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“You have to be really well tempered to put up with the things that happen here. It’s not good men but supermen that are needed.”

“In reality, the thought of remaining in the Congo continued to haunt me long into the night, and perhaps I did not so much take the decision as become one fugitive more.”

Che Guevarra to Fidel Castro in 1965.

Streets of Kinshasa
Streets of Kinshasa

 2013 did not end well for Congo Kinshasa. A group of armed youth attacked the airport. They were quickly overpowered by the Congolese army, but the incident left a bitter taste in the country that otherwise had a relatively good year.

On November 5th Congo defeated the M23 rebel group, one of the main rebel groups in the East that murdered its way across the Kivus, drove 800,000 people from their homes and continued to destabilize the region. During my last visit in Congo the mood was upbeat.  

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This is a guest post by the talented writer Clarisse Baleja. According to herself Clarisse is: “African by birth right… Opinionated by nature… Traveller by luck.” According to me, she is an inspiring African Diva with roots in such diverse countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire. I met Clarisse in Tanzania, where I had the pleasure of accompanying her in her first car ride through the city. Clarisse is currently writing her first novel whilst withstanding the leisurely temptations of  Dar es Salaam, a city too hot to work in and too fun to stay at home.  

“I have been to Tanzania before. More than 15 years ago, my family and I took a vacation in Central and East Africa, leaving our home in Ivory Coast for the summer months to visit Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old, but I could always recall the intense heat and the postcard beaches at the close of my eyes.

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Throw down your heart is the literal meaning of Bagamoyo in Swahili. Moyo means heart and baga is something like throw it down. Bagamoyo is located on the shores of the Indian Ocean about 70km north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and famous for its rich history, beachside atmosphere and contemporary arts college.

Fishermen during work

Legend has it, that this was the last glimpse of the African soil slaves would get before being abducted and shipped across the Indian ocean to the Americas, Egypt or some other shores by Swahili slave traders in the 19th century. The name is reflecting the desperation and despair of the ‘broken hearted’ captives. The other side of the slave trade, the Caravan porters, praised the town as “Bwagamoyo”-“to throw off melancholy”, with the feeling that they had reached the end of their long arduous journey from the interior.

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Two years ago I was sitting high up the citadel in Aleppo, Syria sipping strong black tea with sugar and watching the birds go by. I was on a journey from Cairo to Beirut with stops in Jordan and Syria.

I went through the souk in Damascus. The countless little stalls are tucked in corners narrow paths are winding their way through the halls, women passing by, tea sellers shouting and the smell of spices is in the air – all of this accumulating to the greatest market I have ever been to. The souk is covered by an iron roof with plenty of holes giving way to rays of sunlight that make the dust flicker in front of ones eyes creating this unique and delightful atmosphere. A local explained that the holes stem from French Fighter planes that attacked the capital in the 1920s during the uprisings for independence. Whether true or not, it gives the place a chilling romance.

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