Posts tagged ‘DRC’

December 8, 2018

Holding onto Hope

Dear friends;

What a crazy few months it has been! It is hard to believe that I have been away from Beni since August (now away longer than I was there). Although nothing has gone to plan, we are trusting that God has us in His hands and that He wants to use us where we are. We have so much to be thankful for. God provided affordable places for me to stay prior to the wedding, a wonderful and affordable Airbnb for me and my family in the week before the wedding, and now a place for Othy and I to live until mid-January. We are overwhelmed by people’s generosity, particularly many of the staff of EMI.

It has been a period of such highs and lows. The high points have been the celebration of our marriage, time with family and time experiencing God’s beautiful creation, a relaxing and enjoyable honeymoon to begin married life together, and the celebration of the marriage of our dear friends Matt and Jess. But in all of these activities, there is a grey cloud that has been looming over us. Every day we hear news of new ebola cases that are growing in number around Beni. The cases are not being reported soon enough because initial symptoms look similar to other tropical diseases like Malaria and Typhoid. There is also distrust of the health authorities which is causing communities to be uncooperative by not reporting cases, or not following the prescribed burial practices which can feel very cold and distant.

The distrust is warranted because insecurity is at an all time high in Beni with rebel attacks happening every week, often within the city itself and with little to no protection being offered by the Congolese army or the UN. It seems as though the rebels see an opportunity to create more chaos to make the fight to contain ebola more difficult. Whole neighbourhoods have been emptied out because of fear of attack which only gives more space for rebels to come closer and be undetected. Events have only increased the number of internally displaced people which makes tracking contacts of ebola cases more difficult. Vox recently published an article that outlines many of the challenges in containing the virus. Community groups are demanding that the international community help them to end the insecurity as well as the Ebola. They don’t want to survive ebola only to be attacked while they sleep in their homes. It doesn’t make sense to meet one need and not the other.

Another layer to this situation is that elections are scheduled to happen on December 23rd. So far plans are moving forward for elections to take place, but the Congolese population is on edge because the government has decided to use machines to vote making everyone nervous about the possibility of cheating. There are also three major candidates running instead of two, making the possibility for vote rigging easier. Originally the opposition were planning to come together behind one contender, but last minute one of them changed their minds, which makes people wonder what the real motivation was. Kabila is not running again because he is constitutionally barred from doing so, but has selected what many people are referring to as his pawn, a person who they think he will be able to manipulate to continue pursuing his own interests. So in January much could be the same or could be very different. We pray that God will direct these elections and help establish a leader who knows Him and will pull this country out of the deep sludge of corruption and exploitation by political elites.

God at Work

At times it becomes difficult to continue praying for Beni. God’s word tells us that our prayers have authority, and yet it is difficult to pray when the situations remains unchanged or even worsens. One thing we have to remember is that God still hears our prayers and uses us in these times for his purposes. Othy and I were reminded in talking with the rector of UCBC, that Congo Initiative and the university were started in a time of war. The seed was planted in a time of lamentation when enough was enough. And now the university has had its ten year anniversary and has impacted countless lives. And so we must keep working even through dark times, even though we cry out asking why this is happening again. God did not wait until a time of peace to send his son Jesus into the world. Christ came into a very messy situation to seek out the sick and the lost.

Despite the difficulties, UCBC has started classes and has taken measures to give staff and students a safe working and learning environment. They recently obtained a property in town, City Campus, where they have decided to run classes because the main campus is in an area on the outskirts of town that has experienced insecurity. For Giving Tuesday, CI raised a few thousand dollars to purchase tents to set up at the new campus to be able to accommodate more classes. They also had a special service day where staff and students gathered together to clean up the property. Another part of CI that is very active at this time is the Bethesda Counselling Center who are providing support services for grief and trauma resulting from the ebola and insecurity. Although international staff are currently away from Beni, they are still working from afar on their regular tasks, and also pursuing new partnerships and initiatives. One such initiative is being headed up by our friend Ben Lawson to raise money for lab equipment to support the transition of the faculty to active-learning classrooms. For Christmas this year, please consider contributing to one of the items on the Wish List of UCBC Applied Sciences that will help equip future Congolese leaders!

