Prior to heading to DR Congo, I kept thinking in the back of my mind, “Sweet pounding hammers and smashing saws, this country must have the mothers of all pravs. Years of corruption, neglect of basic public works, and cars that were the living dead must have created the ultimate hotbed of pravs for the entire world.” Upon arrival, the praving part of my brain was overloaded and just sorta fried. The whole damned country is one continuous prav, but it continues in such a way that I could never really figure out a way to capture these things in photos. I mean, how do you capture something that’s infinite? It hurts the mind when you follow some wiring for an air conditioning unit that has been punched through a glass window, to then be draped over the outside balcony and fastened to the building with the wiring for something on the floor below, that then loops back up to have a cellphone antenna powered off of it, only to then come back in to the apartment through a crack in the ceiling and be surface-wired in to an “electrical box” above the couch. Or what about the photocopier guys out in the street who hardwired their machines in to the wiring for the street lamps?
I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t document all of this. Sure, I got one of two shots off of self-contained pravs as you can see below, but there was no way I was going to shoot everything I saw, especially since photos were problematic. But then it dawned on me that this really wasn’t praving. The Congolese did the pravs that they did because that’s all they had to work with. To pick at the work they did would be like making fun of someone eating a bowl of rice because they only have rice to eat. In a word, it’s arrogant.
I now understand that praving is praving because a person fixes something in such a way that is completely half-assed and in blatant disregard to the proper way to fix it that is indeed available. For instance, why did my father repair the water main to his house with a radiator hose when he had undue access to proper pipe? Simple. The man was a Croatian praver. But, why does a Congolese cut holes in the side of his van for windows? Simple. He needs to be able to have people breathe so that he can drive the car around as a taxi and make some sort of a living. If this work was done in Europe or the US (and we actually did have a van that was like this when I was growing up) it would be and is a prav. When done in a place like DR Congo, it’s just survival and to a large degree, I actually respect what people do there despite the fact that they have access to so little.