Our Adventure in The Congo
Nov 1, 2007
|"You're actually going to the Congo?" was the question posed by a seasoned traveller we met on our journey.
"Are you crazy??" asked another, with an incredulous look.
With calm assurances from our Aunt Janine, more Congolese than European, and at 77 years old, a true adventurer and lover of Africa, we head out via air from Uganda to expreience this country first-hand.
Boarding our small plane is an experience in itself. It was either a 15, 18 or 24 seater but with all the luggage, plastic wrapped bundles and other paraphanalia taking up most seats, it was really hard to know. Additionally, it wasn't all that comforting when we were jammed in like sardines, with Zoe and I and 2 big African men sharing 3 seats. It was at this point that we decided to just laugh and see the humour in this novel way of travelling. At least there weren't live chickens running around.
One hour later we arrived in Bunia, Congo. Bunia is a city of 600,000, with an almost impassable network of dusty, pot-holed roads that would virtually swallow up a regular car. Only large-wheeled 4x4 SUV's and monster sized trucks can survive any length of time here. The city is poorer than poor, with make-shift slapped together mud-huts, boarded shacks and some remnants of concrete houses from a very distant past.
Congo has been battered by one of the bloodiest civil wars off and on for the last fifty years and evidence of the aftermath of the destruction is everywhere. With the Congolese trying desperately to shake off its colonial chains together with tribal warfare, militant rebels, and a prolific system of corruption, anarchy has been the dominant modus operandi. Even today, the conflict smolders on, especially in the north and the east of the country. The UN has estimated that since 1998, over 3 million lives have been lost - a much larger number than the genocide so widely publicized in Rwanda.
The history of what happened in the Congo is so complex that to begin describing it would take volumes. Suffice it to say that today, the Congo is in such a weakened state that it is unable to defend itself against continuing civil war and thus continues to rely heavily on continued intervention from the UN to protect its ordinary people. With the UN closely monitoring the situation, the country is in a semi-secure state of peacefulness, but there is always a wariness of what might be brewing under the surface.
Our real purpose for venturing into the Congo, was to visit my Aunt's 3500 acre farm which also houses a school for the local population. Four years ago, the property had been plundered once again, the fields burned, and many Congolese workers were viciously murdered. The school was also partially destroyed and it is in these horrible conditions that the children continue to go to school. The two buildings have 6 classrooms in all, housing 380 students. In the younger grades, there are more than 75 children jammed in. With generous donations from our friends and family in Canada, our Aunt will commence repairs immediately so that the children will have a more comfortable learning environment.
The children, parents and teachers were ecstatic and a big celebration was given by the entire school to thank everyone for their help. It was truly heartwarming and so special to see these people who have virtually no material goods (other than the food from their fields and the tattered clothes on their backs) be so happy.
Now, we want to explain a little about our road trip that we needed to take in order to arrive at the farm, which is called Ngolo (Swahili for lemongrass).
This trip needed a 4 x 4 SUV turbocharged vehicle and even with that, there were moments when we weren't quite sure if we were going to make it. The absolute worst roads that we've been on near Bell's Lake, Quebec, don't even remotely compare. It took us 9 hours to travel just short of 120 kms. We were jostled around so much inside the vehicle that we were dizzy for several hours after arriving at our destination. The landscape along the way was incredible - it was like we had been transported back in the time of Mowgli and the Jungle Book. The only unfortunate part was that all the wild animals have disappeared from the Congo as they have either been killed by rebels or run away to safer lands. We've taken hundreds of pictures of this amazing adventure and beautiful landscape. A small sampling is posted here but for any of you that are interested, a special video clip and album will be created upon our return.