Argentine and Mapendo (two of the SHONA women) spent last night trying to decide where to hide. They heard shooting and assumed the town was being attacked. After all, Eastern Congo is still a war-zone. When the sound of explosions eventually quieted, they tried to go to sleep, assuring themselves that it had just been a random gun-battle.
This morning they arrived at class and I asked them what they thought of last nights events. They said, "Yes that was a lot of shooting. We thought the war was starting again."
In fact it was fireworks. Yesterday was Independence Day in Congo and a fireworks display ran for at least half an hour last night. I couldn't see the fireworks from my house, and apparently Argentine and Mapendo couldn't see them from their hiding spots. But we could all hear the explosions, and I have to say that it was as long and impressive sounding a display as I have ever heard.
I, for one, am not suprised the a fireworks display in a region which is still a war-zone, would scare the living daylights out of people. They announced it on the radio beforehand but many people, like Argentine and Mapendo, didn't hear the warnings and were left to assume the worst.
Here is the incident as reported by Reuters...
GOMA, Congo, June 30 (Reuters) -
"Independence day fireworks sent terrified Congolese sprinting for cover on Tuesday in fear that war had broken out again in their eastern city.
Officials had organised the display in Goma to highlight efforts to end more than a decade of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to show a sign of normal life returning to the region, where a peace deal took hold in January.
But residents feared it was a raging gun battle."
Especially in many rural areas, Eastern Congo is still a war zone, with or without a fireworks display. In too many places villagers still sleep in the forests for fear of being attacked in their homes.
And even in Goma, security is a distant dream. Look at Mapendo's comment...
"Yes that was a lot of shooting".
Mapendo said this today, in a casual sort of way, well-after she had time to decide that the "war" had not actually started again. Still, it seemed entirely probable to her, that with or without a war, a raging gun battle could be conducted nearby. What kind of peace is this that the average citizen does not even need a war to explain over thirty minutes of intense explosions and shooting?