The Congo’s Forgotten Colonial Getaway

At the highest navigable point of the Congo River, thick jungle creates an impenetrable wall of green around a large island. Apart from the dug-out canoes transporting bundles of thin trees from its coasts, there’s little sign that the land is inhabited. But merely up the steep river bank and through the brush is an opening. Here, a cluster of virtually 20 narrow homes is the jungle-eaten remnants of a once prosperous plantation town that was left to rotting when the Belgian colonialists awarded the Democratic Republic of the Congo independence half a century ago.

Belgika, as the island is known, doesn’t get many guests. Many years ago, when the country was the Belgian Congo, it was a hub for foreigners who would come from the nearby city of Stanleyville to vacation amid the abundance of wildlife. In the 54 years since they departed, Belgika has been forgotten by the outside world. The most recent guest, villagers say, was an African-American man who came to do prospecting for the World Bank a few years ago.

The city of Stanleyville–now called Kisangani–was a majestic port city as deep as one can go into the Heart of Darkness. It was this area that inspired a young steamboat captain-turned-author named Joseph Conrad to place a crazed Kurtz in his Inner Station. During the first half of the 20 th century, the city’s whitewashed glamor depicted well-heeled European guests and Hollywood superstars like both Audrey and Katherine Hepburn. The African Queen was filmed here.

But after those glory days, Kisangani &# x27; s reputation took a turn. It was the epicenter of the many wars that have eroded the Democratic Republic of Congo’s stability and the remnants of this decline are widely visible: cranes that once manned the city’s busy port hang in disuse and a railway station operates only one develop per week. The velocity boats that used to race up and down the Congo River are long gone, and to travel the 20 miles to Belgika you have to commit to a journey of at the least six hours round trip in a thin, dug-out wooden canoe. After decades of violence, flights to Kisangani are unpredictable and Western tourists are virtually unheard of.

So, the arrival of a foreign journalist in Belgika merits a town meeting. Dozens of villagers gather in a circle under the shade of palm trees, with plastic chairs proffered for guests and three elderly men who posture themselves in the middle. In a place with little written history, these men hold the island’s memories.

Basosila Botala is wearing a blue rain jacket despite the sweltering heat. The cheery 69 -year-old father of eight sits in the center with his wife and delicately brandishes a small, brown volume.” Livret de Travail” is published on the frayed tan encompas: it’s the workbook he used as an employee on the Belgian plantations that encompassed the island.

Once, they say, the island was known as a prosperous rubber plantation and resorting spot for Belgian colonialists. Now, the jungle has taken over. The foundations of the brick and stucco houses that were constructed in the 1940 s and’ 50 s to house the white employees are exposed and disintegrating. Thatch or scrap material coverings hollow doors and windows. On the outskirts is the shell of an old brick church, still laid with tile flooring, but the pews are just cinder blocks and wooden timbers. Walls are covered with approximately depicted Biblical scenes featuring a dark-skinned Jesus. The bell tower bellows aloud when a little muscle power is put into it.

The men say their village is home to 360 people, and that there are two other similar, but smaller, towns on the island, all occupying the old Belgian barracks. These villages used to harvest rubber, cacao, palm oil, and coffee beans. But there’s little industry coming from the island today, despite having the fertile land of one of the world &# x27; s most resource-rich countries.

The name Belgika comes from a mining company that was founded in 1897, when the country was still personally owned by the Belgian King Leopold. Under his reign of terror, an estimated 10 million Congolese died during his quest for resource extraction.

The company moved into what was called Bertha Island, and soon become synonymous with the land it occupied. A 1907 contract leases the plot of land to the Belgika corporation for five years, but it bided for much longer.

In the 1950 s, the Belgika company reportedly owned 1,500 acres of rubber trees on the island, along with keeps across the eastern part of the Congo. It was headquartered in Stanleyville, in a tall corner building that still stands in the decrepit, yet lively, downtown. Merely the L, K, and A of the old sign remain stuck to the side of the office.

