Back to Beni

The drive to Beni was smooth and I enjoyed traveling in the company of Jessica and Mary. My short stay in Beni was heavier emotionally than my more care-free time in Uganda.  The day previous to our departure I received a text from Othy saying that there was panic in Beni. Several hours later he texted me that it was a false alarm. Word was that two soldiers who were out of uniform were drinking and took a few shots into the air, causing people to flee in fear that there was an attack underway. Even though it did not turn out to be an attack, we learned upon our arrival that in the chaos several people died and children were misplaced. It broke my heart to hear of such a needless event. It all comes from the deep fear that people feel by not having any form of protection by the government or the UN. I can’t even imagine not feeling safe in my home or neighbourhood. Nevertheless, life goes on in Beni. When I was there things felt pretty normal. I only felt the tension, frustration, and sadness when I started talking to people. I think that everybody by now has lost a friend or loved one in the events of the last two years.

We arrived in Beni in the late afternoon, and since we had no desire to cook, Mary and Jessica decided to take me to Ishango, a new restaurant/bar establishment developed and designed by our mutual friend Leon. The place has a great atmosphere! The program surrounds an open courtyard with picnic tables and bright pillows. There is also a Cafe Kivu tucked in the corner with a nice work/study area. We sat in the courtyard and enjoyed a delicious pizza! The following day I headed to UCBC to begin consulting on their two mapping projects that are underway: Sharing The Land (STL) and Agribusiness. Mary and Jessica just recently purchased a vehicle and so we were able to drive to the school. I should mention that Beni has recently introduced several sets of speed bumps on the one paved road in the city… or perhaps I should say “speed ruts” because most of them are indents in the road instead of bumps. The contractors must have gotten carried away because the indents are so big that they are dangerous! Mary informed us that there had already been a few accidents, particularly for moto drivers. So you can guess that we drove very cautiously whenever we were on the main road! Mostly we laughed about it because it isn’t the first interesting urban initiative that has been implimented in Beni (the last being helmets). On the way to the school I was introduced to Matt who carpooled with us. He is staff with EMI and is managing the construction on the community center that has made significant progress. I found out that IRI was temporarily occupying one of four finished classrooms and that is where I spent most of my week. I met Kyle who is the director of IRI and was reunited with Serge and Juhudi who were involved as volunteers back when the BeniAtlas project was launched. It felt good to be there again and I jumped right into learning where the projects were at and planning out what I could offer with my time for that week. The week passed far too quickly but I managed to consult at several meetings, refined and updated a tool catelogue, created a procedures document, and developed the BeniAtlas website further.

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Ishango

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Beni’s speed ruts…

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Completed classrooms

On the Tuesday evening Jon and Kate invited all of the international staff over for a dinner of Congo-style tacos. Our gathering was the day after the first debate and so we watched some of it on Mary’s small phone because no one else was able to connect! It was interesting to hear their views on the American election (they were for Hillary… if they haaaad to choose one…). The debate was bizzare to say the least. Hillary was stiff but at least she knew her facts. Trump was like a child and all that came out of his mouth was broad generalizations. After the first half hour we had already had enough and knew that the rest would be very much the same! On Thursday Othy returned and we had two nice evenings, one spent with Mary and Jessica over dinner at their home, and the other at the Albertine with Jessica and Matt. Jessica and I realized it was one week until Canadian thanksgiving and we recalled that we had celebrated Canadian thanksgiving at the Albertine two years ago. We therefore attempted to recreate the photo that we took last time so that we could share it with Lauren! The next morning Othy and I headed off to Butembo!

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Sunset on the drive to Jon and Kate’s

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Canadian Thanksgiving… Albertine style!

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