Getting to know Bukavu & the IRC

It's late Sunday afternoon and I've not really done any work all weekend, so
I feel like I have a lot more mental "space" than I did on Friday evening.
During the week, my mind is trying to absorb and synthesize information as
fast as it can – whether be understanding (in French) what the people on my
team are currently doing, helping a colleague create an appropriate finance
training for village leaders or figuring out nice routes to run in Bukavu.
So, by Friday evening I feel pretty wiped, even though I don't feel like
I've really "done" much. But it is all very interesting and stimulating. It
has been quite awhile since I've had a reason to use my intellect and
creativity at this level and I'm quite loving it. For the first time in
ages, I'm feeling like my sharp mind is actually an asset rather than a
liability. Nice.

Bukavu is a beautiful place. On the lakeside, there are 5 or so peninsulas
that stick out into the lake. I live on one of them and the IRC office is on
the peninsula across from where I live, with the petite "Baie de Nguba" in
between. It is quite cool in the mornings and evenings, enough so that I
usually wear a long-sleeve shirt to run and a jacket if I go out at night.
The house where I am living is shared with another IRC staff member (Jana)
plus two long-term visitors, Simon and Peter who are Columbia PhD students
doing a study of the effects of our Community Driven Reconstruction

I've posted some photos, check out:

It's interesting being an expatriate staff member of an international NGO.
One thing is that I am very much perceived as a valuable asset that must be
protected. So, for instance, we are not even allowed to ride in local taxis
or on taxi motorbikes (too dangerous). But at least here in Bukavu, we are
free to move around as we wish. We just need to stay in communication, so we
all have both cellphones and two-way radios, though I have to admit that
most of us don't carry the radios around everywhere we go. We all live in
shared houses, all of which are in this same neighborhood. Basically all the
expats live in this neighborhood, pretty close to all of our offices, and
just down the street from the MONUC compound (MONUC being the UN Mission to
the Congo). Part of me feels a little weird, but I understand why it is set
up this way. If something happened, this makes it much easier to communicate
and/or evacuate us.

One thing I noticed right away when I got to Bukavu – all of the motorbike
drivers wear helmets. Not only that, they also all seem to have a second
helmet. So, one day while we were driving to the office, I asked the driver
about this and he said, yes, it's the law and they will be taken off the
street if they don't have the helmets. Amazing! So sensible and yet, in
Cameroon, this was never something they ever thought they could enforce.
And for my driver, at least, it was just obvious that one would never be so
stupid as to get on a motorbike without a helmet!

I went to my local Anglican church this morning. They do an English service
at 7:30am, followed by a Swahili service. No French service at all, which
strikes me as very strange. Anyway, the English service was me and about 10
or 11 Congolese who attend this service mostly because they want to learn
English! Most of them were young students (late teens, I'd say) and they did
speak English, though heavily-accented. It was a sweet service and a former
IRC person, Kim, used to go there, so when I said I worked for IRC, they all
warmed to me.

I expect to go out to the field in a couple of weeks. My manager, the
national director of programs is coming to Bukavu in early July, so I won't
go out before then probably, but shortly after that, I think so. I'm trying
to get my head around the way things are being done now, but I already have
a lot of ideas about how to make things work better, but I really need to
get out and see what things are like on the ground. Even just sitting and
talking with the guys (yes, they are all guys) in my unit was so
enlightening, that now I'm hungry to get a better feel for the reality on
the ground. Since I am living in Bukavu, I mostly talk with people who work
in South Kivu Province, but I'm responsible for work that is happening in
Katanga, Maniema and Tanganyika Provinces, also and, from what I've heard,
the conditions they are facing are very different in a lot of cases. So. . .
. I'm really looking forward to that. As long as I can bring my running
shoes, I'm happy to travel (I even have a jumprope in case I'm in a place
where it isn't safe to run!).

Okay, I'll stop here just because it's getting long. More TKM.


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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