Prayer requests

Praises:

  • Othy and I are married and family and friends were able to travel safely and celebrate with us
  • We had a relaxing and enjoyable honeymoon and have enjoyed our first month of life together
  • We have a temporary place to call home in Uganda
  • UCBC found a property in the city to use for classes and the ebola and insecurity has not directly affected anyone in the community

Petitions:

  • Pray for peace and healing to come to Beni
  • Pray for ongoing protection of CI-UCBC community as they continue their work and service in the community
  • Pray for smooth and fair elections to happen on December 23rd
  • Pray for discernment for Othy and I as we decide how we can best continue serving CI from a distance and resolve our finances
  • Pray that we continue to grow in the knowledge and grace of God as a couple and discover how to use our gifts and serve together in this new season of life
Tags: ,
December 4, 2018

Around Bukavu

While most of our friends left Bukavu the day after the wedding, Othy and I decided to take one more day to explore the city since neither of us had been there before. Mark and Karen surprised us with a delicious Sunday morning pancake breakfast, complete with locally grown strawberries and close to real tasting maple syrup that they make with maple extract (this is a Canadian saying this). While we enjoyed breakfast they gave us some tips on places to visit. Othy asked me what I wanted to visit first, and I chose ITFM (Institut Technique Fundi Maendeleo) because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to be like and the school offers one of the best views of Bukavu. We hired motos and began the winding journey up the hill. At a certain point the paved road ended and the dirt road was extremely muddy. My driver in particular was having trouble getting through it (Othy told me later it was because he was short) and I wondered if we would fall. Thankfully we did not, though the drivers wanted to charge us more because of it! The motos in Bukavu actually put tarps on the back of their bikes to prevent mud from flinging up and hitting their passengers. We walked through the ITFM campus and were shown around by the guy we met at the gate. Then we exited by the gate that faced the edge of the hill, and found the view that we had heard about. It was beautiful! Bukavu has such a unique landscape with the changes in elevation, the lake with islands in the distance, and several peninsulas, one of them taking the iconic shape of a boot. But with the change in elevation and rains are dangers of erosion and mudslides. Just across the road from the campus, the earth was a large eroded area that in only a few more years might actually reach the edge of the campus and the buildings there! Kids were playing there and standing on the edge of it and even climbing up it!

IMG_20181104_100401

The same moto drivers waited for us and we asked them to take us to the boot that I described above. On the way down the hill we passed houses that were built rather precariously on the hillside. We passed by the main roundabout Place de l’Independence. We also passed another roundabout with one of the traffic lights invented by Congolese female engineer Thérèse Izay and manufactured by Women’s Technology, although this one is not in the shape of a humanoid like the one I saw in Kinshasa and Goma. Once at the boot the drivers stopped at a parcel with a large tent. We asked the person at the gate if we could see the place, and upon entering we discovered it was an event space. They were in the middle of preparing for an event, and Othy ran into an old acquaintance! The tent faces the water and offers a beautiful view back to the city.

IMG_20181104_102602

IMG_20181104_103046

IMG_20181104_103301

IMG_20181104_104127

Our third destination of the morning was to visit a hotel called Orchids that is supposed to be another beautiful spot in Bukavu. We first went to the restaurant and took tea, and then went for a walk to explore the gardens. It was an absolutely stunning combination of gardens, architecture, and another amazing view of the lake and Bukavu. The path meandered its way down to the water and there was something beautiful to see around every corner. The gardens were well landscaped and included many different species of orchid. I loved the simplicity of the clean white-walled buildings with rich wood windows and doors. There were a few larger buildings and then some smaller private cottages. Finally we reached the water where there was a swimming area and sitting area. I noticed that this was the place that Jess and Matt had gone to take their wedding photos because of one photo that they had posted standing on a pier by the lake.

IMG_20181104_123142

IMG_20181104_123236

IMG_20181104_123355

IMG_20181104_123511

IMG_20181104_124312

IMG_20181104_124725

This time we decided to walk back to the apartment since it was only a few kilometers away. We rested for a short time and then went out again, this time to visit another school called ISP Bukavu (Institut Supérieur Pédagogique). The university has been around for a long time and is where some of the leadership at UCBC attended. Upon approaching the gate we discovered that we couldn’t go and see the campus for the sole reason that I was wearing pants! From the gate we could get a glimpse of the building blocks which have an interesting form. We walked for a bit from there, thinking that we might find a place to get some lunch, when Blaise called and we arranged to meet him at a restaurant called Le Gourmet. He didn’t make it in the end, but a friend of Othy’s called Beni joined us and we had a nice time hanging out. It was coming towards late afternoon and we had talked about the idea of going to Mark and Karen’s church called Le Phare (the Lighthouse) that starts at 4:30. Surprisingly Beni also attends this church and offered to take us there since it was only a short walk away. At this point it was only raining lightly and so we went for it. The service was on the top floor of a newly constructed building and so had a very raw atmosphere. I felt refreshed and challenged by the worship and the message.

