The lanky Aussie pilot stepped out of the tiny helicopter, cursorily introduced himself as Bronte then disappeared on the back of a motorbike to find fuel. Meanwhile I was stood on the airfield apron at Kisangani airport where one was allowed to smoke, use a mobile phone but not photograph, which was a pity because while waiting three more people arrived with a large river fish which was deposited on the ground; apparently our dinner. Almost an hour later Bronte reappeared with tanker and we were ready to go except for a short interlude when a flustered woman walked up to tell the pilot that he had paid with a dodgy 20 dollar note. It seemed an inauspicious start.
I’ve always openly admitted that I’m afraid of flying and at this stage began to wonder whether my insurance would cover my imminent death in the Congolese jungle. I need not have feared: For all the outer roughness and somewhat bad language, Bronte had the most delicate touch on the helicopter controls and an ultra smooth tree-hugging 90 minute flight started over the second largest rainforest in the world. Jungle filled the horizon in all directions from the moment we set off to the moment we landed at Yindi, one of Loncor’s camps where I was to give training to their operatives in the use of our window sampling set which is used to take samples of the saprolite layer necessary in gold exploration.
I had been at a gold exploration company camp in the Congo before and that was lovely but this was simply exquisite. In six months, they had created, in the jungle, hundreds of miles from the nearest town what I consider to be the most magnificent example of an interface between industry and ecology. The bricks for the buildings were recycled from structures left by the Belgians during their colonisation, the beds and timber for some of the buildings were fashioned, using basic tools by local craftsmen from wood felled in the jungle and the site was landscaped, keeping plenty of the original vegetation to provide shade and serenity to the location. Mark Hannam, one of the senior geologists was key in this transformation. The strange thing to my mind was that whereas those involved in this creation clearly appreciated the beauty of the place they, and particularly Mark did not seem to be aware that this is an amazing achievement at a personal level. I’ve travelled much and have seen some impressive business locations but I will categorically say that this camp ranks, by far, as the most amazing accomplishment in creating a beautiful modern facility out of a beautiful natural resource.
If I was in awe of the base camp I was also impressed at how local skills and local people, who have an immense desire to learn and acquire new skills, have been and are involved in this development. In my opinion, this type of activity will do more good for Africa than any UN or missionary involvement ever will. While those involved remain modest I would like to shout about it from the tallest building so that the world can hear and take note.
My huge thanks go to Howard, Mark and their colleagues at Loncor for having given me the opportunity to experience all this first hand.
Vincent van Walt