Day 1: Journey

We left bright and early on Monday morning on the 13th to begin the ten hour ride to the town of Beni in the DRC.  We were packed in a large van and Brittany and I sat in the front for the first part of the journey.  While it was dark and we were still trying to get out of the city, it felt like we were in a video game or something.  There would sometimes be six headlights in the distance as cars and trucks would pass each other at a moment’s notice, seemingly regardless of us approaching in the oncoming traffic.  There were times when we had to drive onto the shoulder to avoid collision.  Once we were out of the city and it began to get light the drive became more peaceful.  There was always activity on the road – people walking to work or students in their bright uniforms heading to school, and people transporting water and other things on their heads or tied onto a bicycle or a boda.  A common thing to see was huge bunches of matooke or plaintains tied onto bikes that were pushed by people because they could no longer be ridden.  Small towns dotted our route, which were filled with ramshackle buildings and these typical painted storefront buildings.  We stopped in one of these towns for a washroom break where I tried a grilled plantain for the first time.  Yum!  Later on we stopped for lunch in a much bigger city called Mbarrara.  We found a booth on the street that made chapatis and we ordered ‘Rolex’s from them which are chapatis made with egg and other vegetables.  Double yum!  In Mbarrara we had a small amount of car trouble as we drove our one wheel into an open manhole, and later couldn’t remove the four-wheel drive we had turned on to get the van out.  People here are always willing to help, but they quite often demand payment after a ‘free’ service is rendered, especially service rendered to a muzungu.  Soon after leaving the city we drove into Queen Elizabeth Park.  There I saw my first wild baboon sitting fearlessly with its baby on the side of the road as we passed by.  The park looked like the picture of what one always sees of an African savanna.  Other landscapes that we passed along the way were fields of tea, banana/matooke/plantain trees, and cotton.  One thing that I was amazed by is that the roads were almost always paved except a few unfinished stretches.  After about eight hours of driving we reached the border to the DRC.

 

Photo by Bob & Eileen Gresham

We were met on the Ugandan side by two of the staff from UCBC, Mary and Kazito.  Mary is a representative on the board for the Congo Initiative in the United States, and Kazito is a native who works for the UCBC as a human resources officer.  Kazito took all of our passports and had to go to three different buildings/huts to get us through.  We transferred all of our bags from our driver’s van to the UCBC van and an additional car.  Once we crossed over to the other side, we only had to go to one place, but came across a little bit of trouble.  It turns out that non-residents from Uganda are technically supposed to get their visas from their home countries and so they weren’t going to let Erland and me in (as everybody else either got their visas in the states or had work visas for Uganda).  It was also a bit of a power show.  After much convincing on the part of Kazito about all of the great work we were coming into the country to do, and after the officers realized they were not going to get any bribes, they finally let us through and we headed on our way. 

 

The transition from Uganda to the DRC was stark to say the least.  Paved roads became very bumpy dirt roads, brick structures became mud thatch huts, fields of agriculture and a continued presence of people became a deserted road with dense jungle on either side.  We were vibrating and lurching for the next two-and-a-half hours; I thought it was a miracle that our vehicle stayed intact!  Our driver Kabale did not take the bumps slowly or else it would only take much longer to get to our destination.  It felt like a road rally race as he whipped around corners, honking as he went.  We went over a few pretty scary wood bridges; on one of them we actually started sliding sideways on some loose boards!  We took one stop along the way, and when I got out of the van it felt like I was still vibrating!  When we had only about a half hour to go, I strangely started losing sensation in my hands.  I starting opening and closing my hands to try to keep the blood flowing.  Then as though God were playing a joke on me, when we were only five minutes from our destination, I felt like I was going to be sick.  I shared this information with my neighbor, but I suppose I was too calm for the situation and I didn’t get the message across.  I leaned out the window and puked.  I was practically laughing at myself as we pulled to a stop and I rinsed out my mouth and took some deep breaths.  I got to sit in the smoother riding car for the last few minutes of our journey, which brought us to the guesthouse where we would be staying.  It was a welcomed sight!  We had survived the journey and were finally in Beni!

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