Greetings from Bukavu

Greetings from Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo (DRC), known formerly as Zaïre!

I have spent the last week getting some orientation to IRC
(the International Rescue Committee) generally and in DRC. I met with HR, the
Country Director, the Programs Director, the Operations Director, the Financial
Controller, and a few others. My orientation will continue in Bukavu, more
specifically focused on my living and working environment, my specific job and
my team.

In Kinshasa, it was great to have other single expats around
on the weekend. Some of the loneliest days of my life have been the first
weekend in Africa when I am completely alone while everyone is with their
families. So, I used my time well—dined out a couple of times with a whole
crowd, visited a local market and art gallery, cooked dinner together, went to
a party and visited “Lola ya Bonobo” (Bonobo’s paradise) and “lac du ma
vallée”. I even got in 4 early morning runs. It has been a full and busy week.

Kinshasa is in most ways a typical African city. Lots of
people, horrible roads, too many cars, and full of vibrant colors and life. I
think it must have been quite beautiful back in the day, but now the remains of
war are everywhere. It reminds me of the neighborhood in Yaoundé where the VSO
office is (Bastos) that weekend when they tore down all the “illegal” shops (I thought I posted about this back then, but I can't find the post. Sorry). Apparently Kinshasa is somewhat
more dangerous and very much more lawless than other places because there have
been several armed/kidnap robberies of NGO expats (with no trust in seeking
help from or reporting to the police) resulting in a universal policy that no
expatriate staff are allowed to walk on the streets. I found that incredibly
annoying and made me all the more glad to move on to Bukavu as soon as
possible. We are not allowed to walk on the street, but there is a place—a 2.5
km loop around the embassies on the riverside—where one can go at the break of
dawn and run. And so I did four times which felt great. Dawn is a beautiful
time to run in Africa—cool, millions of birds chirping their way into the day,
very few people out and about. This loop around the embassies goes along the
river Congo, across which one can see Brazzaville, the capital of the other Congo. A nice mix of folks run or
walk the loop in those early morning hours, though not having spoken to any of
them, I only know we ran the gamut of genders, colors, shapes and sizes. For a
week it was nice. For a year, I fear I might perish from monotony.

Saturday afternoon, Hélène and I found ourselves at “le
marché des voleurs” (the thieves market) with only the intention to see what
sorts of art & artifacts were available. However, after a time, I fell
under the sway of a very charming artist who seduced me into buying two of his
paintings for $30 which is not bad by white man’s standards, though far, far
more than I, as an “embedded” volunteer, would have ever spent. But I quite
like them and they are easily transportable (being unframed, that is, just
canvas). Later that evening we went to a party of a friend of Hélène. I met
several folks from ICRC (Int’l Committee of the Red Cross), though I’d only
recognize the Deputy Director with whom I had a vigorous and very informative
discussion about the situation in Sri Lanka where he had previously spent some
years. One thing I picked up as part of this experience is that expats make
“friends” very quickly and that people are accepted/invited/judged, etc. based
on your post and, primarily, the organization you work for. It will be
interesting to see what, if any, the social scene is like in Bukavu.

On Sunday, Allen, his mother and I went to visit the Bonobo
monkeys. If you’ve not heard of the Bonobos, I encourage you to read a bit
online about them (for this particular park, you can Google “bonobos Kinshasa”
and you will surely find it). They are the newest species of monkey discovered,
are uniquely matriarchal, completely non-violent and pan-sexual. They resolve
their disputes through lovemaking, which they also do just for pleasure (as
well as procreation), and with any other Bonobo. They have their hierarchy and
social mores, but they are not confined to gender, age or family relations.
Fascinating. We got to the park right at the time they were being fed their
supplemental bananas (the park is a sanctuary for orphaned and traumatized
Bonobos who are then reintroduced into the jungle) and had an incredible
opportunity to watch and be with them. I hope to upload photos to my Flickr

The night before leaving Kinshasa—tired, hungry, completely
filled with immense amounts of new information, and with packing and a 5am
departure ahead of me—I had the luck to get in the car home with two other
staff who were also hungry. So we requested to go to “le bloc Bandale” which is
a street lined with outdoor cafés (very much like the road in Maroua where
“Avion ma laisse” is, except with a lot more cars and people). It was wonderful
to drink a local beer (Primus) and eat roasted fish and what in Cameroon is
called “baton” or “bobolo” and here is called something which I haven’t quite
understood yet—pounded, fermented manioc/cassava made into a gelatinous roll.
I’ve just now realized that the flavor and texture are in the same domain as a
semi-soft cheese. Just to be able to sit outside on a warm evening, surrounded
by Congolese, with decent music playing not too loudly (we picked our café
deliberately) and talk with two colleagues about the places we love in Africa,
was delightful. And that had me mind very little when the alarm went off a mere
4 hours after turning out my light.

When we landed in Bukavu, I was on this plane with about 4
or 5 civilians and 15 or so UN Peacekeepers (Indian and Uruguayan—go figure)
and I wanted to play it cool, but my entire body lit up and all I could do was
smile and smile and smile. Oh my God, I feel like I have reached the
motherland. . .


About Seth Longacre

primal health coach, vision fast guide, itinerant discalced Episcopal Deacon, barefoot runner, photographer, spiritual director, yoga teacher, minimalist, pilgrim
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One Response to Greetings from Bukavu

  1. backrowbass says:

    <i>Oh my God, I feel like I have reached the motherland. . . </i>
    This is good. It sounds like you’re just where you’re meant to be!
    I’ll look forward to hearing more. – Breen

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