Ending Two Years at Virunga


This is my new website, and past time for my once-a-year update although I’m hoping (as usual) to write more consistently. If you subscribed to my previous blog, you’ll need to do it again here as I will be closing that one soon.

The big news is that after two years working at Virunga National Park in DR Congo, my job has ended and I will be looking for other work. If anyone has ideas, please let me know. My brother Steve told me once that I like to “reinvent” myself every couple of years. There is much truth in this. I’m not sure why, but I do enjoy change and trying new things. Not only do I often change countries I’m working in, I change careers as well…

…film location managing, humanitarian work, teaching, photojournalism, communications…

…California, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Congo…

I’m looking forward to what is next but not in a rush.

 

I’ve been enjoying some leisure time in Kenya staying with my nephew and his family outside Nairobi and enjoying every minute of no-stress. Christmas here was spent with family which for me there is nothing better. I’ll be returning to Congo next week for a freelance photography/writing job, covering a story on Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Bunia. I will have the added pleasure of staying with my brother and his wife, Jon and Cher. After that I may go back to the US for a time.

 

The strongest memories from this past year are not necessarily the most pleasant. A new rebel movement called M23 took over the area of North Kivu province where I lived, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes to IDP camps. Even our ranger families were sent packing to a make-shift camp of plastic sheeting tents outside Goma just prior to a violent battle near our headquarters. Although this rebel group isn’t the worst (I liked to jokingly say that we had the good rebels as compared to the truly evil ones hell-bent on killing our rangers), it disrupted the lives of so many people in an area of the country that cannot seem to find lasting peace. Just four years ago this population was uprooted by a rebel war and before that even harsher wars triggered by the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
 
I was evacuated from the park headquarters at least six times during the year, beginning on April 1st, each time sent to Goma on Lake Kivu, the city an hour and a half south of us. I missed Rumangabo, my tent, my community, and stability more than you can possibly imagine. We would work from Goma until it appeared to be safe enough to return. After a while it became clear that it was best to have a bag packed at all times, and soon it seemed that everything I owned should be taken to Goma in case the headquarters was over-run. Back and forth, back and forth. In November, during one of the evacuations, the rebels took over Goma and we fled across the border to Rwanda.

Although tourism ended when the rebel war began, it was not all bad news. Just weeks before the problems started, a filmmaker agreed to make a documentary for the park. Although this may sound twisted, the timing could not have been better. This filmmaker seemed to always be at the park during the worst times to document what was happening on video, so much so that we accused him of orchestrating the trouble. The full-length documentary will be released this year, something you shouldn’t miss. Many projects were able to continue in spite of the war, and considering the circumstances, it could have been much worse:

  • Although our rangers came under fire numerous times, we only lost three (11 were killed in 2011).
  • Although the mountain gorilla sector came under the control of the rebels, no gorillas were killed that we know of, and 7 new babies were born among the 6 habituated groups.
  • Although tourism income disappeared entirely, individuals and organizations came to the rescue to keep the park going.

The last two years have been an amazing adventure, one I’m incredibly grateful for.

Now on to a new one. I’m open to ideas.

(Thanks to Orlando for the use of his photos of the Goma war.)

8 Comments

  1. Krista 9 February 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Wow Lu, what a crazy time to be there (although it sounds like it’s more crazy than normal). I’m thankful as well that this time was “easier” than most.
    Give hugs to the rest of the Cadds from us and maybe we’ll get a chance to see you this summer??? 🙂

    • admin 10 February 2013 at 11:05 am #

      Krista, I certainly hope I can see you if/when I come back. I have a wedding to shoot this summer in England for 2 friends, so will be away for some of the summer.

  2. Jane England 10 February 2013 at 2:34 am #

    Lu, as always love hearing your stories and seeing your photos. as if working with the gorillas wasn’t enough now you have been kissed by a giraffe! love it! excited to hear your next adventure… big hugs from me xx

    • admin 10 February 2013 at 11:06 am #

      Thanks Jane. We must make a plan to meet up somewhere in the world. It’s been way too long.

  3. Marlene 10 February 2013 at 7:57 am #

    I wish you all the best for whatever the future will bring for you. I was a great pleasure to meet you. Thanks to internet and facebook, it is easy to stay in touch

    • admin 10 February 2013 at 11:07 am #

      Thanks Marlene. I’ll be watching your life and the Congohounds closely. You are an amazing woman and have done so much for Virunga.

  4. innocent 12 February 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Thanks Cadd for this post

  5. Helen Cadd 16 November 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    You are amazing, Lu–and I am so proud of you.

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