I'm in Kindu to help out for work for a period of 12 days. Very exciting indeed!
Kindu is located in the East of the country and, as a result, has a high concentration of soldiers--both Congolese and UN-based (a large portion of which are South African men, living on a military base--think prefabricated units and lots of big trucks).
We run into a little trouble with the immigration guy who takes us into his office, closes the door and demands 5 dollars from each of us. A demand we fight bitterly against. The intensity of the man is intimidating but I shut my mouth, stay in the corner and we leave unscathed.
The flight into the city is beautiful: wide expanses of thick green forests (bordering on being a jungle), punctuated by a large riverbed and little beige/orange roads leading to different areas around the city. What a change from Kinshasa.
I am staying at Sarah's apartment with large ceilings, and plenty of living space. Which seems quaint, until she reminds me that there is no running water and electricity runs for about 3 hours in the evening. Not ideal when you find yourself pouring water from a heavy bucket into smaller toilet and shower buckets. After two days, my muscles are already getting larger.
My room is also situated on a busy street and, I learn that New York is not the only city that "never sleeps". The first night I sleep a restless sleep punctuated by cries of children. I think I am dreaming but look out the window to see three children in the misty morning, dragging their feet through the orange dust and weeping into their hands. In the morning I find out that a child had died in the hospital.
Morning, afternoon and evening music blares from battery-operated radios from 5:30AM in the morning to 11:00PM at night
I shower in a concrete block with cold water from a bucket, where I can catch a view of the dusty roads, palm trees and carts.
On of my first job is to take pictures of people so that badges can be made. One by one, the guards and other employees take their place against the blue wall and give a very serious look. They come check out their picture on the digital camera, shake their head and smile at the results. They remind me that so-and-so isn't here yet but that I musn't forget to take his picture. One of the guards does not have his uniform on, so he switches shirts with another guard. He adjusts his collar and gives me his most serious look. I do manage to get a few of them to smile for the camera.
I watch friends play tennis on the only tennis court in town. They bring their own nets and chairs. The court is simple but does the job. My friends have a regular audience of adults and a multitude of children who rush around like real professionals to get the yellow balls. I feel like I'm in Wimbledon. The children constantly ask me to sip some of my drink which I refuse stating the red can may look like cola but contains beer. It's a useless conversation since they all speak Swahili but I note with interest that the "give-me" sign and the "no-way" sign is pretty universal.
Local families, the women decked out in their best and brightest pagnes and spiky hairs, children standing at attention, babies cradled in their mothers arms and fathers standing protectively next to the children, ask the local camera man to take their pictures in front on the shiny new cars. A teenager chooses a red car and leans against it, legs crossed and elbows on the hood, looking very stylish indeed.
I am talking on the phone when I get whistled at from all corners. I look around in a panic, not understanding what's going on, when I see a soldier lowering a flag on a pole next to the court. I hang up without saying bye and turn off the phone quickly in a panic (should the caller try me again). I stand at attention. Whew, no one gives me a hard time. I think I just escaped another national incident.