Lubumbashi—the city of color and beats.
How to describe Lubumbashi. Just saying the name gives you an idea of how really unique and rhythmic this city is. On our second day, we just wandered around town since it was a Sunday and it would be hard to meet people. The energy on the streets, the Congolese music and just the "vibe" was infectious.
Lubumbashi was a beautiful place in the afternoon. My colleagues went out to a suburb where BaZela people lived. On our Third day in Lubumbashi I was sick with stomach things and stayed in bed most of the day. By the next morning, I was much better.
We decided to explore the city. We started walking around and we found an interesting monument to the cooks of World War I. Apparently, many people from Katanga province were forced by the Belgians to be cooks during the war. Some were soldiers, but the Belgians did not want many Congolese to know how to use guns.
We then wandered to a hotel that played a prominent part in the film on Lumumba. We had been trying to find a museum of the City of Lubumbashi. People directed us towards this hotel. It turns out that this is City Council meeting hall.
We took a photo of it because of the film and then suddenly we were surrounded by police. One started yelling at us in French. He kept saying he was a policeman and we kept saying that we were professors. It was a standoff. We were creating a scene.
Then a man who spoke English came up and started arguing with the police. The cops had locked us in this small place. It was just a garden with a gate, but they acted like they wanted to arrest us—though I did not think that is what they wanted. I think they wanted a bribe.
But this man who was helping us must have been important because he told us that they could not arrest us because we had not done anything wrong. Eventually the cops just went back to their station and we caught a cab to the Lubumbashi historical museum. For obvious reasons there are no photos of hotel or cops or much of downtown Lubumbashi.
On Sunday afternoon we invited Olivier, an archeology graduate student at the University of Lubumbashi to eat lunch with us. We were staying at a nice hotel and the food was quite good.
We asked him a lot of questions, but after a few beers he started to tell us how he felt about all these researchers coming and having him help them. They publish books and he is still working on his masters. Even though he spoke in French I could feel his frustration. I did not know what exactly he was doing.
Apparently, UNICEF had funded a study of the slave trade on both sides of Lake Mweru—the lake that separates Luapula Province, Zambia and Katanga Province, DRC. He had just completed research on the pottery that was traded during the slave trade in this region. But it was not until we visited him at the University of Lubumbashi that I realized how significant was his work.
He had gone to the really rural parts of Lake Mweru on the Congo side and videotaped and photographed women making pots in the traditional ways. It was amazing work and such an important contribution to the history of the region. But the Belgians instead gave a scholarship to a guy who worked with a Belgian anthropologist who recorded ceremonies among the Lunda. I began to understand the anger Olivier had.
This is such a safe city. Young men without any protection or weapons sit on the streets with thousands of dollars worth of Congolese Francs trading them for other currency—usually US. The main worry as you can tell are the police. More next blog.
Since I could not take photos in the centre of Lubumbashi—I wrote the following poem:
No Photos of Lubumbashi Downtown
Reds swirl, purple merging with orange.
French bread, bwali, hope and sweat,
aromas mingling around the patchwork
paved streets of Lubumbashi.
Feet moving rapidly
over the unseen hurdles. And the beat goes on.
Fast foods, French café’s
and the pleasing tunes of
Kiswahil and Francais intermingling
in songs of history, love and loss.
Ground nuts on heads, cash in hand.
Selling late into the warm night. And the beat goes on.
Women in Congolese cloth,
hairdos of Africa’s past.
Everyone moving to rhythms
echoing in the spaces
between people and building dreams and nightmares. And the beat goes on.
The minibuses overflowing with conductors conjuring crowds to ride. Buildings peel next to new glass high rise, while
desperation distorts the view . And the beat goes on.
A city carrying scars, stories, victories and losses. Built on
the rich earth and those who mined it. Ghosts and the young
fight for breathing space. And the beat goes on.
Energy is swirling everywhere
breathing fresh hope
or dread into those
who dance in the streets. Quick feet avoiding old bloodstains. And the beat goes on.
This is a typical mini-bus stop the main form of transport besides taxis and private cars in and around Lubumbashi.
Ads for Simba Beer. In my pre-Islamic days my favorite beer. They come in huge bottles (around 16 oz, but of course in liters).
Above is the market in the local township in Lubumbashi
Below is the monument for Congolese Cooks who were forced to participate in WWI.