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Kisangani Zaire – Our Favorite Cameraman in 2020

Kisangani must have been one of the toughest stories most cameramen ever covered, we guess he use these lensesĀ buying guide for Nikon D3500 camera. Not only were the images so horrific, beyond anything anyone had ever seen, but it also had a physical toll on the cameramen. Disease was all around. Diseases that the Western world had never even heard of. And many fell ill.

Into the Heart of Darkness The trip from Nairobi to Kisangani took the whole day, flying over the land of a thousand hills and a thousand lakes, and finally over the Zairian rainforest. This rainforest hid diseases unknown to man and science. The land where the Ebola virus is believed to have originated, where malaria, dysentery and salmonella are a part of daily life. This forest would be home to us for the next three weeks. We were all a little bit nervous, as we did not know what we would be facing there. Looking down from 19000 feet, nothing indicated the suffering and the fears of the land. Distance is a great barrier, you felt untouched, safe, flying above the clouds. From up there, the forest looked like a massive broccoli vegetable. You could not see land below, only the treetops of the tropical forest, and it made you wonder how the hell the refugees had crossed this land without perishing. We would not have survived a week in this hostile land, but the refugees had been walking through it for the previous six months. And that was where we were heading, to see those refugees, to bring their images to the attention of the outside world.

Thousand of refugees walked for months to come here

A child waits for food Located in the middle of the forest, the camp was a carrier of disease.

The refugee camp was on the other side of the Congo River. Everyday cameramen, journalists and aid workers crossed this large river, either in the state run ferry or in dug-out canoes. The ferry was in bad shape, an aid organization having donated a water pump to pump out the water the ferry took in, and the 15 minute crossing seemed to take forever. Everybody joked that you should make sure you were at one of the ends of the ferry, for if it capsized you could jump off quickly. The dug-out canoes were slower and probably not that much safer, but you could not take your vehicle on them so the ferry was the only real way to cross.

Once across, you had a one hour drive through the rain forest on a narrow dirt road, and with the constant rain the trip became exciting! But you were in no hurry to get to the camps; the images you saw there were ones many of us had seen before. These people had walked for six months through the most hostile environment, weakened by malnutrition, disease and war wounds, and it was a wonder they had made it that far. People with open skull wounds, broken limbs, dying babies…

The rain made things harder. Water (a carrier of disease) was everywhere, human extracts floating around, people lying in the mud too weak to stand. The images were apocalyptic. You couldn’t stop wondering if you had reached hell without knowing it. But the cameramen were there again, and behind the protection of the viewfinder filmed images that would remain in history, images that brought the story to the world. Editors did not have a problem of sufficient good shots; the problem they had was what they could show on TV. Did people back in Europe really need to see a woman wandering around in the mud, her head split open, maggots eating her dead brain cells?

It was hell on earth. I remember a good friend, a photographer who had seen wars and destruction so many times before, who could take no more and went home.

Those were the kind of images one confronted daily, but that was only the beginning. After we had all left that God forsaken place we soon discovered what kind of a price we had to pay for having been there. Cameramen and journalists started to fall ill, the issue being who and how they had fallen sick. Malaria was the most common cause, followed by salmonella and dysentery. One cameraman contracted something that baffled even the British Tropical Disease Center. There was one ironic story: a UN freelance photographer escaped with no illness whatsoever, only to be hospitalized in Nairobi, after being hit on the head in a mugging incident. We all felt for him, to survive in Kisangani and get it in Nairobi, that’s the way Africa makes you pay, eventually. No cameramen died from Kisangani, but the danger of disease was so great that it prompted the BBC to do a special presentation by Martin Dawes, the correspondent, on the dangers we had all faced there. Who is David Hands