Monday, April 26, 2010

Yeah, I Went There

Now that I’m back, I thought I’d tell you all a little secret, in public. This is actually a test to see if my family really does read this blog, because the story to come they do not know. I went into the Democratic Republic of the Congo – oh yes, that big scary neighbor of Rwanda. Clearly I did not want to tell you all this while I was there, because it’s one of the more…interesting choices I’ve made in life. But, what’s done is done. Funny thing is it was literally the first trip I did while in Rwanda – wasted no time pushing the boundaries. And here’s what happened:

I met some friends, who were pretty much strangers, but isn’t that the best about traveling?! It’s so not weird to go away for a weekend with random people! Anyway. So I went up to Gisenyi, which is on the border of Goma, DRC. We decided to cross into the scaryland Sunday morning, early – 6am early. Yowza. The crew was comprised of 4 Americans, 1 Brit, 1 Romanian and 1 Ethiopian.

We woke up at 6am in our group house. Group houses are like hostels, and if you think they're bad in Europe, just imagine one in Africa. After walking 20 minutes to the border, we arrived at the DRC. Getting out of Rwanda was easy enough. We filled out forms, got our passports stamped, then arrived in the middle area between Rwanda and the DRC. After passing a wave of white aid vans and aid planes flying overhead, we walked up to the border line. Luckily our Romanian spoke French, the DRC language, so he explained how we were coming into Goma for the day. One by one the border guard took our passports, and he began to write down all of our information. It's $35 US to cross over. So my new friend handed the guard $140 for the 4 Americans to cross. Of course, being Americans, problems arose. The $100 bill was from 2003, so the guard would not accept it – he wanted something from 2006 or later. So we waited. After some chatter that I didn't understand, he accepted it. Then he begin to write us each a visa - which looks like a honorable mention certificate you get at a 4th grade science fair. Unfortunately, they ran out of paper - because why would a border crossing stock itself with paper- which meant another 1/2 hour of waiting. In the meantime, numerous individuals came up to us asking for our passports -- expecting us to hand over our coveted US passports – as if. After getting papers which we never later used, I realized I didn't have my yellow fever card that I distinctly gave to the border guard. So I walked around the corner to some harry potter closet, where I found a man with my yellow fever card. Ridiculousness later, I got it back. I say ridiculousness because I don’t speak French and I can only assume the conversation was ridiculous.

So into the DR Congo we went. And we were greeted with trash and filth. Now, Rwanda is the cleanest East African country, so I had grown accustomed a certain lifestyle of trashless streets. But the DRC is a mess. Not that you didn't know that, but literally it looks like a trash dump. Garbage everywhere.

We garnered plenty of attention as we walked to the middle of town, usually kids walking next to us - people yelling muzungu (white person), which as you know, happens in Rwanda as well. After walking for 1.5 hrs or so, we decided to find a restaurant. We eventually found a cafe - and by cafe I mean a shack that would fit all 7 of us where men sat drinking beer at 10am. We were served stale rolls and stale swiss cheese, which we eagerly ate. Meanwhile, we made friends with the men. They told us (told the Romanian who told us) that not far was a village that 8 years ago used to be covered in 3 meters of lava. Basically a volcano erupted, went through the ground, and up from the ground in this village, completely destroying everything there. Naturally, we decided to go. Now we couldn't walk, which wasn't a problem since whenever we stopped a motorcycle gang would surround us asking for a ride. In Rwanda, the motos are clearly labeled and give you a helmet (again, I was accustomed to a certain lifestyle). In the Congo, no helmet and you're driving with some guy off the street. So I climbed onto the back of what could only be a 13 year old, and he drove us to this lava-covered village. It was my first time on a moto, so naturally I back cuddled my child driver. Riding a moto in the DRC is like a continuous game of chicken - you can drive in any "lane", on the "sidewalk" and I half expected to Fast and Furiously make my way under the UN vans.

So as we veered off the main road, I again thought the about the interesting choice I was making. 15 minutes and a nice cuddle session later, we arrived in a "village". Our motorcycle gang waited as we looked around and pretty much nothing, as it was mostly rocks (formerly lava) and some rebuilt buildings. Some townsman told us the story, which had to be translated. We caught the attention of 25-30 children, who all came running out to simply stare at the white people, mouths open, some being so brave to touch our questionably tainted skin. It was actually sort of interesting to see.

I found my 10 year old, got back on the bike and begin the trek back to the border. I was more comfortable this time, so I decided to hold onto the back handle of the bike, rather than continue to sweat on the driver. In the end, it was probably one of the sketchiest things I've ever done. But, I obviously don’t regret it because it was amazing. And again, what’s done is done – I’ll stand by my phone now for hysterical calls from my family.


  1. I have enjoyed all of your blogs....glad you waited until you were home to share this one! Love Laura

  2. WWKS.

    What Would Kagame Say.