I’m like the dean of chukudus.

My folks were always putting him down (down, down)...They said he came from the wrong side of town...They told me he was bad...But I knew he was glad...To have a sturdy, practical means of transporting his hefty sacks of shit around town...That's why I fell for - the leader of the pack (chukka-chukka)

Somehow I missed this entertaining homage to the chukudu – Congo’s idiosyncratic wooden scooter – in The Washington Post a few weeks back. Amazingly, there are still journalists – in this case Africa correspondent Stephanie McCrummen, whose regional duties include making sure I can’t contribute a single fucking story to the Post‘s foreign desk [Ed. – Nothing personal!] – who can bang out 700 words on the eastern Congo that don’t include the word “rape.”

Available in three models — small, medium and large — the chukudu is a marvel of practical engineering and endurance. It has become the donkey of eastern Congo — a beast of burden that hauls vegetables in the good times and fleeing people in the bad. Purely utilitarian, chukudus are rarely painted or personalized. The most common flourishes are mudflaps for their wooden wheels. And unlike the minibuses of Nairobi, chukudus rarely inspire nicknames.

“I just call it ‘Chukudu,’ ” said Bunjuru Brazira, 40, when asked on a recent morning if his scooter had a name.

Brazira also observed he’s “like the dean of chukudus” – high praise (for himself) indeed, if you consider the reverence the Congolese have for their chukudus.

I feel like Congo sort of raises the bar when it comes to incredible/improbable/really weird shit. I mean, if this guy's wife and kids were sitting on the couch, THAT would've impressed me.

“Chikudus are as much a source of local pride as they are a part of the local economy. Formal jobs are rare here, and crafting chikudus is a skilled and prestigious occupation,” wrote Alex Halperin and my friend Jina Moore in a 2008 piece for The Christian Science Monitor. The two also detail the apprenticeship of a young chikudu-maker in Goma.

Emanuel Buke won’t train just anyone. Like a swami on a mountaintop, he is discerning about his disciples….

So seven years ago, when Samson Nahubusa showed up at Mr. Buke’s door, Buke wasn’t surprised.

He’d seen kids like this before, teenagers looking for work in a part of the world where the best way to feed oneself can be to pick up a gun and join a militia. But Mr. Nahubusa had something the others looking to learn a trade didn’t: a tiny chikudu in his hand. He’d been trying to teach himself by building miniature replicas for years; now, he wanted to work on the real thing. He offered one to Buke as proof he had what it takes.

“Is this right?” he asked.

“No,” Buke said. “You made it wrong…. I have to teach you to do it.”

This is a story, I think, that’s just dying for the Hollywood treatment. Can’t you picture Morgan Freeman and Cuba Gooding, Jr., playing the lead roles?

'What does a young punk like you know about chukudus? I'm not sure you have the moxie to make chukudus.'

'Being a chukudu-maker has always been my dream. It's what I dream about. And sometimes...*tear*...dreams are all we have!'

This, my friends, is the Congo story we’ve been waiting for.

UPDATE: Investigative sleuthing (i.e., clicking on the first link after Googling “chukudu“) pulled up another piece in The Washington Post‘s archive from just last year. Makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just wait a year to send my own chukudu proposal.

'My friend, how can we transport all these goods that we've pillaged from local villages?' 'Why, with a chukudu, of course!'

'Chukudus are for pussies,' said this local woman.

2 responses to “I’m like the dean of chukudus.

  1. There is a rumor that the yet-to-be-unveiled statue in the center of our second main roundable here in Goma is going to be a statue of a Chukudu. Some people are convinced that this is so and some people are convinced that the GoDRC isn’t clever enough to commission one and instead it will be some boring thing of some political dude.

  2. Chukudu fan here, as you well know.

    A Chukudu statue would complement the white MONUC BMP-2 quite nicely at the roundabout.

    Urban legend is that Anderson Cooper was broadcasting from Goma when he saw his first one, and exclaimed, “My God, things are so desperate here that this man has CARVED A BICYCLE OUT OF WOOD!” Dunno why that’s funny, because it’s essentially true. But a chukudu is better than a bike for hauling your loot.

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