IMG_20181104_132327

IMG_20181104_141713

IMG_20181104_143040

After the service I had made arrangements for us to visit Dachiku, a friend from UCBC and sister to another friend Butoto (we had seen him last in Kinshasa and now he is in Europe). Beni offered to come with us since it was dark and the road to Dachiku’s place is very muddy. Dachiku came and met us at the Eglise Ararati and from there walked to her house. We had to use the flashlights on our phones because the power was off across the city. What a strange feeling to be in such a big city and yet so dark. We went down some narrow steps that opened to what in the the daytime would be a view over the city. Their house was built into the side of the hill. It was so good to see Dachiku again as I was just getting to know her better during my time in Beni before the Ebola outbreak began. I think their family was also happy to meet members from the UCBC community where two of their siblings/children had gone to study. Dachiku and her siblings offered us some whole milk and bread (the milk was like yogurt). As we chatted, more of their family arrived until her parents and all of her siblings were there to greet us (they have a big family)! Othy sent Bututo a picture on Whatsapp and he was so pleasantly surprised! It was getting later and so we soon had to go. The family generously arranged for a driver to take us back since transit at night in Bukavu is difficult. What a full and interesting day it had been!

December 3, 2018

Bukavu Wedding

Our friend Blaise who came to pick us up at the harbour brought us to the place we would be staying during our time Bukavu. We were being generously hosted by Mark and Karen who are friends of Matt’s family. It was nice not to have to spend money on accommodations for this part of our trip! We dropped off our things and then took a short walk to a nearby guesthouse where several other friends of ours were staying. We saw Adelphine, Lauren, Mary, and Noe, Bethany and the kids. Othy went to get a haircut with Blaise and Regis and then later in the evening we had dinner with Mark and Karen and got to know them better.

IMG-20181103-WA0005

We took the following morning slow because the wedding was not until the afternoon. We then walked back to the guesthouse where we came upon Matt, Benjamin and Regis, members of Like Christ reunited! We worshiped together for a bit and then Regis and Matt started getting ready. Othy and I went back to our place to get ready and then went to the church which was only a short distance away. We met Noe and Bethany and took Lydia to look after her during the service since they were Jess and Matt’s “Perrain” (mentors) and were therefore part of the ceremony. The service was beautiful! Jessica and Matt both looked radiant. Reverend Dr. Kasali gave a thoughtful meditation on marriage that looked at the example of Mary and Joseph and how God called them, and calls us, out of our respective places and cultures, and at times brings a two people together to serve in ministry together. I also enjoyed hearing Matt and Jess’s vows that they had both prepared in English and Swahili. After the service we joined a procession of vehicles around the block and then went home to rest a bit before the reception.

IMG-20181103-WA0011

IMG-20181103-WA0007

IMG-20181103-WA0009

The reception was in a large hall that was nicely decorated with white, green, and gold, and had tables surrounding a large square open area in front of the stage where the couple and perrain sat. There were strings of white lights over the open space as well. It was a cool way to set up the space since everyone could see the couple well and the MC called in the bridal party in one by one and they had space to walk around and take time to face and greet each side of the room. Matt and Jess then surprised us all with a dance to the song “A Thousand Years” for which it was obvious they had done some practicing! It was so fun to watch them! The next thing on the program was the gift ceremony. Matt and Jess, the perrain, and the parents lined up, and groups and individuals took turns bringing up their gifts and greeting the couple. Othy and I joined the Congo Initiative group that went up together. Gifts took quite a long time because there were so many different groups who wanted to appreciate the couple and the mother of the groom! Unfortunately Mary wasn’t feeling well and so I took Lydia again for a time until the ceremonial part of things was complete. Finally the tables started going up to the buffet line to get dinner. Near the end of the evening the MC called up married couples to dance in a circle. At first I didn’t want to because I was feeling tired, but Othy convinced me and I’m glad he did because it turned out to be fun! Eventually the bride and groom came into the middle of the circle and the rest of the bridal party and as people started filtering out it was a chance to greet Matt and Jess and her family. It was a memorable day!

IMG-20181103-WA0018

The Texans Lawson and Dawson!

 

November 24, 2018

Mugote Ferry

IMG-20181102-WA0009

And we were off! We quickly started exploring the boat and found an observation area at the front of the first class lounge and then some stairs that led to a platform on top of that where the captain’s cabin is located. The boat was spewing out some pretty nasty black smoke that clouded the view from behind. From the lake the volcano had an even larger presence and steam could be seen coming off of it! The view of the surrounding landscape was stunning. We stayed inside for the first while and had some tea, and when my tracker showed that we were approaching the islands, we went out again. The view of the islands was particularly breathtaking. From that point on we spent most of our time out on the deck taking in everything.

