Friday, March 24, 2006

One year in Congo

Monday was my one year anniversary in the Congo. I feel like avideo montage should be playing in my head to some cheesy song (like that 80s rock song with the chorus "I catch some rays down in Africa"). I picture clips of me riding in the landcruiser or in a helicopter and chatting with a local village chief. It would probably be the kind of clip that would make me want to be an aid worker if I weren't already one. Then I could have a nice sad song playing and you'd see a more realistic version - eating cold beans and rice, throwing water on my kerosene stove when I tried to use it to heat up my cold beans and rice, having my laptop battery die right as I was getting to climax of a movie, and that great look on my face when I found out the spare parts needed to repair our generator were not available in Congo. I'd like to reflect on some of the special moments and the ones that pushed me over the edge.

March 2005 - I arrive. My first impression on the road into Kinshasa is a huge church with a tin roof, shaped like a barn. Lightenly reflected off the roof as we drove by in the rain. I was listening to Arcade Fire on my ipod.

May 2005 - I breakdown and start crying at my friend Rashid's house after finding out that I would not be on the flight manifest for the flight the next day to Kinshasa (I didn't know that I had to fax a UN office my travel approval. It had been a bad week, and this was the last straw). Rashid's a pretty strong guy and nearly flung me across the room when he patted me on the back, but he handled the situation quite well. Luckily I had the good fortune of having the breakdown in front of a guy who worked for the UN office that handled the flight manifests (he happened to be stopping by). This guy was my neighbor and a colleague and I had always wondered how to get into his good graces. Apparently appearing nice but emotional unstable does the trick - my name was on the manifest the next day.

August 2005 - I wake up at 5:30am in a village. No one else is up, the sky is just getting light, and the village is completely silent. A rare thing in Congo.

August 2005 - My friends who are colonels in the Indian army hold back my hair as I throw-up at their hospital. They take turns keeping watch in the room and make me a special rice and lentil dish that is gentle on the stomach.

October 2005 - I fly in a small cessna plane over Maniema and see dozens of separate plumes of smoke from the fires clearing bush. Lightning strikes far off. The plane shakes. My friend Emmet and I exchange "should we be worried" glances. He smiles and I am no longer tense about the plane.

December 2005 - I sit on the arm of an oversized chair in Ngili airport in Kinshasa, after paying my first and only bribe in the congo to get into the VIP room. I look around, wondering where everyone is going and how they ended up in the Congo.



March 2006 - I chat with friends at the South African base; like so many Friday nights before. Someone snaps this photo. This small group is South African, Uruguayan, Peruvian, Italian, American, Russian, Swiss, German and Dutch.

Now off to that base for another Friday night in Kindu...

3 Comments:

Blogger Taylor Walters said...

Hi Sarah-

I wanted to let you know about an organization I recently discovered www.friendsofthecongo.org . Perhaps you can help get the word out about them.

Taylor

7:49 PM  
Blogger Mom said...

Sarah, that's a really cute photo of you and your friends. You're just so...international! (Speaking of international, Carey told Brendan he was part Irish, and he wanted to know which part.)

6:51 AM  
Blogger Congogirl said...

Your mom is right, you steal the show. The hat is fab.

10:59 PM  

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