Then, in 1960, Belgium hastily withdrew from its colony. The freshly free country struggled to maintain order following the completion of independence, but it was woefully unprepared. At that time, merely 16 Congolese were known to have college degrees.

On Belgika, Botala and his family watched as the white humen loaded their families into a large barge and took off for Kisangani. From there, most would return to Europe. He recalls that word of independence wasn’t merrily received when it first reached the island.” Here it wasn’t good news ,” he says.” There was embarrassment because our parents were no longer going to work .”

” Life was much better than now ,” Botala says of colonialism. Despite their ranking as lower than second-class citizens in their own country, this is a opinion echoed widely by residents of the region.” At that time we had things we’ve never had since .” He begins to list them off: food rations, health clinics, education.” We were never chased out for( lack of) school fees ,” Botala says.

Another man chimes in:” Today we are living at the edge of suffering .”

When asked who’s to blame for the country’s downfall Botala says, “independence.”

Stanleyville and Belgika were again thrown into disarray in 1964 when a rebel motion seized a huge swath of the region and proclaimed it sovereign. These rebels, who called themselves Simba, or “lion” in Swahili, savagely murdered civilians and orchestrated one of the most important captive crises in history when they held nearly 2,000 Americans and Europeans captive for four months in Stanleyville.

Botala remembers that the rebels would pull into the island, loot what they could, and then take the carry back to Stanleyville. The villagers left their homes and hid in the forests for about a year. At one point he says, Laurent Kabilia–a Simba leader who would become president of the country 30 years later–landed in a helicopter stolen from Joseph Mobutu–then commander of the Congolese Army and soon-to-be dictator–and demanded petroleum to fuel their ships.

The plantations chugged along for a few years after the rebellion was quashed by a squad of mercenaries and Congolese soldiers, but they never again made the prosperity the island had for the purposes of the Belgians.

The island’s resources are still there, but investment and infrastructure are sorely lacking. Exerting a curved knife, a young man navigates past the aging structures and into the forest. At the edge of the homes, a group of women dressed in bright sarongs beat sticks together and raise their voices in sung as they inter a young son. Nearby, a tailor in a blue jersey and American flag shoes works a sewing machine, piecing together a traditional colorful Congolese dress. The young man weaves through clusters of bamboo and cuts a diagonal slash into a tree, positioning a hollow log at the end. Slow at first, then steadily, a stream of liquid drips off the incision. It’s rubber: the resource that built the island–and the country–famous.

” If we’re in chaos today it’s because we chased many private business people out ,” says Martin Kifukoya Lometcha, an authoritative industrialist with a Congolese flag garnishing his suit lapel.” When it doesn’t have international business, it’s a dying country .” He speaks while sipping a soda in the restaurant of the Residence Victoria in downtown Kisangani. It was once the most glamorous hotel in township, but in 1964, hundreds of European captives were held captive in its rooms. It never functioned as a hotel again and today is inhabited by more than 400 people.

Lometcha runs a thousand miles away in the advise office for “the member states national” senate in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, but he has owned part of Belgika since 1971, when it was taken from whites under Mobutu’s program of Zairianization, which involved evicting all remaining Europeans and seizing their considers in order to transfer power back to the locals and erase all remaining vestiges of colonialism.

Lometcha refuses to discuss the earlier history of Belgika–more than once he retorts,” Ask the Belgians !”– but he remembers that at one point, Belgika was a conglomeration of three companies: one working in rubber and palm oil production; a building company; and a supplier of tractors and heavy machinery. He also recalls the many visitors who would often go to the island to admire its harvests and wildlife.” The tourism of science ,” he calls it. The forests were lush and fitted with life, from giant snakes to monkeys. When a top Mobutu confidant named Colonel Alphonse Bangala purchased the island, Lometcha bought shares. After years of failed attempts to livened its industry, he’s now trying to sell them off.