IMG_2775

IMG-20181102-WA0011

IMG_2781

I loved the layers of the foothills and mountains that follow the lake.

pano1b

IMG_2791

I would like to blow this up into a big artwork! I love that the water and sky almost merges and the delicate texture of the water and clouds.

pano2

IMG_2794

IMG_2849

IMG_2882

When we were about halfway through our journey we decided to explore the highest deck since there were no signs preventing us from going up there. We decided to go and ask if we could see the cockpit and ended up having a nice conversation with the captain. He had been piloting boats for 29 years. He pointed out Idjwi to us which is 70km long and the second largest inland island in Africa. We also passed a tiny well-groomed island that he explained belongs to a wealthy man from Goma. It made me think of Ontario cottage country! We also passed a very small shallow island that had nothing but goats there. The captain explained that people bring them there to graze. No need for ropes or fences there! I enjoyed using my zoom lens to pick out interesting buildings and boats near the shore. One of the sub-captains pulled out chairs for us and so we had a nice private shaded spot to sit and enjoy the rest of the journey.

IMG_2908

pano11

IMG_2917

IMG_2920

IMG_2929

I would love to make this into a large artwork too. I love how geometrical it is.

We had good weather for most of the journey but the sky started getting dark as we approached Bukavu. We were excited to see the city from a distance but it was shrouded in cloud for quite a while. Eventually a pretty amazing view opened up as we got closer, and thankfully it was only raining lightly. It was a much more dynamic city to see from the lake than Goma because the city is built on the side of foothills. The boat pulled into the dock and we waited for most people to disembark before we followed. Matt’s brother Blaise was there to pick us up. It was so good to see him! I was excited and ready to experience my sixth Congolese city!

BeniLubumbashiButemboKinshasaGomaBukavu!

IMG_2984

pano8

pano9b

IMG_3027

IMG_3022

November 24, 2018

Goma Visit

We took a an overnight bus called Trinity Express to get to Goma. It was a smooth ride with the only downside (yet significant) being that they played music for the whole ride. I wanted to survey the bus to see how many people were actually enjoying it. Even with earplugs I could still hear and did not sleep a wink. Both border crossings (Uganda Rwanda and then Rwanda Congo) were smooth and Othy’s brother Fabrice came and picked us up along with his friend Marie. They took us to a guesthouse called Bungwe where we rested until the early evening. Bungwe was affordable but had it’s little quirks. Half of it was a guesthouse and then at the very end of the property there is a 6 storey hotel under construction that doesn’t match the rest of the atmosphere. We were on the first floor of the hotel and the first room we were in had a broken shower drain and was very dark because it faced a retaining wall. We then moved into another room facing the garden that had more light. The rooms were poorly designed but one redeeming factor was cool sheets! It is too bad that a building that is brand new already has so many problems. That is why design is always a good investment! Fabrice picked us up at 4pm and took us to visit Othy’s sister-in-law (also Marie). I got to meet Othy’s newborn nephew Johan who was precious to behold! I suppose that I can start calling him my nephew! From there we went to visit Othy’s friends Marie and Anatol and their family.

IMG_20181030_173037
One of the main intersections with Mount Nyiragongo in the distance

The following day we went to the harbour to inquire after ferry tickets to Bukavu. We were planning to take a boat called Emmanuel but found out they don’t make the trip on Fridays and so instead bought first class tickets for the Mugote Ferry for $26 each. We then went back to the guesthouse for a few hours and then left again to visit other family and friends including Vital, an friend of Othy and his family since he was a kid. Vital and his wife gave me a beautiful yellow kitenge fabric that had verses about shining light. How appropriate since the song “Shine Jesus Shine” has been often on my mind as a prayer for Congo. On our final day in Goma we took the morning slow and then revisited Anatole and Marie and then Othy’s sister in law Marie. Later in the evening we met up with Othy’s friend Maurice who took us to dinner. When we were leaving the restaurant I asked if we could try to find a good place to see the glowing crater of the volcano. Maurice took us to a road that heads toward Varunga, but because it was cloudy we couldn’t see anything. Perhaps I will get a view of the crater next time! The following morning we took bodas very early to the harbour. It was crowded and chaotic and so I was glad we had our tickets already! To my surprise, first class was a room on the upper level of the boat full of sofas and arm chairs. We were off!

IMG_20181101_095446
A view towards the harbour

IMG-20181101-WA0006

My first impressions of Goma is that it is a city full of walls. It makes sense because Goma has experienced more insecurity than most cities in Congo. Although the city is on the side of beautiful Lake Kivu, there are very few perspectives to the lake because of all the walls surrounding the lakefront properties. The two areas where it is possible to see the lake is at the public beach and the harbour. An ever present landmark in the city is the volcano. If it is not shrouded in cloud, in the day steam can often be seen rising off of it and at night a mysterious red glow. The Nyiragongo volcano last erupted in 2002 and the lava flow went through and destroyed 15% of the city. A lot of that hardened lava has now been incorporated into the architecture, especially the walls. Despite all the walls, the people in Goma have the same Congolese generosity and hospitality, and neighbours seem to look after one another. I was glad to stay a little longer in Goma this time and be welcomed by family and friends.

