Our next medical mission is to The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Africa’s third-largest country. The country has long fascinated me, since reading Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness’. I was left with a feeling of mystery and a hidden world that I, a high school kid in New Jersey, would never see. Now, as part of the WOGO team I will be not only seeing it, but working in country and spending time with the Congolese people. Oh yeah, that’s pronounced “Kahn-go-LEEZ.”
Our modern maps really don’t show us the size and scope of Africa and the countries contained there. The DRC is essentially equal in size to the land of the USA east of the Mississippi River. That’s a large expanse. Another way to visualize it is it is slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway.
The country extends from the Atlantic Ocean eastward to the Ruwenzori Mountains. The land is mostly highland plateau, with hilly and mountainous terrain and of course, the mighty and vast Congo River.
The country straddles the Equator, with 1/3 of the country to the north and 2/3 to the south. Because of it’s equatorial location, the DRC experiences high precipitation and more thunderstorms than anywhere else in the world.
The DRC has the second-largest remaining rainforest in the world behind the Amazon. However, deforestation from commercial logging threatens the fragile ecosystem. This massive expanse of lush jungle covers most of the vast, low-lying river basin leading to the Atlantic in the west. This area is surrounded by plateaus merging into savannas in the south and southwest, by mountainous terraces in the west, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River to the north.
The name for Congo is derived in part from the river. The river basin (meaning the Congo River and all of its many tributaries) occupies nearly the entire country and the River and it’s tributaries form the backbone of Congolese economics and transportation.
Just thinking about the size and scope of this country is overwhelming. While we will be in Kinshasa for the duration of our trip, knowing that this vast land surrounds us adds to the mystery I remember feeling long ago when I first read Joseph Conrad’s book. And while Conrad’s book reflects on a time that is a sad history, which changed the country forever, he does express to us a clear and passionate view of how this vast country’s nature appears.
“The great wall of vegetation, an exuberant and entangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves, boughs, festoons, motionless in the moonlight, was like a rioting invasion of soundless life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to topple over the creek, to sweep every little man of us out of his little existence. And it moved not.” – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
*Graphics credit – endingextremepoverty.org, nationsencyclopedia.com, globaldashboard.org.