Four miles farther along the rim of the island from Botala’s village, a cluster of canoes and bags of rubber are waiting on the shore–where wild vines snake from trees and dip into the muddied water–destined for the markets of Kisangani. A large mansion that was once home to the last European resident–an Italian industrialist who left in 1977 — is now occupied by many people. Small rooms off its graffiti-covered vestibule provide shelter from the thick rain that can unexpectedly, and vengefully, hit.

In this smaller town, there are only five households, the village chief says. A Belgian church has a chalkboard sitting at the pulpit with the jungle peeking through the windows behind it. A couple more miles along the island is the ruining of the European’s living quarters, villagers say, including what was once a hotel. But the sunlight is threatening to fade and a three-and-a-half-hour river journey back to Kisangani looms.

Along the river, disintegrating remnants of an active trading hub are overtaken by nature. A tugboat improbably sits high on the bank, obscured by tall grass, a broken oil rig hangs over the water nearby. A sign peeking out from the heavy forest is barely visible on the trip-up back. It reads:” Le Service Maritime .” When many international ships plied these waters, these signs were used to direct them, but the small boats now bringing goods to the local marketplace barely need such guidance.

The International Women’s Media Foundationsupported Nina Strochlic’s reporting from the Democratic Republic of the Congo .

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Microwaves suspected in ‘sonic attacks’ on US envoys in Cuba and China, scientists say

( CNN) They’ve been described as “sonic attacks” — bizarre, unexplained head injuries that spurred the United States to bring home diplomatic staff from China and Cuba. Now scientists are saying the ailments could have been caused by microwave weapons.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first, ” he told the newspaper, “and everyone now concurs there’s something there.”

In a Sunday interview with CNN, Smith said microwaves are “a main suspect” in causing the diplomats’ traumata, but ultrasound and infrasound were being studied as potential causes as well.

State Department pulls employees out of Cuba

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Heroin Crisis Forces Lawmakers To Move On Criminal Justice Reform

BALTIMORE — The first words Rep. Elijah Cummings( D-Md .) spoke at the Democrats’ annual issues seminar here addressed the death of Freddie Gray in police detention and the massive unrest that followed. They weren’t just about “police brutality, ” but also about “joblessness” and a “lack of opportunity.”

“It goes with so much of the abandonment and certain policies that have been made at the national level, ” Cummings told reporters on the first day of the retreat. “This is a city that continues to struggle.”

This year, Democrats consider a window opening to address two major symptoms of that battle: the harm caused by mandatory minimum sentencing and America’s addiction to heroin. Both are problems cities like Baltimore have grappled with for decades.

A reform of the strict sentencing laws that led to overpopulation of America’s prisons has a real chance of moving in Congress this year. And heroin’s infiltration of rural and suburban townships is bringing to the table lawmakers who previously dismissed the necessity of achieving sentencing reform, afraid they’d appear too soft on crime.

“As sad as the circumstances are that made the aligning of these stars, the stars are aligned for change, ” Cummings, who represents Baltimore, told The Huffington Post at the end of the three-day retreat.

Cummings resulted a session on the specifics of criminal justice reform during the second day of the retreat. Hours subsequently, President Barack Obama addressed the issue himself during a private conference at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Congress is not going to get much done this year, Obama told lawmakers, according to an aide in the room. But there are two areas Congress could get something done, he said: criminal justice reform and opioids.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi( D-Calif .), too, said she is “very optimistic” about the prospects of working with Republicans on criminal justice reform.

Asked if such legislation could include a section on how to better money the fight against the opioid and heroin epidemic, Pelosi said, “we have to do something about the opioid crisis, whether that’s in the appropriations process or whether that is in the criminal justice” bill.

JIM WATSON/ Getty Images
Rep.Elijah Cummings( D-Md .)

The irony behind the timing isn’t lost on Cummings. Baltimore has been in dire need of both criminal justice reform and solutions to tackle heroin use for decades. But only in the past year have the two issues been on the lips of numerous legislators — Republican and Democrat alike.