IMG_20181101_124414

IMG_20181101_094745

A soccer field we drove through that was very muddy after rain

IMG_20181101_153605

A typical Goma street facing Mount Nyiragongo

November 19, 2018

Wedding Day! – Reception

SPI_7967

DSC_7779

SPI_7979

SPI_8015

SPI_8062

SPI_8132

SPI_8133

SPI_8148

SPI_8150

SPI_8153

SPI_8156

SPI_8166

SPI_8177

SPI_8204 2

SPI_8207 2

SPI_8225

SPI_8227

SPI_8238

SPI_8271

SPI_8256

SPI_8275

IMG-20181120-WA0011

SPI_8286

SPI_8352

SPI_8354

SPI_8358

SPI_8368

SPI_8400

SPI_8422

SPI_8450

DSC01063

DSC01071

DSC_7853

DSC_7868

DSC_7878

We arrived at Bwerenga Estate close to 5pm. Vikkie quickly adjusted my hair in the house and then we went out for photos. It was an interesting sequence of getting some personal photos as well as photos with all of the guests which is a Congolese tradition. Somehow it worked out and we had a good mix of both. When they weren’t in photos our guests were socializing and enjoying some snacks and the beautiful lake view. At dusk everyone was directed to their seats while Othy and I took a few last photos together. We walked up to the reception area and the MC announced our arrival and everyone stood and clapped as we walked to find our seats. The MC introduced the different groups of people who had come and invited them to stand one at a time. Then Othy and I stood together as people came and presented gifts to us. In Congo it is tradition for people to come up with their gifts and at the same time wave and greet the couple. Following the gifts Othy and I led the procession to get food. There were a variety of dishes and the food was delicious. Just when we had started getting food, swarms of small moths showed up. They were attracted to the lights and falling all over the place. They got in the food, down my dress, and I even accidentally sat on some getting bug guts on the back of my dress (after which a few people came to me discretely and informed me about). Fortunately the moths were short lived and started thinning out as the evening progressed. I was thankful that they were harmless however annoying. While people were eating Othy and I went table to table to visit and personally greet our guests. For dessert there was a beautiful table of fruit that was cut and presented in a creative way and even included our names! The time also arrived for Othy and I to cut the cake. The evening’s program ended with speeches by our parents. There was a beautiful bon fire near the reception area and my family set up a station for people to roast marshmallows and make smores. While some people headed out, others danced and socialized a little bit. The evenings festivities ended just after 9 because many people had taken a bus to get there and had to take it back to town. It was probably for the better because I was running purely on adrenaline by that point! Othy and I said farewell to people as they left, and finally we were just a few. Lauren and Ben stayed and prayed with us over the gifts that we had received, and finally we were alone! What an wonderful and full day this had been! Below is the speech that my parents gave. I am so thankful that they and my sisters and friends could be there to celebrate the start of this next season of life.


 

“On May 19, 1988 two of our beautiful daughters were born. The words that were on my heart the first time I held them were “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works your hands have made.” Those words bring to mind the Psalm of David that speaks about how we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And so Elisabeth came into our family.

One anecdote we’d like to share about her is that she took her time learning to walk. She was very content to stay put wherever we set her down. When we would check on her she would be sitting in the same place surrounded by her toys and look up at us with a big smile.

As many of you know, staying in one place is not what she has done – Elisabeth became somewhat of a world traveler – France, Alberta & Quebec in Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Uganda and the DRC here in Africa.

And so here we are. We have witnessed today the joining of two hearts and lives. We are glad to be with all of you in celebration of Othy and Elisabeth’s wedding. We have met some wonderful welcoming people and thank them for their hospitality during our time here. To all of you gathered here. Thank you for celebrating with us.

Othy, we welcome you into our family and pray that the love you have for our daughter will grow deep and that together you will experience much joy and laughter, serve one another, respect one another, and keep communicating well with each other.

When we were married just over 35 years ago my grandparents were unable to attend our wedding. They did however send a letter that ended with a blessing that we would like to say over you. Othy and Elisabeth The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace, Amen.”

November 17, 2018

Wedding Day! – Religious Ceremony

IMG_20181020_132645

IMG_20181020_133212

The veil is on!

