I see a friendly face at the DGM (immigration) office today. A man with a large smile and firm handshake welcomes me, asking how Juju and Aiden are. I show him a photo of the kids and he calls others over to check them out, explaining that he saw them when they were here in August. He sounds like a proud uncle and we immediately have this point of connection so that when I explain the situation in Kinshasa and how I need him to look at my passport to ensure everything is ok, he laughs and says that I am in the right place. He groans hearing about Kinshasa and waves his hand down, pushing it away altogether, that city so far away, full of chaos and people. Here, he assures me, I have people who care.

My friend Max walks in, carrying his motorcycle helmet, ready for a meeting with the director of the DGM. Meeting over, the big guy calls me into his office, where he asks about my shoulder which was busted the last time I was here. Max and I marvel at his memory and he dismisses this, as though it is normal to remember such details. We chat for a couple of minutes, doing the formalities of letting him know I am in town, something I promised to do long ago.

We follow the visa man to his small office where I fill out paperwork again, whipping out a passport photo, knowing it will be requested. We share wasabi almonds while he registers my information into a ledger and in no time, I am out of there and heading back to the guesthouse, with meetings done for the day.

I am hungry and look through my stash of snacks and ready-prepared-dehydrated meals, trying to decide what I want. It is not lost on me that even though most Americans would consider what I have here to be meager, it is so very bountiful compared to what most of the people outside this guesthouse have. I am humbled as I choose between a packet of tuna or a pack of peanut butter crackers. Or, do I want to use one of my larger meals now? I opt for a packet of dehydrated quinoa/veggie mix, washed down with water. I am loving this new addition to my usual travel fare – all ingredients are real, with zero chemicals or additives. As long as have hot water to rehydrate the meals, i am set!

As I roam outside looking for a signal so I can make a call, I hear a faint “mbote” and look up to see two boys walking towards me. I ask their names and learn that one is named Merci. Again that name, first time I hear it on a boy. What a beautiful name. They tell me they’ve been gathering coconuts and even though they start out shyly, they quickly get comfortable and laugh out loud when I show them their photos. As they walk away, Merci turns to wave goodbye and I return the gesture, saying “goodbye, Mercy” out loud.

Tears roll down my face as I make my way back, still looking for the elusive signal.