Heroin, Cummings said, has “been in Baltimore ever since I was a child.” He recalled the first time he heard of a heroin overdose in his childhood neighborhood and how incomprehensible it was: “it was like telling me someone had found something on Mars.”

During the sessions on justice reform, Cummings relayed to his colleagues a discussion with his young constituents: that they were “angry, ” concerned about their education and jobs. But the talk with members promptly turned to heroin, he said.

“There was a period the narcotic situation was seen as a black, urban issue and basically the response was ‘lock’ em up, toss out the key — for years , not months, years, ‘” Cummings said. Now, “the heroin epidemic has invaded all kinds of communities — especially New Hampshire, but it’s everywhere.”

Over the last few months New Hampshire has utilized its position as the first-in-the-nation primary state to get 2016 presidential candidates talking about heroin craving. The craving crisis has grown over the past two years, but it’s been a problem in cities for decades.

The overprescription of opioids, including with regard to, is credited with driving a growing number of people in the white middle class toward heroin for their addiction.

“It bothers me that people did not view it as a health issue before now, ” Cummings said. “Now we have people basically begging to see it as a health issue because we’re insuring so many overdoses and we are seeing drug addiction invade communities that never even dreamed of it, ” he continued. “A lot of these folks are all white people.”

Cummings promptly noted that he feels for anyone who has lost a loved one to addiction — pointing to his loss of a nephew to gun violence only four years ago.

“I swear to god, my nephew was like my son, ” he said. “But again, the African American community has been imploring for years, praying people to look at this as a health issue and you’ve had legislators who want not to appear soft on crime.”

Cummings said that he hoped the new outlook on drugs will help Democrat gather more Republicans to their side. A majority of House Democrats back a bill co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner( R-Wis .) and Bobby Scott( D-Va .) — a sweeping bill that cuts mandatory minima and invests in prevention, cop training and programs that reduce recidivism. But there are multiple bills floating all over the House and Senate, threatening Democrats’ chances of watching their preferred bill through to the end.

Overall, Cummings is optimistic, but he doesn’t want to rushed the issue if it looks like the two parties can’t agree on a meaty bill. If that doesn’t happen this year, Cummings said, he still believes “significant change” can be achieved through legislation in the next 2 to three years.

“Some of the greatest advocates for change have been people who have experienced pain, ” he said.

The chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Xavier Becerra( D-Calif .), also find a window for change.

“The heroin epidemic kind of wedged open the door to have a conversation, ” he said.

Tom Williams/ Getty Images
Rep. Xavier Becerra( D-Calif .)

“To often some of our colleagues will guess: ‘criminal justice, that’s not really an issue that I have to worry so much about in my district because it’s actually inner city, urban, ‘” Becerra said. “But then all the cities start to talk about heroin, and you hear it’s …. in some of the places that our Republican colleagues represent. And all of a sudden it’s: ‘Yeah, we got to do something.’”

Becerra views the heroin crisis as the questions that will get his colleagues to the table to talk about criminal justice and beyond — about crack cocaine and other addictive drugs that he’s find crush cities like Los Angeles, which he represents.

Becerra and his colleagues also understand that the shift in Republicans’ thinking reflects its spread to white, rural and middle-class areas — traditional GOP strongholds.

“It’s not lost on many of us that the more enlightened view being taken toward dealing with the heroin outbreak in America may in part relate to the fact that it has devastated suburban communities in ways not previously find before, ” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries( D-N.Y .)

But when Jeffries first entered Congress merely four years ago, he didn’t think it would be possible to address mass incarceration and the failed war on narcotics, he remembered.

“Hopefully in the face of this rise in the heroin outbreak in the inner city and rural America a more enlightened approach will prevail, ” Jeffries said. “Mass incarceration has been a failure, which is linked immediately to the war on medications, which has been improperly prosecuted for decades in this country.”

And while the path to reform may be clearing, there are still obstacles in the way. Rep. Scott, the top Democratic co-sponsor on the SAFE Justice Act, has “devoted his life” to the issue of criminal justice reform, in the words of Pelosi. But he’s not holding his breath.

