Tuesday May 28: Lunch - Journalists, Christmas Day and a table of boozy cops
It was a great moment giving out digital recorders donated by Canadian retailer The Source - the reaction was incredible. (Lisa LaFlamme)
Today an image flashed through my mind about pulling up to a Tim Hortons in Canada and seeing a few cops "on the Timmy's beat," armed with a dutchie and a double-double coffee. I realized, as is always the case when you're in a conflict zone, how totally harmless that stereotype really is.
At a lunch today with a small group of journalists in Goma, DR Congo, I sat and watched a table full of local police, in full blue uniform, go through beer after beer and bottles of wine.
I took a few pictures surreptitiously to show the reporters I was sitting with. At home, I said, cops drinking on the job would get suspended.
Here in Goma? It's just another brazen example of the abuse of power - and given their track record - a mild one. The consequences, however, of publishing those photos in the Congo would be stark.
"If we put that in [the] paper police will come to your house in the night and shoot you - period," said a local journalist, whose name won`t be published so they don`t get hassled.
Did police have to pay for their liquid lunch? "Never - police don't pay for anything here," said another.
The lunch was free for the journalists also, but this was part of a JHR outreach to the local press corps to generate solidarity.
In this media environment, there is safety in numbers. Usually when a journalist is threatened (or worse) by authorities, it goes unreported.
A united front, they hope, will breed confidence in exposing the widespread abuse and suppression.
The reporters were also given $10 for transportation so they could take part in this week's workshop. A draw in itself considering, on average, they only make $15 a month.
At yesterday's session I met Esther - a smart, young reporter who's already building a reputation for "les scoops" (yes - even in Goma where they speak French and Swahili, an exclusive is called a scoop).
Today over lunch she quietly slid a newspaper in front of me with a front page story carrying her byline. She was modest and proud.
It was the result of a month-long investigation into a stalled road construction project that for months had choked off a main artery in a city that's already a driving disaster.
The story generated so much reaction that within a week of publication, the construction company finally completed the job. That took guts because Esther named names and they were shamed into action.
The lunch ended on a high note: Thanks to the generosity of Canadian electronics retailer The Source, everyone at that table was given a small digital audio recorder.
They were cheering, clapping - even kissing them. Testing one out, a reporter recorded his own voice saying "It's like Christmas" - but they all knew these are not toys, they are tools.
I leaned over to Nicole, another firecracker, and mused about sliding one of the new recorders on to the table of the well-oiled cops.
Too soon...but one day.
Tomorrow, no free lunch. I'm job shadowing five reporters at a refugee camp on the Rwandan border.