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A civilian airport in Congo's eastern city of Goma that has housed Congolese military arms also serves as a final resting place for abandoned aircraft. (Michael Christopher Brown)
In addition to using the airplanes as a playground, some children strip parts and sell them on the streets of Goma. (Michael Christopher Brown)
Acrobatics on the wing of a defunct Congolese Airlines plane. (Michael Christopher Brown)
Although access to the airport was officially prohibited, children discovered their own ways to get inside. (Michael Christopher Brown)
Local children at play on the wing of an abandoned airplane at Goma International Airport. (Michael Christopher Brown)
With the rebel M23 forces gone, the children gave photographer Michael Christopher Brown a personal tour of the aircraft. (Michael Christopher Brown)

An Airplane Graveyard Becomes a Kids’ Playground

These grounded planes in the Congo have captured the imagination of these children

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In Congo, where nearly two decades of war has claimed millions of lives, a civilian airport in the eastern city of Goma that has housed Congolese military arms also serves as a final resting place for abandoned aircraft—hulks that kids gleefully occupied during a break in the fighting a year ago. “Something about the situation captured the imagination,” says Michael Christopher Brown, a photographer based in Brooklyn who documented this unlikely outbreak of fun. “What young child would not want to walk on, in and around a big airplane? It was a giant playground.” The photograph’s poignance seems even more apt now, with the rebel militia M23 vowing in November to disband—a step toward ending the grisly conflict. “For now,” Brown says, “there is a chance for peace.”

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About Jesse Rhodes

Jesse Rhodes is an editorial assistant for Smithsonian magazine. Before he became an editorial assistant, Jesse worked at the Library of Congress Publishing Office, where he was a contributor to the Library of Congress World War II Companion.

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