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Jack & Jude: Reflections

by Jack and Jude 31 May 20:43 UTC
Congo jungle © Jack and Jude

In many ways living through this pandemic is similar to a life-threatening event Jack and Jude survived when just newly wedded kids looking for a place to live our lives. Roll back the years to Africa in the mid-sixties, when the Simba Rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo took place within the wider context of the Congo Crisis and the Cold War between the West and Soviet Union. Just over fifty years ago, Stanleyville was the scene of one of the most savage crimes of the last century, the cold-blooded massacre of hostages by the Simba rebels.

There were nearly 300 white hostages imprisoned in the Victoria Hotel when the sun rose over Stanleyville, now Kisangani, on 24 November 1964. A few hours later, seconds before their rescuers arrived, many lay dead, brutally hacked to death or shot by their rebel captors. Others, the lucky ones, would thank God that they had survived the premeditated and cold-blooded slaughter.

By November a year later, mercenaries led by Lt Colonel Mike Hoare had effectively suppressed the Big Lion rebellion. However, holdouts of the rebels continued their insurgency until the 1990s.

When Jude and I passed through this area in our beat-up V.W. van in 1969, like the Coronavirus pandemic danger lay hidden from view. An attack could be waiting behind thick Congo jungle, or at the many roadblocks manned by men toting machine guns, while we suffered a total lack of communications as well as support. Years of conflict had driven out the European business managers, and without capital, there was neither food nor fuel available. Like today, we lived each day under immense stress and survived by taking total control of our safety and movements.

Picture a dense jungle bisected by a narrow muddy track dotted with pools and deep divots created when heavy trucks became bogged. Along the edge of this wilderness, bamboo forests flourished as if towering rocket launchers. From these, markers had been cut and placed so vehicles wouldn't fall into the quagmire, and they guided the few brave enough to cross the sapling corduroy found in the Congo's sparsely populated northeast region. The sapling corduroy was tricky for us to traverse, our van slipping and sliding as the platforms unbalanced with its weight. After nearly coming to grief on the first few, we learned to put on full power to get across as quickly as we could. Bridge crossings over streams and gullies were even more dangerous. They were crossed atop tree trunks laid together, and sometimes a log had collapsed leaving a gap, forcing us to choose carefully which logs to put our wheels on.

Halfway across the Stanleyville region, the V.W.'s front suspension collapsed, forcing us to cut holes into the cabin to allow the tyres to come up, meaning mud was also slung inside, splattering us and our windscreen. The wet sludge eventually shorting out the windscreen wipers.

Although we had few provisions, we dared not stop at villages after gaining more solid ground. But, after passing a village, a dozen scrawny chickens ran from thick vegetation and scurried directly in front of our van. Desperately short of food, basic instinct took control. I pushed the pedal to the metal, hot in pursuit, hitting one bird square on the van's V.W. round insignia. Catapulted high into the air, the hapless creature hit a tree, and I slammed on the brakes to stop near where the dead bird fell, and Jude jumped out and ran back to get it. As she grabbed the bird, angry villagers streamed out the jungle, and she ran for her life, while I revved up our old battered machine to flee from the mob. Taken from "Reflections in a Sailor's Eyes".

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