A driver from Oxfam was waiting for me at Kamembe with another colleague from the office. We got into the car and started our journey across the border. In 5 minutes we were at the exit point immigration office at Rwanda. There we got out and had to get our passports stamped. From there we had to walk across a small bridge to cross the border into DRC. The bridge was made of wooden planks and looked pretty unstable. My colleague who was walking with me, was wearing high heels! So while she was trotting on slowly I walked ahead a little faster, coz I just wanted to get off that bridge. At the end of the bridge there was a small pole and apparently I had to go to the left side of the pole, I had no idea so I went to the right. And immediately, came the authorities. Now imagine this scene – dirt roads, a small bridge, 50 people crossing at the same time, women and men with lots of goods, on the other side of the bridge, about a 100 people were standing around. All looked extremely impoverished and they waiting for something – staring at you as you walk by. And then there were the authorities, men with big guns and a string of bullets across their neck. It was super hot and dusty and the atmosphere was so tense.
SO coming back to when I went to the right side of the pole. A policeman comes to me and asks to see my passport. I show it to him, and luckily my colleague has made it there too. He tells her something in another language and she says something back. Then he looks at me and says half jokingly ‘ you were supposed to come from this side of the pole. We wanted to arrest you and put a chain around your neck’ and laughs. I’m quite stunned but play the “i’m very sorry sir, I didn’t know, card”. Well, he laughs and says go on.
After that, we walk a little further to a small office which in the DRC entry immigration office. There I have to fill out a few forms and talk to some authorities again. I was pretty nervous. But it went okay and the guy at the desk was quite friendly.
Finally this done we get into the car and officially enter Bukavu. For a while, there are ‘roads’ but the pot-holes are so big that the road is not visible at many places. And soon there is no paved road. It’s all bumpy, dusty dirt roads. We are speeding past these roads and I can see on the streets a lot of people, and cars. Some cars full of men, some of them jutting out of the windows, shouting something. I also see a lot of huge cars with UN on them. These are like the car I’m in. Big jeeps with their organization name all over it and a long pole, meant for the radio, jutting out the front. They also all have a ‘no arms in this car’ sign on the front.
It’s all still bumpy, dusty roads till we come to a small green gate and once that opens, its a whole new world! There is a huge house with the best view in the city of the gigantic lake Kivu. I am awestruck. This is the Oxfam guesthouse. There are three guards at all time, patrolling this compound and steel bars and gates on every exterior door of the house. This is where the associate country director lives and this is where I will be living for the next few weeks.
‘E’ greets me and there are two more guests – a super nice young woman from Greece called ‘I’ and a big old dog called Bear! The three of us chat for a while, ‘E’ gives me a ‘security briefing’ saying where I can go and not go. ” These people are very nice and friendly but they can explode at any time. So whenever you feel uneasy or there are too many people gathering somewhere, leave!’ – is the gist of the security briefing. Then they show me my room. It is one of the small cottages beside the big house. It’s pretty basic, with a bed, two desks and a bathroom. I spend the next 2 hours moving things around and putting my stuff nicely – basically making it home.
There are lizards all over the place, I found a big green one in my bed the other morning when I woke up. But surprisingly they don’t scare me anymore. I ate frog legs for dinner in evening and even that went pretty easy. I actually liked it! I guess, its the fact of being here that small things don’t seem to daunting anymore. I was quite shocked the first day, it was super intense. I called Jany and bawled on the phone for half an hour. But I’m feeling more and more comfortable as the days go by.
The centre of the Bukavu is quite nice. It’s buzzing with people, going about their daily lives. Selling stuff in the market, walking around, just doing regular stuff. This is also Congo. And there is nothing scary about this.
But sometimes I can feel the tension in the air, like the other day, I was with the driver, buying a sim card and all of a sudden he said lets go, we’ll buy it somewhere else. And I looked around and there were people running here and there. And some were shouting and had stones in their hands. There are instances like this, but I’ve not felt unsafe of insecure here yet. Touchwood
And then there is the other side of Congo, the expats. I haven’t met so many yet, but the ones I have met are quite hottie toittie. They all hang out in the most expensive hotel in Bukavu and are sometimes a bit snobbish but always interesting.
Besides this, the lake is very nice, I went swimming, ie. wash my hair, because there is no water in the house, and when pumped up from the lake the pressure is so weak that it feels like ant piss! We have access to part of the lake from the guesthouse and it’s a small beach to ourselves. Such a luxury. Well. All in all, I’m in a world of big contrasts. I feel comfortable most times and yet there is always a palpable tension in the air. I am getting used to this, but I have been waking up every morning with a lump in my throat – feeling disoriented and lonely, wondering what I am doing here. I give myself sometime – and it gets better as the day goes by.