quarta-feira, 20 de janeiro de 2010
Zone Rouge (Red Zone)
Zone Rouge (1st Part)
(Congo, Masisi -- 2009)
My daily life in Masisi was, almost everyday, between our base and the hospital, which was a distance of 300 mts, so many times I felt trapped between those 300 mts, we couldn't go anywhere almost and even if we could go to town during the day where there was nothing, and I almost never had time because of work.
I couldn't say that I saw anything about Congo or even the region where I was, even though Masisi was right on these amazingly beautiful mountains.... it was still a strange feeling not to be able to go anywhere.... Security reasons, lack of time, kept me within those very short 300mts... Many of my colleagues where telling stories about other places, beautiful sites and views... and I needed to see a bit more of that great part of Africa that many people compare to the beauty of the Alps... Many times I was asking my boss, the field coordinator, to go somewhere, to get patients from others places to our hospital... But the answer was always the same “Gustavo, you have to stay in the hospital in case you are necessary in the operation room for an emergency!” Of course I understood that he was right.... but I wanted to go!
Masisi was in theory under control of the Congolese Army and the United Nations, even though sometimes we had conflicts right in town.... but apart from those days that were not that often, the Red Zone would start something like 10 kms away from Masisi, and from that line on it was officially consider war zone! Where the conflicts were almost daily and unpredictable!
My boss was about 50 years old, with many years of experience in Congo, and not many people knew what he knows about that complex conflict in eastern Congo... He is kind of a legend and a hero for that people as in 2007, when that project started thanks to him, war was IN Masisi, and while everybody was trying to escape that “apocalypse now scenario”, he arrived there and decide not to go anywhere and to help that population that was in desperate need of help.... No one else would be helping those innocents suffering from that war, if it was not for Doctors Without Borders and his decision of starting something with a small group when bullets were flying from everywhere and nobody was safe anywhere....
It was a Saturday night and I was having a glass of the very bad Rwandan wine (but that was all we had), and talking at night with my colleagues in one of the few moments that we had to relax and feel normal, when my boss came to me and ask me : “I will pick up 2 patients in Likueti tomorrow, do you want to come?“ It was the Red Zone of the Red Zone… villages where the rebels were in total control and where the Congolese Army or the United Nations were consider the enemy and would never go … With no hesitation I said Yes … “Be ready at 6.00!” That was all he said before continuing the cheerful conversation that we were all having.... I was pretending that I was hearing the conversation, but mind my was 100% occupied about my expectations of the next day! Nobody of the my colleagues expats was ever there, and at that moment the 2 other doctors that were there were women.... Maybe they were tougher and more experienced than me, but for my boss considering that it was necessary to go with a doctor, if he was taking any of us to that dangerous place where anything could happen.... it was better to take a man!! Being attacked, arrested, lost, sexual violence.... everything is possible there if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time!
So, finally I was going somewhere … I was happy for that, and for going into the most difficult places to reach and to help those that deserved the most....
The wine just started to taste better, as my heart was also beating a bit faster, and after I finished another glass I went to bed before 22.00... I was sure that I was not going to sleep, but I was in a mood to think and talk to myself....
Before I left Porto, many of my favorite places of the city, I looked at, with the feeling that it could be the last time that I was looking at them.... many people that I love, I stared at, to take their faces very lively in my memory..... and all that was passing in my mind, one place after the other, slowly with no hurry, I was playing with my memories, thinking about the ones that make my world, and make me feel so happy to be alive …. I am not sure if I slept that night... for many hours I was really entertained, no Tv, no Internet, no one else, just me and my world built by memories..... I laughed and I cried.... for the same reasons.... All that I love, that makes me happy.... was also the reason to make me cry......”Saudades !!”.... and the strange feeling, that I was going right in the middle of the war zone!
When I stood up few minutes passed 5.00, my trip in my thoughts was over and now was time for the real thing! Like most of the other days, there was no running water (a cold shower was good news for me), so I had to have a bucket bath, but because it was too early there was not hot water (that was heated by one of the guards).... so it couldn't be worst a cold bucket shower to awake up.... there was no breakfast because it was too early and cold leftovers from dinner didn't seem like a good option for a very long bumpy ride in the worst roads you can imagine. So I was sure that for many hours I would have nothing to eat, but still I was ready and excited to go....
Two 4 by 4s, two Congolese drivers and me, and Phillipe (my boss) that was going to do the first part of the trip by motorbike in order to came back faster, as he still had to go to Goma on that same day, so there was Phillipe and his bike and another driver from the national staff driving another motorbike. About 1,5 hours took us to arrive to Nyabiondo, a town just passed the line of the Red Zone.... Its really sad to see the rhythm of this town, it used to be an important town, but now surrounded by war, it doesn't look like a very nice place to live, but many people still do, sleeping on the hills around and coming down from the mountains during the day to trade goods and make their business, and at night they hide again on the mountains not to be an easy target for the military or the rebels, who ever wants to rob them, kill them or rape their women.... The camp of the MONUC (Mission of the UN in Congo) is also impressive... a scary building, bombed in many parts of the walls that were surrounded by many layers of wire and where you could see many soldiers on the walls with machine guns aiming outside permanently....
(Sorry but no pictures from this moments as it was strictly forbidden and if somebody would see me with a camera I could put myself and all the others in risk of life....)
From this moment on, Phillipe jumped in to the other car as their were basically no proper roads.. ....just 4x4s cutting through this thick jungle where we had to stop many times because we were stuck or to repair some small bridges with rocks and trees.... big adventure ….the real thing…. and its never to much to say it ….beautiful landscape with mountains all around, huts and cabanas everywhere, and everything is green with almost nothing built by men ruining the landscape....
Few minutes after we left Nyabiondo, and as I said we were moving towards to Red Zone of the Red Zone, I started to hear the radio of the car ….:
“Gustavo pour Phillipe “ “Gustavo, Gustavo pour Phillipe” It was really cool to communicate by this big radios that the cars had and to learn this radio language that we are suppose to use just for important matters .
“Phillipe pour Gustavo” “Oui Phillipe Je t´ecoute .” I replied.
“Ça va Gustavo?” We hardly talked in the morning, because when I left by car he was already working in his office and then he came by bike and jumped to the other car with no time to waste!
“Trés bien, pas de problem”
“J´ai besoin de parler avec toi!” What could be important, to tell me when we where driving towards No Man’s Land , before we would reach the zone controlled by the rebels? For one second I was even more nervous...
“Standart a gagné, hier!” Me and Phillipe share something in common, our unconditional love for our home football club!! We had many times great conversations arguing about which one was the best club in the world!!! And if Porto had its moments of glory like in 1987 or 2004, Standart de Liege cant say the same.... but I loved to hear him saying with no doubts that Standart was the best club in the world.... That’s football when its used for the best reasons, makes people talking and sharing their silly loves, as it was for him and for me …. the football club, the city, the people.... were all in the same group of things that we loved and missed from home...
“Et Porto?” Phillipe continued
“On a gangné aussi!” I just read the message in the morning that my mother sent me with the good news...
“Mon ami...., La vie est Belle!!!”.... And for something so stupid as football.... I was happy and smiling thanks to Phillipe when I was about to take the biggest risk of my life!
Thank you Phillipe....the heart and soul of our project....always in a good mood, and very professional.....a hero !
After 12 years of work for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers, MSF), and being in every place in this planet where bombs have explode he would proudly tell us all:
“ I don't work for MSF, MSF is my life!”
( This story will continue )