Fear and Loathing in Congo

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The feature on war criminals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that I reported this spring is out. In honor of its publication, I’d like to share a scene that was in my notes but that didn’t end up in the final product. Like the outtake from the time I was on camera for PBS and ripped a five-inch hole in the crotch of my pants. Except this one’s less funny because it’s about murder. Also Hall & Oates.

The story: My translator Joey and I are interviewing a slew of witnesses and sources who are running for their lives because, they say, International Criminal Court-indicted warlord Bosco Ntaganda is threatening to kill them. I’m so paranoid that when one of Ntaganda’s colonels says something possibly innocuous to me, I think maybe he’s actually telling me he’s been following me, and Joey’s having paranoid nightmares that the colonels will come after us in our hotel, and one of my Congolese drivers nearly throws me off a motorbike while whipping around to see if he’s being tailed.

That’s all in the feature. Not included, however, is one of my sources warning me not to write anything about Ntaganda until I’ve left the country. Don’t worry, I tell him; we’ll delay running any stories until at least my arrival in Uganda. He shakes his head. Uganda is right next door, and the bad guys have alliances there. “They could easily kill you in Uganda,” he says, not because he is being dramatic, but because he’s been chased farther across the continent than that. Then one morning, some suspected assassination-plotters we’ve met call my cell: “Hey! Just want to say hello! See what you’re up to!” That’s the deleted lead-up to this deleted scene.

I go upstairs to my hotel room and put my iPod on shuffle, and it picks “Private Eyes.” They’re watching you. They see your evvvvveryyy moooove. I stop dead in my tracks on my way into the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. Oh I see you, oh I see you, private, private, private eyes, girl. I look out the wide window for something awry in the empty lot next door, turn toward the door and watch it hard, trying to intuit what might be on the other side in the dark hallway where the lights never, ever work, just for a second, before laughing and congratulating myself for not believing in signs and letting the paranoia paralyze me. Though that’s easy for me to say. I’m leaving tomorrow.

Anyway, there’s a lot of extremely brave Congolese trying to live their lives and tell their stories despite imminent danger. Read the whole story here. (And while you’re at it, check out this related photo essay about the war on Congo’s women.)

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