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Published: April 5th 2010
Early this year Ken Mwanza and I made the trip from Luanshya, Zambia to Likasi, DRC. On a map the distance between these 2 locations looks like nothing but a nice Sunday drive through central Africa ... however ... in reality it could easily be a 2 day journey. A combination of terrible roads and bureaucratic garbage (so common to the Congo) make this expedition an interesting one.
It’s been 3 months since we entered the country and we’ve become accustomed to the Congolese way of life and ... have even started to enjoy it.
On Tuesday, April the 13th we will leave this country we’ve struggled to become fond of and will enter back into Zambia for a 4 day conference. Excitement is building as the reunion with long lost friends and family grows closer and closer. Because Erick’s passport has expired he left us for Zambia early this morning ... leaving Ken and I to hold down the fort here in Likasi ... this should come as testament to exactly how familiar we have become with the good ol’ DRG. Neither of us speak French (the national language) or Swahili (the native language) but we are learning and can get ourselves around.
Take this afternoon for example ... we visited the community of Toyota to accompany some of our HBC volunteers on home visits. Frere Serge was our leader today and as we followed him up and down the streets, greeting and smiling at everyone, we tried to learn from each other.
Serge does know enough English for us to talk and laugh but it’s always a learning experience for both of us. We get both French and Swahili translations to phrases and objects we point at and repeat them until they are committed to memory.
Serge pinches some dust between his 2 fingers and as he lets it fall to the ground he says, “voombi.” We look at him blankly ... he repeats (slower this time), “vooooom-bi.” Ken then says, “dirt!” Everyone laughs. A truck goes by and kicks up tons of dust ... I say “vumbi sana!” “Sana” means “a lot” or “very much” ... we learned this on a previous visit. Everyone laughs again.
Toyota visits are always a success. It sometimes takes some energy and a little push to get outside the big blue gate to the house but we always come back with smiles and stories. Visiting the communities we work in ... or are planning to work in ... is one of my favourite parts of being in Africa. Yes, it often is the most awkward thing in the world ... and as much as I enjoy being the centre of attention at home ... it has a different affect on me here. All that aside ... walking the streets of communities and greeting children who often yell, “Mzungu! Jambo!” does nothing but make me smile, laugh and respond “Jambo sana!”
Today seemed to produce more stories than a usual community visit though. Maybe it’s just the adventure of being here in the Congo without our guide ... who knows. Anyway...
During our visits today we came across a funeral procession ... in the Toyota fashion. It was unlike anything I have ever seen and I really couldn’t believe what was passing in front of the 3 of us. We had heard some singing from behind us and turned to see a crowd of people coming down the road being lead by a man holding a cross high above his head. Following the man holding the cross was a bicycle being held up by 3 or 4 men. The reason the bicycle had to be held up by 4 men and the reason I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was the fact that on the back of the bicycle was a coffin. It was being balanced there and the men holding it up were having a hard time just keeping the lid on. As the group passed us and I awkwardly tried to find somewhere to look that wasn’t right into the crowd Serge looked at me and said ... “Welcome to the Congo!”
No matter how familiar I think I am with the DRC or Africa I see something new every day and Erick’s words echo in my head ... “That’s culture shock!”
On a lighter note...
As we were coming to the end of our visits and heading back towards the “bus station” of Toyota, Serge motioned down the road with his arm and said, “Well ... I think we’re done.” We nodded in agreement ... all of us were tired and ready for some food and water. But then Serge dropped the line of the day ... and possibly the best line since I arrived in Toyota in November. He said in his broken ... BROKEN ... English ... “Like what you say in English ... Time is money!” We’re all volunteers ... I laughed ... and when I had finished laughing I said, “not in this line of work Serge ... not in this line of work.
We’ve survived our first day of this unguided tour of the Congo and are looking forward to the challenges in the days to come. Things like the market have turned into adventures into uncharted territory ... we’re ready. Armed with a Swahili phrasebook the 2 of us are unstoppable. We are THE dream-team ... and we’re about to take on the Congo.
I feel much like my childhood idol ... Tin Tin ... only this time the comic will be called “Ken and Will do the Congo” ... and instead of a tiny dog named Snowy we have a big mean looking dog named Snoopy. Take that Tin Tin.
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