6 January 2014

Congo-Kinshasa: Making Ends Meet On a Tshukudu in Goma

Biamungu, a 25-year-old porter in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, has to work very hard to scrape by. A makeshift wooden push-bike is all he has to support his family of six.

Riding his large wooden bicycle, Biamungu, with his muscular, sweaty body, looks like a character from a novel. He belongs to a category of workmen commonly known in eastern DRC as tshukudeurs. They are burly men, who transport loads with their tshukudu, a makeshift carrier hand-carved from large pieces of wood.

Transporting luggage and supplies is a tough job that requires physical strength and stamina: qualities Biamungu has in heaps.

Local know-how

Before the father of four opted for the wooden push-bike, he tried a motorcycle. But a lack of funds prevented him from operating that business.

"I know how to drive a motorbike, but I don't have enough money to buy one nor do I know people who could hire me to drive theirs," he says.

Originally from Munigi, north of Goma, Biamungu decided to get himself a tshukudu, a means of transport that originates in the Goma area. All the investment he needed to make was the time it took to find quality wood in the forest and build his two-wheeler.

"I chose the simplest solution," he says. "I didn't spend any money to get my tshukudu. Some of my cousins helped me build it."

But as it is, Biamungu is struggling to make his zero investment venture profitable.

"On a very good day, I take home about 10,500 Congolese francs (around 10 euros)," he says. "But days like these have been few and far between since the start of the conflict between M23 and the Congolese army."

His family of six

With his daily income, the young man has to cover the daily expenses for his family of six.

"I make sure to bring home the basic necessities: flour for the fufu [cassave paste], cooking oil and salt. If I have some money left, we feast on tomato sauce or meat," he says with a smile.

At his house, the diet is always the same. Fufu is served every day, with vegetables from the small family garden kept by his wife. The whole family waits for the day Biamungu receives his share from the tontine, a voluntary system of group savings. Only then can they afford some meat, fish or anything else that doesn't grow in the garden. For his wife, waiting for a week for the payment from the tontine feels like a year.

"I understand her impatience, because it's the only time she can afford to shop for various necessities, including clothes for her and the children," says Biamungu.

It worries him that he cannot cover the school fees for his children.

"I am already lucky enough not to pay rent as I inherited the house from my parents," he says. "Until I can afford it, I don't see how my children will get an education. Primary school is not free here."

In the meantime, it seems Biamungu will stay loyal to his tshukudu.

"I don't have a choice. This is what I can do best. I have tried a few other jobs, but nothing worked. This is my last chance," he says.

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