DSC_7550

 

SPI_7812 2

SPI_7814

DSC_7532

DSC_7540

DSC_7536

SPI_7827

DSC_7562

DSC_7574

DSC_7579

DSC_7596

DSC_7601

DSC_7582

DSC_7643

DSC_7651

SPI_7892

DSC_7723

DSC_7710

SPI_7924

SPI_7927 2

SPI_7943

DSC_7763

SPI_7951

DSC_7740DSC_7743

SPI_7959

When our car arrived at the church, the place was already fairly full of people and the choir was singing. Vikkie helped me to put the veil on, and then we got out to arrange ourselves for the procession. We went down the aisle Congolese-style with Othy and his parents coming down the left aisle followed by Ben, and me and my parents coming down the right aisle followed by Lauren and my bridesmaids. Othy and I took a seat in chairs in the centre that faced the pastor. The Like Christ Kampala choir came up and sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness and The Joy of the Lord, then Light Choir performed, and then we heard a message by one of the pastors of BCCA. At this point I still had the veil on and was overheating! Rev. Dr. David Kasali was then called up to begin the marriage ceremony. He invited up both sets of parents and asked them for their blessing and support of our marriage along with the congregation, then gave Othy permission to remove my veil, and then had my parents take my hand, put it into his, and then together place it into Othy’s hands. He gave Othy and I an opportunity to say our own vows to each other, and then we exchanged rings. We signed the church’s wedding document along with our mentors (perrain), Lauren and Ben, our parents, and Rev. Kasali. The pastors and our immediate family and close friends came up and congratulated us. After that some music started an a group of women from the church came dancing down the aisle carrying blue fabric. They presented Othy and I with gifts of the fabric, a large wooden spoon, salt, matches, and an egg. The wooden spoon represented hospitality since it is used in Congolese cuisine to make fufu, the salt and matches represented flavour and light in our home, and the egg represented the gentle care that Othy should have for me his wife. The fabric was a good fit for us because it had an image of the world with several bible verses. Rev. Kasali also presented us with a bible and with money taken by the church in the collection. Light Choir came back up and started singing and dancing, and Othy and I stood up and joined in! It was a lot of fun and my parents and others joined in too! That marked the end of the ceremony and Othy and I led the procession out of the church. From there we went straight to Bwerenga Estate for the reception.

September 6, 2018

Lola ya Bonobo

On the last Sunday and last full day in Kinshasa, we went with a group of friends to a large Catholic church, and then afterwards drove out of town to visit Lola ya Bonobo, a sanctuary for orphaned Bonobos, one of the few great ape species. The drive was quite nice and offered a perspective of the outskirts of the city. The joke of the drive was that Othy asked at one point whether he had to go left or right (though it was more like left or straight), and his friend responded with “On continue” or “We continue” in English. From then on we kept joking around with the phrase. The last few kilometers to the sanctuary were on dirt roads. We stopped at a roadside market near our destination where we bought some tasty fruit called Mangosteen (this is the English term). It was so deliciously sweet and juicy!

IMG_20180826_120838

Once at the sanctuary we got our tickets for $5 each inside a little gift shop. I’m not sure if I got a break because we explained that Othy and I are engaged or if the clerk was just pulling our strings that there was an international and a local price. We sat down in the welcome pavilion and got a very quick introduction about the Bonobo before proceeding on the tour. Bonobos are a great ape species in the genus “Pan” that are closely related to the Chimpanzee and are the closest relative to human beings. They are only found in the DRC. The differences between Chimpanzees and Bonobos are that Chimpanzees are larger and more aggressive and male-dominated, while Bonobos are slightly smaller, more peaceful, and female-dominated. They live in small communities that are slightly matriarchal. Females only give birth about once every 5 years because they spend 4 years nursing their infants. They are endangered due to the destruction of their habitats and poaching for bushmeat.The Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary is 75 acres and has 60 bonobos. They save orphaned infant bonobos often found in markets, nurse and rehabilitate them into the protected Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, and then sometimes release them into another site in the wild called Ekolo ya Bonobo.

IMG_9149

We were taken on a walking tour around the sanctuary with a group of 20-30 people to see the bonobos from various vantage points. It was very cool to see the bonobos up close, though it was unfortunate to have a substantial fence in between. Although bonobos are peaceable among themselves, I imagine that the large groups of visitors that come through can be overwhelming and likely stimulates some aggression. At one of the viewing areas there were two bonobos dragging tree branches. One of them threw dirt at us and I got some in my eye (that will forever be a first)! I was glad that I wore good shows because the walk was 3km and there were some areas where we had to climb and descend some hills. I enjoyed being in nature and having an opportunity to do some walking since most of my movements within Kinshasa were in a car.

