June 5, 2012 – Gemena, DRC

Today starts very, very early (4:30am), thanks to a large rodent living above my room at the Elikya Center. It is so large, in fact, that I think Rachel is having trouble moving a suitcase in the next room, although the sound is coming from above, not beside me. Either way, I go to see if I can help her and she laughs. She is coming to see if she can help me with anything! No, it is neither of us…it is a large rat of sorts. No more sleep for me, thank you very much!

With hours to kill before work starts at 8am, we take cold showers, eat a simple breakfast, and walk into town. It is an easy 35 minute walk with everyone stopping us to ask where we are going and to introduce themselves. The sun is pretty hot already and I feel my shirt sticking to me, even though it is not yet 8am.

We meet at the Gemena office with the PEASIT team, Rachel acting as my translator. They are the folks who help children with HIV/AIDS on the social end of the spectrum. We have a great talk and make plans for support, assuming they will do better on reporting. They want to grow so quickly! Too quickly, I tell them. We talk about patience and about making this sustainable so that we all work ourselves out of jobs. We discuss the need to plan well but to not get stuck in planning sessions while nothing gets done. Priorities. Monitoring. Evaluation. All these things were discussed among friends and it was a good time.

This team of lovely men and women surprise me by hosting a lunch which they planned and cooked. The food is delicious! Mama Francois is a fabulous cook and I could eat the goat she cooks every day if I could. After jokes, laughter, good food, and chatting, the group humors me and they sing a couple of sounds. What a talented group they are and they know how to meld their voices as they sing together. One man who works with the deaf signs everything being sung and I love seeing yet another language for the deaf which I’ve never seen. It really is like music to my ears even though there is no sound.

June 6, 2012 – DRC to CAR

The alarm goes off at 2:15am and I hurry to put on my jeans and boots. Gilbert, a mechanic named Augustine and I are heading back to CAR, hoping to make it across the border before 5pm, when it closes.

The night is beautiful! We careen through villages who are fast asleep. The quiet is only broken by the loud rumblings of our G&S (Glue and Spit) pickup truck, which Gilbert has been working on for three days.

Six hours pass.

Gilbert is falling asleep. He helped a friend last night and didn’t get much rest before we took off and it is catching up with him. I offer to drive and he accepts! I think he is kidding and I really think Augustine wishes he is kidding. But, he is not and in no time, I am behind G&S’s wheel, going up and down huge crevasses, skirting puddles, going through puddles, and basically just being Gilbert. People stop what they are doing and point and some scream “a white woman is driving!”. Gilbert laughs, as do I. I have no idea what Augustine does, but I think he likes my driving because I am slower and more careful with the chickens and goats who cross our path. This means less sudden turns and less flying around as we hit the holes.

Another hour passes and I change seats with Gilbert because we are coming on a police crossing and I really don’t want to deal with that.

We get a flat tire.

With the tire fixed, we carry on for another hour. We pass a large broken down truck and pick up a woman and her toddler and baby, as they are going in our direction and need a ride. I take the baby with me, as the toddler screams hysterically every time I come near. Her mom explains to me with a laugh that the child has never seen a white person. I laugh and make funny faces at the little girl who wails all the louder. The baby doesn’t mind my color and she sleeps for the hour we manage to ride before something is wrong with the back axle.

Half an hour after we stop, we are on the road again and the baby plays with a bracelet Juju made me and which I haven’t taken off. Gilbert and I bet to see who can figure out when we’ll reach the border. G doesn’t speak English, so the fact that we can bet is amazing. He votes for 1:30pm. I vote for after 3:00pm. He looks horrified and a bit insulted that I think that he can’t make it from Gemena to Bangui in less than 12 hours. I tell him I hope he is right. Since Gilbert is tired, I ply him for Lingala words to keep him awake. He asks me to describe the difference between the words “woman and wife”, “children and child”, and to let him know what “like”, “difference”, and “occasion” mean. This keeps s busy for a while. The baby falls back asleep.

Gilbert lets me know he is going to win the bet and that I can say “Bravo, Gilbert” in 20 minutes, when we reach the border at Zongo. I am so happy! I have given all my food away and all I’ve had all day is a granola bar at 6am. Suddenly, something goes terribly wrong with the car and even I, a non-mechanic, know we are in big trouble. It is the transmission and we are stuck. Really stuck. The woman and children walk on, leaving us with a wave and a smile. G and I walk a while to find a place with a phone signal. We walk some more. He gets a signal. He makes a call and ½ hour later, two motorcycles appear to take us to the river crossing. G is a man of his word…he said he take me, so he does. Leaving Augustine to guard his truck, he kicks off one driver and tells him to ride with the other driver and my bag, while G will drive me. It is surreal, going from the truck to the back of a bike with G.

The four of us whip down the road and we make it to Bangui, CAR in time. G hands me over to Thelma, who is hosting me tonight. His last words to me are “Mission Accomplished”.

I am sure G is now working under his truck, trying to get that transmission working.

I win the bet.