Friday, April 25, 2014

Kelly of Kongo

During my visit to Congo I had one day free, so my guide suggested I go to Masisi in the Kivu province.  Granted, the Kivu area is where a lot of rebels hang out, and the day before we left I received an email from the U.S. Embassy reminding American citizens not to visit the area due to the tendency of bandits to kidnap, rape, steal vehicles, and “carry out paramilitary operations in which civilians and foreigners are targeted.”  Emmanuel told me, “No problem, no problem, we are staying in a private house overlooking the UN base there, so you will be fine.”

So, we went to Masisi.  We stayed in the gigantic home of a “very rich businesswoman who has lots of dealings with the president of the country.”  Translation: Corruption. At least that’s what it normally means.  But Emmanuel wanted to take me there because “Masisi is like the Switzerland of Congo.”  It was a little like Switzerland actually.  Lots of sheep and cows.  Actually, I think that’s where the similarity began and ended.  Feel free to judge the “Switzerland of Congo” for yourself:
Here was the house I stayed in on Mrs. Rika’s property.  It was one of about six houses there:
Emmanuel was right about overlooking the UN station:
In fact the UN soldiers held a volleyball game Sunday afternoon:
Here was the living room in my house:
Mrs. Rika’s family, which included her three adult daughters, two adult sons, their spouses, and their children, were all there during my visit.  Apparently they are avid horseback riders.  Having never ridden a horse myself, I was quite apprehensive about the prospect, but after some cajoling from the youngest son, Jordan, I agreed to give it a try.  However, I did not feel comfortable enough to take the reins myself- mostly because the road going down the mountain was incredibly steep and unpaved.  So Jordan told the horse keeper (I’m sure there is a more technical term, but I haven’t been able to come up with it yet) to take me down the mountain and to walk me to town if I could handle it.  The ride down the mountain was fine.  The ride to town was fine.  Then we began to approach town…..

As we approached town there were people everywhere.  They all stopped in their tracks and stared at me.  It was horrible.  I have to be the only person who enters a rural African village and all I could think to myself was, “This is SO embarrassing.”  I now know how the Queen of England feels.  Isn’t it strange to have everyone watching your every move?  Then again, maybe the Queen doesn’t think this behavior is odd at all.  I wasn’t sure whether I should wave or smile.  No one over the age of five was waving or smiling at me.  They were looking at me like I was an alien.  I would love to have known what they all said when I departed.  I honestly just felt like a total jerk.  Here comes this random white woman, riding a horse through the middle of town, with a local guiding the horse for her, she gets to the end of town, and then turns around and rides out.  I just felt like I was imposing on their lifestyle and had no right to do it.  Oh well, too late to take it back now.

In the end I rode a horse.  Not really.  In the end I sat on a horse while someone else made him move, and I managed not to fall off.  And I likely provided dinner table conversation for about a thousand people that night.  On a more positive note, I never met any rebels.  So I would have to say that overall it was a successful trip to Masisi.

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