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In Congo, Dancing Amid A Fight Against Ebola


In the city of Goma in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, there's a massive effort to contain an Ebola outbreak, one of the worst in that nation's history. Health authorities have set up isolation centers, and nurses and doctors dressed in protective suits take people's temperatures at checkpoints across the city. During the day, people bump elbows instead of shaking hands or kissing cheeks. But as night falls, Congolese rumba fills the air, and people dance close together. NPR's Eyder Peralta sends us this postcard.


EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: As you walk into to club Ibiza in the middle of Goma, the bouncer takes your temperature, and you have to wash your hands with a bleach and water solution. But then you walk past a little gazebo and into the strobe lights, and the band dressed in matching silk shirts is already setting up. And just like that, all the signs that there is a deadly epidemic raging in this region begin to fade.

TONTON KARERA: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Sequined hat, dark sunglasses, Tonton Karera begins to sway his hips.

KARERA: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: He cuts into a song about a man who travels the whole region - across lakes, across mountains, across borders - looking for his lover, never, ever giving up.

KARERA: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Media Joice Kashamba Emmanuela and her boyfriend, Espoir Kitumaini, begin to dance. The way Congolese dance rumba is so intimate they do it in the space between tables, palms down over the back, the beat fast but the hips slow.

ESPOIR KITUMAINI: (Speaking French).

PERALTA: "Rumba is Congolese, and we live it," he says. "We live rumba the same way we live Ebola."

I'm guessing, though, when you're dancing, you're not thinking about that at all.


PERALTA: "Rumba," she says, "is good, even through war, through Ebola. Rumba is still there, and Congolese keep living." Her boyfriend cuts in to say that dancing also brings people together, and that's important at a time like this. Emmanuela looks at him with a wry smile. They've been together for four years, and they're comfortable with each other, they say.

EMMANUELA: (Speaking French).

PERALTA: "It's not dance that unites us," she says. "It's love." And one thing she is sure of is that Ebola can't kill that.

KARERA: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: They head back to the club. The TVs above their heads show ads on the symptoms of Ebola. But they just dance - close, careless and in love.


PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Goma in Democratic Republic of Congo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TONTON KARERA'S "NAKEI NAIROBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.