The Kinshasa Orchestra story reminded me of another link a friend sent me shortly after we moved to Congo that I couldn’t check out over there. It’s an NPR series about barging along the Congo River, the second-largest river in Africa after the Nile, and the most powerful one. In fact the hydroelectric potential of this river alone could supply enough electricity for all of sub-Saharan Africa. (Look at a map of Africa and superimpose a map of the USA over the Sahara Desert. Everything below it is sub-Saharan. That’s huge.)
The first story in this 5-part series gives a lot of information in a short time about the history of the Congo. There’s both audio (with some great music!) and text worthwhile to peruse for a good overview of the country. The rest of the stories talk more about what life is like for those on board the barge — some of whom have been there for weeks — and for the villagers living near the river. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a life very different from ours.
For me and probably many of you too, just the name “The Congo River” makes me think of some place exotic, important, and notorious. It’s a page from a history book, not a real place, somehow. Yet it is both real and relevant today. Much of the population relies on the river as a form of transportation and a source of trade, given the country’s lack of road infrastructure.
While the river doesn’t flow through the part of the country where we live, we have seen it — near Kolwezi, a few hours’ drive from Fungurume. As we drove past it I remember having the urge to jump in a boat and try to float to Kinshasa, 3000 miles downstream. Which, of course, would never happen. The river is not navigable all the way to Kinshasa, not to mention the animals, mosquitos, and war criminals one might find en route.
It would be cool, though.