Scott is worried lawmakers are too eager to pass legislation that is called criminal justice reform but that does little. Asked about a GOP-proposed Senate bill to cut mandatory minima for non-violent narcotic wrongdoers, Scott seemed skeptical.

“The other[ bills ], it’s hard to say if you’ll have any reduction in incarceration or not, ” he said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley( R-Iowa) introduced the legislation that Scott is wary of in October, and it cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15 -5 vote shortly thereafter. The bill, which has a companion measure in the House authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte( R-Va .), does seek to reduce mandatory minimums, reform compassionate release programs and offer those who were sentenced to life in prison for a crime committed when they were under the age of 18 the possibility of parole. But as Human Rights Watch put it, the bill “resembles an accordion — it shrinks and then expands.”

An example of this, the group points out, is that while both Grassley’s and Scott’s separate bills would allow judges to defined sentences below the 10 -year mandatory minimum for narcotic crimes, Scott’s bill bases eligibility on the offender’s role in the drug-trafficking conspiracy , not on the quantity of drugs. Grassley, a known defender of mandatory minimums, argues that his bill is one that tackles mass incarceration “while targeting violent felons and masterminds in the narcotic trade.”

In his own bill, Scott countered, “you get money for body cameras, prevention, second-chance programs and all that with the is to reduce mandatory minimums — that doesn’t do everything but a there’s a whole lot of reform in there.”

On Tuesday, Scott and his Republican counterpart on the bill plan to hear from the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, which has urged the U.S . to reduce the number of inmates by 60,000 over the next decade.

But Scott and Cummings both fear that something small could pass this year, and Congress will leave the rest of the issue on the table. Cummings said that he hoped a leader on the Republican side will rise, depicting more to the SAFE Justice Act, which has 57 co-sponsors, including 28 Republicans.

“I’m hoping that it’s merely not one of things where …. we’ve got to talk about these medications because that’s what people are talking about, ’” he said. “No , no , no , no , no , no — it simply cannot be a moment surrounding an election. It must be a movement.”

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One grocery chain is dealing with unsold food in an amazing way.

Six months ago, U.K. grocery chain Tesco launched a test program, saving 50,000 snacks worth of food in the process.

They partnered with FareShare, an anti-hunger organization that helps connect groups wanting to donate food with soup kitchens and food banks, and it’s been a reach.

Photo via Tesco PLC/ YouTube.

Here’s how it works:

1. Stores put aside food that would ordinarily be hurled out .

This includes foods that have reached their “sell by” date, as well as misshapen fruit and vegetables. Instead of flinging the food out, they keep it in a bin in the back, ready for someone from a local charity to come pick it up.

2. Person from a local charity stops by the store to pick up the food .

This is where FareShare comes in, helping pair charities with Tesco places. The charity will get a text message from FareShare telling them there’s food available. From there, they can send someone to pick up the food.

Photo via Tesco PLC/ YouTube.

3. They drop the food off at their shelter, charity, food bank, or soup kitchen .

From here, the food is prepared and distributed to people in need. So simple, right?

The simplicity of that process is nothing compared to the real life impact this program is having.

Photo via Tesco PLC/ YouTube.

At the Anfield Breckside Community Council, free snacks are served three days a week utilizing food from Tesco and FareShare.

It’s part of a program called Food U Need, and it’s helping people struggling with hunger fill their stomaches. As bills mount, even retirees and people with a full-time job find themselves unable to afford food. That’s what attains Food U Need so vital: It offer food to people with no questions asked. You can just come in, sit down, and have a dinner .

They accept all kinds of food and make sure nothing goes to waste.

Volunteer Peter O’Hanlon offers helps out at a recent Food U Need service. Photo via Tesco PLC/ YouTube.

How’s the food? You won’t hear any complaints from this crowd.

Without the Liverpool-based snack program, these people would likely go hungry.

