A country like no other.
Fiercely listed at the bottom of almost every global index for health, economy, gender equality, child mortality, corruption, you name it, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a world of its own.
Try coming in from Rwanda, and you will experience the greatest culture shock of your life, as you transit from a virtually developed country to the Kivu regions. Kivu is the Catholic equivalent of “limbo”: forever doomed to hope for salvation. (Spoiler: it never comes.)
Kivu is a dark place, where all rules and laws go to die. In many ways, Locke’s social contract is shown in action; it is the perfect setting. Kivu is utterly distorted by war and strife, not necessarily in the military (or militia) sense, but in so far as the local economy has been shattered and cannot recover while foreign agents continue to inflate prices, and fear of armed conflict makes it impossible for the local population to grow food. Never in rural Africa have I previously witnessed prices on par with Western Europe.
Kivu, the Eastern edge of the DRC, has no tarmac roads, except for the few in Goma. A new “highway” is being constructed. The money is trinkling into the project so slowly that we except the first stages will need to be patched up before the stretch is completely. We jest, we hope that won’t be the case, but as I said, we are just praying for salvation.
This time around, salvation did not come. The roads in Kivu are dirt roads running along the side of gorgeous hills. High enough to be reaching towards mountain-status. The hills are stunning, cultivated almost all the way up to the summit. The immediate impact of deforestation? Soil erosion. All the good bits run straight down the hill into the nearby lake. Bye-bye top soil, bye-bye method of survival! But more importantly for this story, bye-bye road!
Half the road is washed away, leaving large cracks and potholes the size of a pond. In the rainy season, it is a pond. The rest is mud so thick you may well lose your shoes if you were to talk alongside it. Cars struggle. Movement is hectic, they sway sharply from left to right in hope of avoiding the greater danger (the sharp rock? The deep pothole? How about the edge of the road and impending death by freefall?)
I grit my teeth. I am sitting in the back of a 4×4 truck with no seat belts. I cling on for dear life to the passenger seat in front, in doing so I may well have also gripped a few hairs from the passenger themself, but they pretend they don’t mind. With every bump I hit my head on the ceiling. With every turn of the wheel I am dangerously thrown across onto my colleague’s lap. We are assaulted by our suitcases which have come alive with a mind of their own, most likely meaning to trample us in just retribution. I pray. I am not a religious person but I pray that this driver will not be the one to push the car over the edge. I pray that we will not get a flat tire. I pray that the car won’t break down. I pray that we will find a shack down the side of the road so we can stop just for a minute while I compose myself. I pray and smile. Gritting my teeth.
Congo is dangerous. Armed militia means we had to shorten our journey, and return to Rwanda earlier than planned. It was quite a relief, after the hassles of the road. We stop for lunch in Bukavu, and I order some delicious fries. I happily munch away when all of a sudden I feel something snap in my mouth. I swallow regardless. I expect it was just a piece of rock as is not entirely uncommon in Africa.
A few minutes later, running my tongue over my teeth in an attempt to dislodge leftovers, I realise the stone was actually a piece of my tooth. After all this clanging about, it came loose. I knew Congo to be dangerous for security and illnesses, but this?!
This time around, salvation did not come for my tooth. RIP.