IMG_9231

IMG_9242

The last stop on our tour was to see the nursery for infant bonobos. It was in an inclosed area with a playground for the bonobos and a few small trampolines behind a glass viewing area. Our tour-guide explained to us that each baby bonobo is assigned to a human Mama who interacts with them and feeds them by bottle for five years until they are introduced into the protected bonobo community. What a strange and interesting job that would be! Three bonobos have been born in the “wild”, which shows that the project to rehabilitate the orphaned bonobos is succeeding.

IMG_9303

At the end of the walk there was a river with a small waterfall that leads to a beach picnic area. There was a little island in the river with bamboo table and chairs and a bamboo bridge accessing it. It was a beautiful spot surrounded by palms, grasses, and bamboo shoots. We stayed there for a bit and took some photos together. I loved seeing things built from local materials. After leaving the sanctuary we had lunch at a restaurant that had a beach and picnic pavilions on the other side of the river. Unfortunately because of poor communication we ordered two very overpriced meals of tilapia and fries that were definitely not worth the money! I advise anyone else visiting here to bring a picnic lunch instead! Overall it was an enjoyable day in great company! I was glad to have the chance to visit Kinshasa and meet some of Othy’s friends and colleagues who welcomed me so warmly.

IMG_9316

IMG_9333

IMG_9346

September 5, 2018

The Congo River

On our first Sunday in Kinshasa we travelled to a spot just outside of the city where we could see the Congo River. This part of the river has large dark boulders that were shaped over time by water that was once higher. I am curious whether the dams in the river have contributed to the reduction of water or whether it is just the time of year. We walked for a bit to get closer to the rocks and then started climbing across them. It was like a big playground! We arrived quite late in the afternoon and so we explored and took photos for an hour until the sun set. It was beautiful!

IMG_20180819_173116

IMG_9046

IMG_9058

IMG_9077

IMG_9082

IMG_9098

Tags: , ,
September 4, 2018

Journey to Kinshasa

Othy and my journey to Kinshasa was an adventure from the very start. Our flight was with Kenya Airways with a stopover in Nairobi. Upon arriving in Nairobi we learned that our connecting flight had been delayed 12 hours for no legitimate reason and instead of the flight departing at noon it would depart at midnight! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the large crowd of frustrated and animated Congolese people surrounding the Kenya airways help desk. They were frustrated for good reason because their flight was probably selected as the one to cancel because the airline would not be obliged to put the passengers on other flights because there were no other flights going to Kinshasa. Othy and I didn’t feel like hanging around the airport for that long and so we inquired about a hotel room. First we had to wait for a form to fill out, and then we had to go into the line for getting the Visa, but no wait… we had to go back and get that form signed, but no wait… the person who was supposed to sign it had disappeared somewhere. He finally showed up again and signed our forms, we waited in line again for the visa, we waited in the baggage claim as they sorted out the hotel details, and then waited again for a bus that would bring us there. What a process! They took us to a hotel called the Tamarind Tree. Our rooms were not ready and so they showed us to the restaurant where we partook of a buffet lunch. The hotel had good food and a nice atmosphere. Finally we were able to check into our rooms. It was a nicely designed suite and so I enjoyed taking a nap, taking a shower, drinking tea, and watching a TV episode to pass the time. We had dinner at the hotel and then at 8pm we caught the shuttle bus back to the airport. We arrived in Kinshasa at 3am only to discover that almost everyone’s bags did not arrive, even though they had twelve hours to make sure they got to the right place! Othy’s friend was there to pick us up and bring us to his place where we would be staying. Few! What a journey!

IMG-20180813-WA0001

First time flying together!

I could not see much of Kinshasa by night and so the next day I got to wake up and discover my surroundings. In the late morning we drove together into the city center. Othy’s friend lives in a neighbourhood called Kingabwa which is a nice spot because it is away from the city center and yet not too far. The first thing to take note of is the traffic. Most of the cars on the road are taxi cars and vans that are painted bright yellow. They stop for people everywhere and so are often the cause of traffic jams. I also learned that they are called “Esprit du Mort” or “Spirit of Death”, likely because of how old and broken down they are, how crazy they drive, and how full many people pack into them. There are also some newer larger buses that were introduced later and were given the name “Esprit de Vie”, “Spirit of Life”. The second thing to take note of is that there is garbage everywhere. It is clear that there is no city infrastructure in place to handle all of the plastic bags, bottles, and steel cans that have been introduced by mostly imported products. The downtown has many interesting buildings that look well designed, though many of them look ruddy from lack of maintenance. Some of the design elements that are common are horizontal and vertical shading, using balconies as a way to offer play and variance in the facade, curves that follow street curves or corners, and interesting uses of concrete which seems to be the most common building material.

