Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

There are times when I would pay a million dollars to blend in.  All expats in most African countries are ogled, but many have the benefit of similarity, and, frankly, lots of local people cannot tell their white faces apart.

I have never had this problem, and coming to cities and countries where expats are not ubiquitous, the attention placed on me becomes hyperfocussed, a mix of intrigue and novelty as I stream by, ginger hair ablazing.

Without even overtly planning to, Adam and I were re-tracing our footsteps, revisiting the route taken during our great escape.

As we made our way through Goma to the port, heavy from our trouble at the border, the city in which I had spent so much time in 2005 and 2006 had grown past recognition.  The port, however, had not.  Weaving down toward the shore, I hoped our low-riding taxi would make it through the lava impediments, as goats climbed the rocky outjuttings to our right. Closer to the waters of Lake Kivu, motorcycles, cars, and laundry ladies lined up, washing their things in the water.

I had ridden this route many times by motorcycle when I had lived in the city, and I was flooded with happy memories.  Upon seeing the offices of the boat, I was flooded instead with residual fear.

We had not done anything wrong, and this time in Goma was so different than the last in 2009. But as everyone stared at me as we waited for the boat to arrive, I became suddenly paranoid, holding my breath as I saw someone locking eyes with me as he picked up his mobile phone to make a call.

Someone knew, someone recognized us.  Everyone was on the lookout for the me, an imagined fugitive, and they would catch me, red haired.

It was ridiculous, but the choppy waters of the afternoon boat to Bukavu did nothing to settle my queasiness and unease.

Arriving in Bukavu, my first step onto those familiar long greying planks of the dock rocked me, literally and metaphorically, and I found myself suddenly out of breath, remembering having stood on this very dock, hoping against hope that we could get to Goma and get out of Congo.

All I wanted to do was get away from this port, and drive up and away on the too-familiar steep driveway into town and just escape from the panicking memories, but our driver had not yet arrived, and my roaming internet, courtesy of my Rwandan SIM card, had finally run out.

I sat close to the DGM's desk, trying to calm myself and stop from being silly.  I did get a chuckle from his official "sign," an 8.5" x 11" piece of white paper with the letters DGM written in pen, and taped to the bars of the windows next to his desk.

Our driver finally arrived, and I prepared myself for the long ride to Lwiro Sanctuary -- again, retracing our steps from 2009.  In 2009, it had been an arduous stressful road with the DGM from the airport "monitoring" us as we headed to his larger offices in Bukavu Town, while we attempted to find things to talk with him about without revealing incriminating details.  During the 2.5 hours of the trip, it was quite a feat to have accomplished.

Since 2009, most of the road between Bukavu and Lwiro has been beautifully repaved, I'm told, by Chinese contractors, so imagine my surprise when we arrived at the main house in slightly less than 50 minutes.

Our colleagues were outside -- including dear Cleve -- and we opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate his birthday, back again together in the wilds of Congo.  It is sometimes hard to realize that we have been friends now for 10 years.

Much like our first trip in Congo, Adam and I went to sleep our first night back in the country in a twin bed, ensconced in darkness, at a very early hour, with no electricity and no internet.  As the rain fell hard in the night, I dreamed of chimpanzees.

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