Congo Memories


The closer Congo gets, the more I want to go someplace else. I’ve been stuck in the house, for the most part, for a week now, and when I’m bored I just troll around travel websites, picking out vacation houses in Key West, looking at hotels in Tokyo, reading travel blogs about Morocco. I’ve got the travel bug, but the bug either doesn’t understand I’ll be leaving for Africa two months from Thursday, or it does, and it’s mad at me.

When I think about the trip, I still alternate wildly between excitement and bewilderment (what am I doing? Why would anyone go back?). There isn’t a lot I can do right now to prepare, to keep myself occupied. I’m in that strange in-between time—it’s too far out to start shopping and packing, but it’s too soon to just forget about it for now. So, I just sit here and remember, and last year’s trip comes to me in flashes, when I’m not expecting it. Things I’d forgotten, moments unremembered.

Like, one night Luke and Evan and I (I think—it may have just been Luke and me, or perhaps Robin was there…the details are fuzzy) were left in the van to wait while the others went into the church to grab something before we went on our way back to the guesthouse. The night there is unlike anything else—a night with no power, a city without electricity, and whenever the moon went behind a cloud things got so dark we could couldn’t see as far as the hood of the vehicle. We could just hear things outside the van, voices, people walking, sometimes far away, and sometimes right next to the van. We were in a sea of no-light, on a downtown street at night, hearing voices through a window cracked open. At first we talked about it, chuckling softly at how creepy it was, but then we hushed, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves with our English. In the dark, we could hide, we could dissolve. Then the moon would come out and we could see shapes, faded silhouettes of people moving around. We were a handful of foreign kids with a van full of camera equipment, the window cracked open to let in the cool night air.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how scary that trip was, because we came home fine and because we came home high on the fact of surviving, on the thrill of going there and coming back no worse for the wear. And when you come back from that, you immediately want to do it again. And then you sign up for another trip and spend the months leading up to it slowly remembering how dark night gets on city streets with no street lights.

Well. It will be fine. I remind myself that this trip is far less risky, the group I’m going with far less risk-taking. We’re taking Christie with us, who is cautious and careful and extremely well-traveled. We’ll not be sitting in vans after dark, we’ll not be walking Bukavu alleys to catch buses back to the guest house. Luke will not be riding on the back of a Congolese motorcycle, casually holding a video camera, grinning and saying, Don’t tell Bishop. We’ll be carefully shuttled here and there, we’ll be watched over and kept off motorcycles, and we’ll be brought back to the guest house each day—before dark, even, I’m sure, especially since the days will be longer in May than they’d been in March. And I’ll be glad for the memories of the first trip, the risks and the payoffs.

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