Goma Wedding

This has been a season of weddings. On the last weekend in January Othy and I took a long drive to Goma to go to Serge and Hortense’s wedding. It felt extra special because I have a relationship with both of them. Hortense is Othy’s sister and Serge was one of the key researchers that I trained when I collaborated with UCBC for my masters thesis in 2014.

Othy and I arrived in Goma at around noon on Friday. As soon as we crossed the border we were welcomed by police who pulled us over and wanted to take us to their office for not having the right insurance documents. What I don’t understand is how we could have had Congolese insurance when just arriving in Congo and not currently living in Congo! It is also silly that Ugandan insurance doesn’t cover travel to adjacent countries. We didn’t want to go to the office because we knew it would probably mean more trouble and more delays. While we were sitting there waiting, several friends who know us passed by, recognized us, and stopped to greet us and ask what was going on. One of them ended up helping us by paying the police off. Not a great habit to encourage but I’m glad we avoided trouble!

We stayed the first two nights at Bungwe guesthouse where we stayed on our previous visit. We visited the family in the evening who were all congregated at Obady and Marie’s house. It was fun to take part in the anticipation and see the ladies with curlers in their hair and their nails done. I held baby Johan again who has already grown so much! Othy’s sister Guylaine had thoughtfully prepared a Congolese dress for me out of fabric to match all of the other women in the family. It didn’t fit on the first try but they brought it to the tailor the following morning to get it adjusted.

The next morning Maurice came and picked us up so that the family could use the car. It was a beautiful day and Serge and Hortense looked radiant. After the religious ceremony we somehow ended up leading the parade of cars to go to Maji Matulivu for photographs, the same place that I stayed the first time I passed through Goma. There were a lot of family members who approached me to take photographs because many of them were unable to come to Othy and my wedding and they were excited to finally meet me. The extended family is so large and there are many people I still don’t know. A fair number of family and friends did not come from Butembo because it is a long, insecure journey and because a similar celebration was held for the civil ceremony in Butembo two weeks earlier. At the reception we sat with the family near the front and Serge and Hortense honored us with a gift of a cooked chicken and cake. Near the end of the celebration a group of the women went up to dance and I eventually went up and joined them. The women were pleasantly surprised that I could carry the rhythm, even if I was a bit stiff!

The following morning we went to the english service at the same CBCA church and then went for coffee with Baraka, Shannon, and Jon who was in Goma on business and had also attended the wedding. It was wonderful to finally meet Shannon and to catch up with Jon who I last saw when I was in Nairobi back in May! We wanted to stay in Goma a few more days to reconnect with friends and family, but didn’t have the money for more nights at a hotel. Baraka and Shannon generously offered to host us for two nights at their home. I spent most of the day Monday catching up on work, and then in the evening we went on a bit of a tour to visit several sites with potential architectural work. Goma is in the middle of a construction boom and land prices have risen. It looks like there will be plenty of work for me in Congo when we finally settle there as we hope.

We began our return journey at about noon on Tuesday. In the morning we visited with Serge and Hortense who had hoped we could wait a few more days and travel with them, but we were out of funds and decided we had to get going. While waiting for Othy to come back from a meeting, Serge and I got talking about his experience back in 2002 when Nyiragongo erupted. It was interesting to hear his first-hand experience and it reminded me of how tenuous life is in Goma in the shadow of that volcano. Othy returned and we headed on our way. Our friend Fiston (he visited us in Kampala a month or so ago) came through the border with us to show us his home which is on the Rwanda side. He took us to a place to buy some of Rwanda’s famous smoked sausages and to a cafe near his home to try some delicious whole milk. Finally by mid-afternoon we began our journey back to Kampala. We didn’t arrive until almost 4 in the morning! Despite our adventure upon first arriving, it felt nice to be back in Congo again. It was good to hear and try to converse Swahili again, visit with family, and experience Congolese friendship and hospitality.

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