Although I fully recognize people's fears and confusion about this place called the Congo; not only has it been referred to as the "heart of darkness" since Joseph Conrad's famous book was published in 1899 but it has also been a place rife with tribal conflict, genocide, and civil war for the last 20 years. However, amidst chaos, violence, and lack of leadership, the Congo lives on. A country spanning 905,600 square miles (2345 sq km) with over 66 million people still stands, and quite proudly I must say.
Entering the eastern center of Goma in the province of North Kivu from the Rwandan border, it is clear that times have been tough. The roads, left over from colonial rule, are worn to bits, buildings are ramshackled (partly due to the volcanic eruption that destroyed part of the town in 2002), and there are more UN trucks on the road then regular vehicles.
Goma is a town full of ex-pats and aid workers and, therefore, a bizzare mix of extreme poverty and highly educated people. Ask any humanitarian worker and they will tell you that Goma is like summer camp and anonymity does not exist.
Spending only a short bit of time in Goma it is clear that in this dusty city life is divided: there are the places for those that have and a lack thereof for those that have not.
However, life still carries on here and with full energy. Boda Bodas move from place to place; local Lingala music blasts from store fronts; women and men move about their daily lives dressed in the most colorful clothing I have ever seen.
The word resilient seems like a giant understatement for the Congolese people. Whether it be a gathering at the local water pump or watching football on tv, the Congolese are ever smiling. They endure, and in ways that not many on this earth could match.
Traveling into Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo?
1. Visas: tourist visas are now available. It is recommended that you get your visa in advance in your home country. It will save you many hours of hassle. A single entry, 1-month VISA is $115 for U.S. citizens. A 3-day tourist visa to Goma and Virunga is available at the boarder for $100. Invitation letters are necessary for both visas and can be obtained from the ICCN office (if you are going to one of the parks) or a local tour agency.
2. Border crossing: check border crossing times. Due to continued conflict, the open crossing times continuously vary.
3. Precautions: Most aid workers in Goma are on strict curfew. Although at the time of the writing it was more lenient (12 am), it is advised to anyone staying in Goma to follow suit. Although most incidences of violence are not directed at foreigners, it is wise to follow the same precautions.
4. Police and FDRC: no pictures, unless you want to see yourself inside one of the worlds most crowded and unsafe jails.