Two weeks ago, the pond next to the church was empty. Today, it was filled with water. The Buyungule Pygmy women, who only a few days earlier had to travel for miles up a treacherous mountain road to get water, now had access to it at their doorstep.
A few days later, on November 5, Congolese president Jospeh Kabilia visited the village, the Buyungule Pygmies celebrating his arrival at the airport. Xavier and Melanie set up a grid made from wooden stakes and line to plan out the raised beds. They worked with Jeph, a local agrologist (someone who specialized in the science of utilizing plants for food, fuel, feed, and fibre) who used his expertise to help map out an ideal pattern.
The couple spent the next day visiting nearby Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where the Buyungule Pygmies lived for centuries before it was established. Creating the park was necessary to protect the fragile ecosystem and the endangered Eastern Lowland gorillas that roamed the area. A consequence of that decision was that the Pygmies were forcibly evicted from their home without being relocated or given any compensation. Since then, they had struggled with poverty and social marginalization.
Exploring the forest, the couple saw a large gorilla family. There were 36 of them in total ? 1 silverback, 20 females and 15 infants ? the largest of the two families visitors could observe. In total, there were only 139 gorillas known to live in the park. Their numbers were decimated after years of war, but were gradually recovering thanks to the efforts of park wardens.
Gorillas were everywhere, moving around in the bush, rumbling and stomping, making noises and pounding their chests all around Xavier and Melanie, only a few metres away. Up in the canopy, trees swayed as the enormous primates, perched on their branches, fed on leaves.