Small experience with Michel

This is just my small memory in Kahuzi-Biega.
During my first filming experience in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in August 1997, I met a young moderate Congolese driver called Michel who later surprised me with his knowledge and skill in mechanics.

In May 1997, the new government was set up after an armed conflict that started in November 1996. The situation in Bukavu and surrounding area was still unstable and people were suffering from power cut, water shortage, fuel shortage etc. In short, the life looked very tough, even to the eyes of an insensitive foreigner like myself.

With Michel, our film crew and I we were driving in a small Suzuki 4×4 on a road to our lodge. The car suddenly stopped on the way and the engine wouldn’t start again. We didn’t have any idea what was wrong.

Michel simply said in a low voice ‘I know it.’ and got off the vehicle, open the bonnet, and immediately started to dismantle the carburetor without the slightest hesitation.

We were all not sure if he could really solve the problem without a proper inspection of other parts of the engine.

Michel just continued and dismantled the carburetor into pieces and started to clean these small parts carefully with some petrol that we were carrying in jerrycan. In thirty minutes or so, he reassembled and mounted it back on the engine. He started the engine and he succeeded right away. “Wow!”

As we never imagined that he had that mechanical skill and just thought he was an ordinary driver, we were all surprised and heaped praises on him. According to Michel, due to the poor quality of petrol available in the area, there is always some dirt in petrol available in the area. So to him it was a very common case. But even so, we were all surprised to see how quickly he made the judgment and how smoothly he dismantled and reassembled the carburetor. It gave me an impression that maybe difficult lives like the ones in this country would make people wise and sharp. Otherwise they can’t manage their life and survive.

Today, the life in this area is still difficult for most of the local people. But I somehow believe that the people here have the strength and potential capacity to overcome the situation and make a way towards a better future. The experience with Michel might look like a trifle thing but it’s not a ‘very’ small thing in my memory.

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