– Somewhere in the Epulu Forest, 26 December 2011
I WALK HALFWAY back to the okapi pens to make field recordings of the forest noises and the faint rushing of the Epulu River behind me. Watching the light change in the forest as I sit monitoring the recorder levels in silence, I am reminded — or perhaps realise for the first time — how strange this place can be. The different sounds in the trees as the birds sing, some acrobatic, mouselike creature leaping from tree trunk to tree trunk just beneath the canopy. The yellow and green of moss and damp leaves bundles between the giant buttress roots pushing out from the forest floor. If “fecund” ever described a place accurately, it’s here.
In the evening, we return to the Epulu bridge and climb onto the riveted iron to take photographs of the sunset. I am struck by just how safe and welcome I feel here. Nothing at all like I had expected. I’m reminded about the description of the area we were given by a photojournalist back in Kampala…a place that seems a lifetime ago right now.
Everything is absolutely fine until it’s not.
Danger isn’t an ever-present thing, I guess. Life carries on as people create order out of disorder. It’s only occasionally that the politics of the men with guns intrudes on the normalcy of the people without.
Things are OK, then they aren’t.
Normalcy is perhaps the most profound lesson of this place. Just how durable the fabric of human routine can be. Like the people who would do their chores in Sarajevo. The farmer who plants his maize as a political claim on the future.
Violence is temporary and overpowering, but in the fine details, and the long run, always loses in the face of daily life. The will of a community for stability.
The problem, I guess, is that will to order can only ever cover over violence, not prevent it resurfacing like some evil wizard in a demented jungle fairytale. Truly, finally suppressing violence requires more than the will to order. Underneath the appearance of safe roads and busy markets, school supplies and nighttime food stands, lies a struggle of men with guns. MONUSCO and, in places, the FARDC making up the bedrock on which new order can take root. As long as those foundations hold, they alone can support normalcy indefinitely.