Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Night in Bukavu...Part II

After unloading and securing the airplane in the rain, I realize that in Kipaka I had left my overnight bag, because the only room left to put it was on my lap.  I had packed things all the way to the ceiling, and the cargo pod was packed full.  Oh well, I have my survival kit I guess, that's better than nothing.

We take a "taxi" from the airport into town, almost an hour away.  The entire road is paved and it feels a little scary going so fast.  The weather is still terrible; it's even hard to see out the windshield...I can't believe I was flying in this stuff.  Our driver is Congolese, our old Toyota Corolla type with balled tires, a broken windshield, and very strange noises coming from the engine, tranny, and suspension.  I'm pretty sure the brake pads on at least one wheel are worn to just metal on metal.  It's a stick shift and there's not really a clutch to speak of; the driver just jams it in gear until it submits.

He is driving really fast, the road is wet, and we can hardly see.  On more than one occasion I yell, "ATTENTION!!" in French so we don't ram into the back of another vehicle.  I thought maybe it was just the car, but all along the way are people standing on the side of the road, shaking their heads, and pointing to smashed taxis.

Bukavu is pretty surprising to me.  There are real hotels with bell boys, Mobil service stations, electricity, street lights, and very nice looking restaurants.  It sort of reminds me a little of Chicago.  I'll be staying with the missionary family I brought from Kipaka.  When we reach the house, I can see a really nice yard, a kid's play house, and even a garage.  We aren't here for long before heading out to dinner.

The family invited me to go with them to a friend's house, and I accepted.  We are heading to Bernard's house; he's been the purchaser for the hospital for many years.  They have a close relationship.  His house is just a small living room with 2 couches and a bedroom/kitchen.  The roof leaks a little, and candles are the only light we have.  Dinner is rice, chicken, carrots and peas, and a killer sauce.  Most of the talk is in Swahili, but I can tell from the tone of their voices and their expressions that they are saying goodbye, and it's not easy.  They remember old times, thank each other, and talk a little business.  I take a few photos of their families together and then it's back home.  I help them pack and prepare their things for tomorrow before heading to bed.

It's actually cold here and I'm thankful for the extra thick blankets on the bed.  At first I didn't think I'd use them, but boy did I ever.  In the morning, I could see my breath outside.  I got a later start than I wanted to, but oh well.  The drive back to the airport is even better this time, mostly because I can see now.  The drive reminds me of Hawaii.  The road meanders along the edge of a crystal clear lake, beautiful tropical flowers line the road.  Sunflowers, beautiful plants, strawberries growing in fields, it's a wonderful sight.  Towards the end of the drive, we move more into high plateaus with different pines and open fields of wild flowers.

I get a later start than I want to, but at 9:30am I take off again for Kipaka with almost 1000 more pounds of supplies for the hospital.  The weather is much, much better today.  On the ground in Kipaka I unload the cargo and move straight into loading things for Bukavu.  I'm hoping to go fast here, but there's no such thing as fast.  The government officials want to see my original passport, and my visa...neither of which I have with me.  I have photocopies, but that's not good enough, and I can't leave until I produce them.

So I go into discussions and conversations about why I don't have the originals, why I need my passport here, when all the other major cities in Congo accept my copies.  Why I can travel to Uganda without a passport, but deep in the Congo jungle, I need to have everything.  Finally, after everything is loaded and my passengers are in their seats, I pull the officials to the side and ask, "Are you congolese citizens?"  They both reply yes, of course.  "If you took a trip to a major city in Congo, would you need a passport?"  No, they both say.  In fact, I don't even have a passport.  "Well, guess what?  I'm a Congolese resident too.  So if you don't need one, then I don't need one.  My copies are good enough."  That seems to resonate a little better with them.  And with that, I hop in and shut the door.  Some people like to argue and yell about things, and maybe that's just the way they do it here.  But I like to help them understand just what it is they're asking of me, and why it's sometimes absurd.  That takes time, but I think the final result is better.  Plus, I get to know the person, not just the demanding official.

The flight back to Bukavu is uneventful.  On the ground, I expect to have maybe 100 kilos of baggage and a 55 gallon drum.  What I find are bags and bags for Bunia...for "free."  No one mentioned all these things when I left, and I fit almost everything, again packing things to the ceiling.  I have to leave the drum behind and a few small bags.  By this time, I'm getting pretty tired and missing my family.  The plane just can't go fast enough to get me back.

On the way, I descend to 500 feet above the ground and point out a gorgeous waterfall.  When you think of a tropical paradise, you would include waterfalls, but not "badlands."  But right here in Congo, you can find those too, right next to the waterfall, actually.  20 more minutes and we're landing in Bunia.  I can't wait to get home!

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