IMG-20180813-WA0000

On Monday we went to the office of Othy’s colleague where we did work for most of the day. We also walked to the Kenya Airways office to submit letters of complaint and ask about how to locate our bags (we didn’t want to have to go to the airport until we had confirmation that they were there). The following day we went to the South African visa application center and then to the airport to get our bags. The journey there revealed just how crazy the traffic is in this city! The road to the airport is four lanes wide on each side. Traffic jams are mostly caused by the taxis who stop anywhere, often in clusters, or attempt to do U-turns to go back the other way. Pedestrians criss cross the eight lanes of traffic; large pedestrian bridges were constructed about a year ago, but remain unused. Young men often step up on the back bumpers of the taxis for a ride or sit/surf on top of them. The stretch of road between the downtown and the N’djili airport is the main artery for the part of the city where more than three quarters of the population lives, primarily urban poor who inhabit a vast area of precarious dwellings. It took about an hour to get to the airport. Apparently before the road was widened it could take up to six hours! The airport was also chaotic but somehow our bags were there after arriving on the previous day’s flight! I was so thankful and happy to be able to finally change my clothes! On Wednesday Othy’s mentor offered to take us around to see a few things in the city. He took us to a housing development that seemed to be struggling. The houses were okay but I didn’t think they were worth the money that they were asking. It seemed like it would have been better if they had found a way to target a lower income bracket with denser, more affordable units. After that we visited several buildings in the downtown including a mall. I was feeling light-headed because it was 3pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch, and so we sat down on a terrace in a large atrium and had pieces of cake and Maltinas. From there we went to the main market. It was a maze of stalls and tables selling anything and everything. The place was bustling and I had to concentrate on not losing Othy’s mentor who was leading us. A large part of the market was beneath umbrella-type concrete canopies but also extended beyond them under colourful tarps and umbrellas. At one point there was a vehicle playing Congolese music and everyone around us knew the song and were singing along!


IMG_20180815_134346

IMG-20180816-WA0021

The following days fell into a rhythm of work some days at the office and other days at the house. I was glad to be able to take time to focus on E4C and IRI work after being distracted during the last week in Beni and then being on the road. For lunch when at the office we had takeout a few times, and walked to two nearby fast-food restaurants. At the house I reheated leftovers a few times. In Kinshasa food is almost the same price as in Toronto. Most things are imported and so the food is not fresh like in North Kivu. Othy’s friend’s girlfriend generously cooked for us many times, and often we would come home at 6 or 7pm and there would be a meal waiting on the table. Near the end of our second week there, Othy’s mentor took us on another small trip, this time to visit a garbage dump that had failed, and a logging port. The “Centre d’Enfouissement Techniques des Dechets” or “Technical Centre of Landfill Waste” is a project that the EU had invested in, but after a time operations stopped and the equipment was pillaged and is now just sitting there and rusting. It was sad to see. This is one example of many large projects in Congo with foreign investment that have failed. The logging port was another site to see. The logs were gigantic and sitting in large piles. The port is on the Congo river and so we walked down to see the water. The trees are brought here on long metal boats and transferred to shore with pulleys. It made me sad to think that these trees are likely coming from unregulated or illegal forestry. I couldn’t help but think of an article I had read recently from Global Witness called Total Systems Failure about how the government is looking the other way while companies, many of them international, are logging illegally and committing social and environmental abuses.

IMG-20180903-WA0024

IMG-20180903-WA0013

IMG-20180903-WA0031

IMG-20180903-WA0033

I discovered during this time in Kinshasa that this city is where all of the challenges that the country faces can be seen in high definition. It also seems that many people are either powerless to make change or have given up in trying. One Congolese person said to me that the hearts of the Kinois (Congolese in Kinshasa) have been replaced with a mechanical survival mechanism that is pumping blood but has no feeling. I was definitely overwhelmed by everything that I saw. We got on the topic when Othy and I were eating lunch with a friend of ours from Beni who was also in Kinshasa for a short time. How can you not be paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of problems and need? The answer is to start small, do the small things that you can, and over time it will grow and maybe even inspire others. I am not sure yet what my contribution will be if we end up settling here in the long term, but a lot of ideas were beginning to brew in my mind about how to turn waste into construction materials, how to build more with the sand that is the main type of soil here, and what kind of funding/construction mechanisms could be used for upgrading precarious dwellings. Despite all of the many challenges I have presented here, one redeeming aspect of the city is how friendly and welcoming the people are. I felt well received by all of Othy’s friends and colleagues. Another positive aspect about Kinshasa is that it is close to some beautiful natural places. In the next post I will write about two such places that we visited on the two Sundays during my stay. I think that I saw a good amount for only a two week visit!