I’m sorry there’s been a big dry-spell here on my blog. I spent the month of November and beginning of December working many days and long hours on a research/photography job for MAF UK (Mission Aviation Fellowship) covering stories on various NGOs/Missions in Northern Uganda, and Southern Sudan. It was a wonderful and humbling experience to see the life-changing work of selfless individuals. The last two weeks I’ve been in Nairobi, Kenya to spend the holidays with my family (brother Jon and Cher, nephew Josh and his family).
I’d like to post photos and tell stories about all this soon, but mostly I’m writing to catch you up on my plans.
On January 3rd, I will be flying back to Congo to start a 4-6 month job at Virunga National Park in eastern DRC. This park is the oldest national park in all of Africa, and probably one of the most spectacular, or at least it used to be. Within its boundaries lie the nearly 17,000 foot Rwenzori Mountains, active volcanoes, and mountain gorillas. It used to be full of wild animals, but the seemingly endless conflicts in Congo and neighboring Rwanda have nearly destroyed the park and its animals. Emmanuel, the Belgian warden of the park for the last 3 years, has been fighting a desperate and difficult battle to save this park and the animals. He deals regularly with poaching, militia attacks, army problems, illegal destruction of the forests and many other issues, including that Congolese government has little money to contribute to the protection of the park, and so the survival of the park is dependent on donations from small and large sources. This is where I come in. The park already has a good website on line that includes a blog and ways to donate, but they need help to increase the readership and donations on the blog. I will be involved somehow in this effort, although I’m not sure exactly to what extent yet. I’m going into this job in a fog and hope it clears up by the time I start. (http://gorillacd.org/blog/)
It sounds like an adventure, and I will most likely have numerous opportunities to see the gorillas, which I’ve heard is a never-to-forget experience. I will hopefully also be able to climb the active volcano, which is nearly 12,000 feet high, and stand on the edge looking down into a red boiling caldron of lava. That also, I’ve heard, is spectacular. What I’m not thrilled about is the insecurity of the place. A militia group known as Mai Mai have attacked ranger stations as recently as last month.
I will be living in a safari-type tent at the Rumangabo main headquarters, about an hour drive north of Goma (only about 20 miles). The tent apparently is tall enough to stand up in, has a bed, desk, shelf, and electricity, and is a short walk to the bathroom. I imagined that I would have a locked door and walls between me and any possible shooting that might happen, so a tent doesn’t give me much peace of mind. Feel free to send up prayers for peace and security there. I think the last time this ranger station was seriously attacked was in 2008. In the last 15 or so years, they’ve lost over 120 rangers (and I’ve heard up to 140) related to the conflicts. This is probably a record for any national park anywhere in the world. As recently as April, a baby gorilla was rescued from poachers who probably killed its mother and other gorillas. (http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/great-apes/2010/04/gorilla-doctors-rescue-captive.html) It never seems to end, and yet (believe it or not), things have improved so much that tourists are coming to see the gorillas and climb the volcano.
I hope that you will all follow what I’m up to there, but I’ll try to keep this blog up as well, or repost those blogs here with a more personal touch.
Lots of love and grace to all of you this coming year. Thank you for reading and for all the comments. It is so very appreciated!