Five Months Since Congo


Congo comes back in flashes–like, I’m blow drying my hair Sunday morning and I’m thinking about that first night in a Rwanda border town, eating plates of whole fish, fried, with heaps of thick french fries. How dark it was in the little restaurant, just a few dim bulbs for the room, shadows everywhere. Like we were being hidden, everyone’s faces blurred and anonymous. A radio playing songs we recognized by musicians we didn’t. We were exhausted and filthy, having spent several days straight in airplanes, in a Land Rover speeding across Rwanda, taking pictures as the wind hit our faces and we thought nothing like that could have ever happened here. Not in a place so achingly beautiful, not in a place that smells of eucalyptus and grilling meat.

And faces. I’ll be watching a movie, and the way someone smiles will make me think Fiston and in someone’s glasses I will see Bishop. A picture I saw somewhere, of African fabric, a woman’s dress.

Rachael came over last night and we made a hodgepodge dinner of fried okra, anasazi beans, and pecan-ginger rice. And as we cooked, we talked Africa. Kenya for her, Congo for me. The smells and the tastes. Sweet Fanta, flat bread, avocados, slick cheeses.

When I was there, home felt like a memory, like a place that had ceased existing. Now, Congo is in my thoughts regularly, but it takes on ghost-like shapes, shifting in and out of focus. The longer I’m away, the harder it is to feel that I was really there. Except in those moments when it flashes back, and I can breathe deep and almost smell it, there in my memories. Those are the moments I hold to, thankful as I’m brushing my teeth with tap water, as I’m driving and I find myself surprised that the road is flat and solid.

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