinyarwanda, maybe “confort” or “relax”, something that could ease me a bit. Finally, it was French, an acronym that stands for Association pour un Transport Communitaire.

I came to Congo to research stories on tough matters: the devoted park rangers’ struggle against poachers, militias, soldiers and charcoal trafickers; and the situation of females in a region Human Rights Watch describes as “the worst place on Earth to be a woman”. It should be no holiday, but hard work and prudent behaviour.  This last thing has never been easy for me, creature of the night.

The traitor Aztec king Moctezuma thought signs of sky as odd, anticipation of tragedies. To me, they announced an unexpectedly pleasant experience in Congo.

I was lovingly received in the city of Goma (Nord Kivu province) by my old friend, Samantha Newport, and her partner and their son, William and Alex. That was very nice. First morning, Andrè, a Congolese clerk, rushed into the office (where I sleep) looking for his mobile phone to take photos with it. There was a sun eclipse taking place! Stunning in the early morning’s light, behind some dark clouds.

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Later in the day, Sam took me to the Parc National des Virunga’s headquarters, in the village of Rumangabo, one and a half hours North of Goma, by a very difficult road. This is a highly volcanic area. In 2002, Mount Nyiragongo’s eruption, just 10 kilometres away from the city, sent a wave of very fluid lava which destroyed 80% of Goma. Just now, Mount Nyamulagira, 15 kilometres away, has been throwing lava for 21 days, though not in our direction.

The Goma citizens rebuilt their city between 6 and 20 metres higher than it used to be, on top of the new lava crust. Its streets, not made of concrete nor dirt, but of rough and edgy volcanic rock, are probably the bumpiest I’ve ever seen. Carmakers of the world should test their vehicles here, if they survive, nothing will stop them! And several parts of the road to Rumangabo run over volcanic rock too.

Sam had a surprise for me in Rumangabo: Ndeze and Ndakasi, a couple orphaned gorillas of about two and a half years old, whose mothers were killed in cold blood by charcoal traffickers (in which was a series of gorilla massacres in 2007), were playing in a special enclosure purposedly built for them in the jungle. I had written about Ndeze and Ndakasi’s plight in Mexico’s El Universal and Quo, and was delighted to see them well and joyful!

Ndeze chilling out in Rumangabo

In the Virunga range area, shared by Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, live the last 700 mountain gorillas of the world, so their protection from militia members, poachers and traffickers is vital for this specie’s survival.

Sam introduced me to one of her assistants in Virunga’s communication department, Eddy Mbuyi, a very intelligent and fun Congolese guy who became my guide and now, my friend. On the third day, we went up to Bukima, a rangers’ post in the park’s gorilla sector.

Eddy Mbuyi

Behind Eddy, you can see two 4,500 metres volcanoes, Karisimbi to the left, and Mikeno, after which the gorilla sector is named. In total, we could see five volcanoes and we enjoyed a wonderful sunset.

This is Mikeno

And this is Nyiragongo, the one that destroyed Goma in 2002.

Mount Nyragongo is meant to be the most active volcano in Africa. Eddy said he heard the lava was coming at 14.00, and by 17.00 the city was covered and the population had escaped to Rwanda. It’s nearly one million people, imagine the madness! This volcano is not erupting just now, but in its crater it doesn’t have a water or ice lake, but a hot lava lake. There’s always smoke rising from it. At night, the clouds or smoke over it also reflect the lava lake’s red glow.

What we didn’t know was that Mount Nyamulagira’s eruption was visible from there. What’s that?, said Eddy when he first discovered the huge lava explosions.

What diablos is that!

Eddy got a telescope and we could see this... well, no, with the telescope it looks so well, you can clearly see the lava elevating hundreds of meters and then falling onto the slopes. This is all I could do trying to take a picture of the telescope image... not much.

An amplified image of the pic I took with the telescope.

For this one I only used the camara, no telescope.

Another one without telescope, amplified

The volcano is almost 30 kms away from Bukima, but we could clearly see the lava, which seemed to go up in the air many hundreds of metres. Later in the night, the wind formed a kind of huge sombrero with the smoke, which then reflected the red light of the eruption. I felt like in another world.

Every volcano should have a sombrero

Next day we went into the jungle looking for the Humba family, a group of gorillas habituated to human presence. This is important because generating income that can be used not only to protect the park, but for the benefit of the local communities (30% of the 400 usd we pay for the permit goes to social projects), is key to help the people to understand the importance of keeping the gorillas, instead of killing them (for their hands and head, which can be sold in the black market) or cutting hecteares of trees to make charcoal. The downside of their habituation is that, in the 2007’s massacres, the killers took advantage of the gorilla’s friendliness to approach them and execute them.

Ours was an amazing experience: we walked with three rangers who led us through the thick jungle to the place they had left the gorillas at the previous day. Then, they first tracked them to the spot where they made their nests to sleep, and from there, to where we found them chilling out and having the craic. Someone said that in the other side of the Virunga range, in Rwanda, there are too many tourists, you have to wait for days or weeks to get a permit and then, the rangers don’t do any tracking, they just communicate with radios and walk straight to the right place.

Meet the Humbas, then! First I almost bumped into the huge silverback, Humba, the family head, with his 250 kilograms, wow! Big fella, sitting in the shade and not really paying much attention to us. When Diddy, the ranger, told me he was just next to me, I thought he could get me by the neck in one second, so I walked away. I had to, because gorillas are very vulnerable to human illnesses and we are supposed to keep a seven metres distance.

Don't mess with Humba!

Nice fella

 

Siesta time!

Later we saw other members of the family, like an old female, a baby with her mother having breast, and the youngsters that in a couple years will challenge Humba’s dominion over the girls.

Magori and her 5-month-old baby

Mago and her escuincle

Semakuba, a female Humba stole after a fight with Kabirizi, another silverback

Congo is what it is and all this sweetness couldn’t last forever. I was amazed at its wonders and really enjoying it, but I had to get to know the ugly sides as well. I had to interview the rangers, who have faced horrible situations in the hands of their enemies. And now I’m about to take a boat to another city, Bukavu, on the other end of Lake Kivu, where the drama of violence against women goes further than any of us could have imagined.

But this is the story I wanted to tell you just now. Congo, and Virunga in particular, are truly fascinating. I would say be extremely careful, but don’t discard coming here to experience it yourselves.

Love, Témoris

PS: Take a look at the Virunga park’s website: http://www.gorilla.cd

“Mugging” to Congo

In Spanish, “atraco” means mugging… that’s why I’m a little bit weary of the bus company I will have to use tomorrow to go from Rwanda to Congo: Atraco Express… kind of odd, isn’t it? The internet has been down for days here in Kampala and I could barely connect to leave this post. I’m leaving tonight to Kigali and will try to reply e-mails from Goma (volcano permitting…)