GIFs via Tesco PLC/ YouTube.

The best part? The program has been so successful that Tesco is expanding the program to all 800 of their stores across the U.K.

Roughly 795 million people on earth are undernourished. While there are some big things that need to happen to solve that, one of the easiest steps we can take is to stop letting food go to trash.

Whether you’re in the United Kingdom, United States, or anywhere else on Earth, there are people going hungry. The very least we can do is not waste perfectly good food, right?

Last year, France passed a statute banning grocery store from throwing away food. Instead, chains are now required to donate to charity, process into animal feed, or compost their unsold food. In the U.S ., a number of organizations are testing creative solutions for starvation, including the Campus Kitchens Project, Donate Don’t Dump, and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.

It’s good to see a large chain like Tesco take up this project in the U.K. Maybe it’ll inspire chains around the globe to try out similar programs .

You can learn more about Tesco, FareShare, and the Anfield Breckside Community Council in the video below.

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Chrissy Teigen Is Dedicating Up Alcohol And We Are Low-Key Here For It

It’s all fun and games until someone discontinues drinking. As we all know, Chrissy Teigen is essentially the betch spirit animal( if we were still saying things are our “spirit animal”, which we are not ). We love Chrissy for so many reasons. First of all, she is gorgeous. Like, a full 10 — actually, is there an 11? She’s an eleven. Second of all, she’s barbarian. Her roasteds of Donald Trump actually get her blocked by the president himself. Third, and most importantly, she’d been a longtime advocate of the drunken party lifestyle that this website is all about. But not anymore. That’s right. Chrissy Teigen is officially cutting back on alcohol.

Yep. Just like every drunken evening will eventually turn into hangover, every drunken party daughter will eventually turn into “the person who’s discontinuing drinking, ” and our girl Chrissy is no exception. So what brought on this change of lifestyle heart? Teigen told, “I was, point blank, just drinking too much.”

Okay. Same. Are Chrissy Teigen am I the same person? Possibly…

“I got used to being in hair and makeup and having a glass of wine. Then that glass of wine would carry over into me having one before the awardings depict. And then a bunch at the awardings show.”

So, I know what you’re guessing, “That voices low-key amazing, ” but you have to remember that Chrissy Teigen is like, a mom now, and a famous mama at that. She can’t merely be blackout at work functions like she’s me some random twentysomething with no goals or priorities.

“…I felt bad for stimulating various kinds of an ass of myself to people I really respected, ” Chrissy told.

Again, same, except for the part about feeling bad.

According to Chrissy, she has a history of alcohol abuse in their own families that has led her to feel like she “can’t have just one drink.” She also noted that, for celebs( and contestants ), alcohol is basically provided free of charge literally everywhere. Just imagine having free alcohol at literally every event you attend.

Yeah, I’d probably have to quit alcohol too.

And because Chrissy literally the HBIC, she did not come to this realization because of policy interventions like my Uncle Kevin , according to Chrissy.

“I simply knew in my heart it wasn’t right. It builds you very short with people. People think it’s cutesy and fun to go on these boozy brunches, but there’s more to it. I’ve never once been like,’ I’m sure glad I went on that boozy brunch! ’”

While I disagree wholeheartedly disagree with her statement on boozy brunches, I guess I can see where she’s coming from.

And if health, wellbeing, and general responsibility don’t ten-strike you as good enough reasons for CT to give up booze, her final reason definitely is: She and John Legend are looking to have another child.

Sure, it’s cute to be the boozed up “cool mom” when you have one kid, but two? Then you go from “Amy Poehler in ” to “Woman Who Runs The Orphanage in Annie” real quick. And as Cameron Diaz taught us with her 2014 reboot, that is a very difficult look to pull off.

So anyway, congratulations to Chrissy Teigen on her impending weight loss adult decision-making abilities. I couldn’t imagine doing this now, but let’s hope by the time I’m a mom never laying off alcohol doesn’t seem like such an impossible undertaking.

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