• It Saves Lives. We Call it a chukudu!

It Saves Lives. We Call it a chukudu!

August 19th, 2010

For the past few weeks, I have been wondering why I had never written about what has become the symbol of my city: chukudus.

I live in Goma, capital city of North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This project has been roving in my mind until one fact pushed me to let it come to fruition: a statute representing a man pushing a wooden bicycle carrying a globe-the world has been erected in the center of the city of Goma. A plate on the monument states that the statute is the symbol of the “sustained effort and diligent work” that leads a country to development.

The “chukudu”, as it is called in Swahili, main language spoken in Goma, is the symbol of my city.

Young people at work, Goma

Young people at work, Goma

In fact, this wooden bicycle-like vehicle has been reported to only exists in this region of the globe. You can find it in every markets or streets. The chukudu provides the daily bread for hundreds of families in North Kivu. That is the case for Bahati, 18 years old young man, who accepted to tell me about how his chukudu has offered him hope for a brighter future. Bahati is from Rugari, a village at 30 to 50 kilometers North of Goma in Rutshuru, the war-torn territory of Congo that shares the border with Rwanda and Uganda. I was seeing off a friend who came for a visit at mine when we crossed path with Bahati. He was on his way back to Alanine, a small typical African market, pushing his chukudu with a sad expression on his face. My friend James and I greeted him.

“I am fine” he replied.

I asked him if he would have a few minutes to tell us about his work. He accepted and explained he just lost a deal with a client who called him from the market to pick a pile of tires.

“He offered so little money that I told the guy I’d rather go find other clients at the market”, Bahati told us.

“Now I see why you are going back to Alanine market carrying nothing”, I commented.

Dressed in a very dusty white long-sleeve shirt over a red T-shirt, he seems younger than I am and starts explaining in his hesitant Swahili mixed with Kinyarwanda (main language spoken in Rwanda), that he started using his chukudu to transport goods for people in Goma, since he’s 15. That is three years ago, when his father died, leaving three kids and a widowed wife behind him.

Bahati and Alain

Bahati and Alain

“The death of my father” he explains, “left me with no hope for a bright future. Here you know, it’s wars and poverty but we still have to take care of our families. When my father died, I became the eldest of the family and I felt like I had to do something…bring food to the table, find a job, help my mother but I didn’t know how…” He explained looking away.

Realizing that goods are cheaper in his village and could be sold at a higher price in the city of Goma, he decided to make daily trips from his village to the city transporting the goods and supplies for sale.

“Without my chukudu, I wouldn’t be able to transport as many goods a day” he explains, holding tight his handmade wooden chukudu.

Bahati earns five American Dollars a day and is hence above the poverty threshold of $1.25 equivalent to what most of the population makes in Congo. He has never been to school but the harsh reality of his life left him no choice: he has to take care of his mother and younger siblings. Bahati, with a smile and a joyful tone in his voice, told me he has been able to buy ten sheets of corrugated iron for his greatest project:

“I’d like to build my own house before I get married!” His vision of the future seems brighter today.

That same day, my attention was caught by two young men who were on their way back from dropping some baggage at Goma main harbor. One of the boys, the eldest, seventeen years old or so, was dressed in a white T-shirt with green sleeves. He was walking pensively close to the empty chukudu that a much younger boy was pushing. I decided to stop them for a short discussion. Chiza, is 18 years old, and Mapendano, the younger man pushing the chukudu, is his younger brother. Chiza explained that he has been working with his chukudu for the past three years. Recently, Mapendano joined Chiza to help him. When he was alive, Chiza and Mapendano’s father used to work with that same chukudu. He trained his older son, Chiza, who is now feeding his brothers and sisters in addition to his own spouse and one child of his own. Chiza’s family lives in Munigi, 10 kms North of Goma.

Alain, Chiza and Mapendo, Goma

Alain, Chiza and Mapendo, Goma

“I will teach my children the art of using a chukudu. It feeds my family you know. When I am very lucky and I work hard, I earn 15,000 Congolese Francs a day! [the currency in Congo equivalent to 16 American Dollars]” he insisted very excited.

A chukudu costs around 60 American Dollars in Goma. Yes, 60$ to save lives!

Alain Daniel Rafiki, Now AfriCAN Reporter Hero.

One Response to “It Saves Lives. We Call it a chukudu!”

  1. sujeet kumar says:

    My Dear Friend ,

    I am really moved by your deep concern towards your people and your city .
    I am an Indian and a new comer in Goma .

    Can we become friends .
    Awaiting Your Reply
    Regards .