Friday, March 25, 2011

It was inevitable…

First, the obligatory apologies and excuses since my last update: apparently all those times that I was complaining about the rainy season, it was actually the dry season. I know this because it is now, definitely, (hopefully,) the rainy season. During the dry season, it rained every day for about an hour. It now pours every day for hours on end. Usually starting around 4:30pm, which coincidentally tends to coincide with when I usually scamper the 50 feet from the office to the house for an afternoon snack. And then, without fail, as I stretch the minutes of my snack break…for however long is needed…the skies open up, the laundry on the line is soaked, and I am confined to the house until the next morning. Although this has proven to be a sneaky (potentially incredibly obvious) way to end my work day early (did I just say that? NO! I mean…to spend my last half hour every day working from the comfort of my room of course) does tend to leave me without a computer for the rest of the evening, as I’m not willing to brave even 50 feet in Forrest Gump rains just to write a measly update for you (or even to be able to watch a TV show for myself…lots of reading recently). After a few weeks of this, I’ve smartened up and now I just work from the dry comfort of the house all day long. You’re welcome.

Second, the admission of the slightly inevitable event: last weekend I threw sense to the wind and hopped across the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (note how it’s dropped its previous antecedent) to enjoy a night partying and the post-apocalyptic charm of the city of Goma. I know, I know. I’m an idiot.

In truth, every time I heard a story about how unbelievably ridiculous the Congo is (starting with the mass rapes right outside the UN headquarters, ending with the line “we’ve had 13 park rangers killed in the last month”), only part of me properly reacted in horror. The other part went into ADVENTURE!!! overdrive. Let’s be serious, this blog would not be called “Adventures in Rwanda” if I was one to shy away from the incredible adventure of the Congo; the simple fact that I chose to live in rural Rwanda for a year suggests that I am the sort of person who would be inclined to an adventure in the Congo; potentially, I am turned on by danger.

My rationale for this evening of mayhem (honestly/disappointingly, it was fairly calm…but we did go to “Mirror Bar” where every surface is covered in mirrors) was because this upcoming weekend I was planning on doing something much more stupid: camp on the rim of a live volcano in the Congo. By comparison, a night out in Goma felt like a good stepping block.

Oh…and I just wanted to be able to say that I did it.

Some observations:

1. Goma was once described to me as having “post-apocalyptic charm”…this couldn’t be more accurate. Imagine London circa 1945: all the infrastructure is there as evidence of a has-been country, yet the city appears bombed out. I would have preferred dirt roads to the paved-50-years-ago-pot-holed-back-to-dirt-making-the-strips-of-tarmac-the-most-dangerous-part-because-they-launch-you-5-feet-every-time-you-hit-it. (I chose to say 5 feet there so it doesn’t look like I’m exaggerating.) And, somehow I missed this part of town, but apparently nothing has been done to the section of town that was covered by volcanic lava a few years ago: people just moved into the second floor of their houses and have been living their ever since.

2. I missed laws. Especially ones requiring moto drivers to provide helmets (and to be certified – this is the case in Rwanda). Perhaps the nearest-to-death experience that I’ve had so far was on a moto in Goma. Probably top 3 were my 3 different moto rides there. (On the note of laws, hotel signs advertised “Security” before other amenities like “Electricity.”)

3. After going through immigration, there was this long road full of UN trucks and armored cars. Assuming that this was because we were still at the border and that another check point was coming up, I kept my passport out. Apparently not. It meant we were in the Congo, where tourist shops sell replicas of UN cars made out of trash and where more than half the cars I saw were UN.

4. The largest bill in Congolese currency is equivalent to 50 cents. Which would be sweet, if that suggested what prices were like. In fact, shit was pretty expensive: our dinky hotel room was 65 USD (potentially because they received good reviews for being secure). As a result, they eagerly accept US dolla dolla bills…so that they don’t have to count out 130 ripped/torn/shredded bills for one hotel room. Which would be fine, if they kept their currency pegged to the US dollar…which they (obviously) don’t. The Economist in me just could not imagine the nightmare of a society where all prices are in one currency, all bills are in another currency, and where the two are not interchangeable at the same rate. Ah!!!!!!!!!!

5. My mom asked me if I had any pictures. I might be idiot enough to go to the Congo, but not to take a camera with me…or to take it out!!

I go back from more in about 24 hours…wish me luck/life!

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