10 February 2014
Image © Carol Allen Storey
In 2013 I spent time in the Democratic Republic of Congo capturing the work of peace-building charity International Alert. My assignment was to explore the struggle women face when trading across borders in the Great Lakes region of Africa and illustrate how small-scale cross- border trade can not only improve the economic situation of local people, but can also help to build peace and create tolerance and respect in this divided war weary region.
Working in a conflict region is a challenge on many fronts. First, just to get the authority from the bureaucratic, and somewhat corrupt ‘officials’ to provide the necessary paperwork, press papers took days, endless dialogue, ‘waiting’ and paying out nearly $1,000 between the various department in the DRC and Rwanda. Even after all the applications, agreements, I still was forbidden to photograph on the Rwandese side of the border. So I covered it covertly.
My story had to embrace the tale of cross border trade and it was essential to have access on both sides of the border which in some crossings were a tinderbox, tempers flared and then there was the omnipresence of the M23 creating havoc with bombings and general riots. I was photographing in North and South Kivu – recognized as one of the most dangerous place on the planet. I spent most days on the borders in the North in Goma and Bukavu in the South. After a while the officials and border police became relaxed with my being there and photographing – except once when I photographed a fight of a man attempting to smuggle goods and the police were ‘aggressive’. The head of police insisted I delete ALL of the images I had taken – AGH! I managed to ‘save’ a few but that was only through a sleight of hand on my part and certainly not the most emotive.
One Sunday morning I was filming a street vendor on the border having a heated debate with a customer – I was shooting blindly from the hip as there was enormous agitation that day with the threat of the M23. I had a new fixer, who I thought was behind me to ‘watch’ to make sure there weren’t any threats. Well, he was texting on his phone, not watching me and from out of nowhere, a man came from behind – grabbed the hair on the crown of my head, and whopped off a giant chunk with his panga … good thing it wasn’t my neck!
… to be continued.
Carol thankfully survived her panga ordeal and you can see the full story at her exhibition CROSSINGS – The journey to peace, which opens this week at the Pullman Hotel. Keep an eye on the events section of the website for details of a guided tour that Carol will be offering London members later in the month.