Sunday, October 9, 2011

First day in Bukavu

Oct. 8, 2011
Bukavu, Eastern DRC

The small airplane lowered itself out of the thick clouds and we found ourselves flying above a huge, stunning lake, its edges twisting and coiling through the green, rural landscape around it, creating a gorgeous, picturesque landscape. "Lake Kivu", I said. We were finally about to touch down into Kamembe, the Rwandan border town where Dominique would be waiting to cross us over to Congo.

We landed on a compact-dirt airstrip on top of a mountain and stepped out of the plane into the crisp, fresh air. There was Dom! After nearly 9 months of preparing, sending emails back and forth almost daily, we finally greeted him face to face.

We drove to the border. First we stopped at Immigration on the Rwandan side. During our 10 minutes there, we saw 3 United Nations vehicles with soldiers cross the border (both coming and going) and a USAID vehicle. So we got our stamp and carried on, across the wooden bridge that passes over the Ruzizi River into Congo. Then we stopped at Immigration on the Congolese side and were greeted by a kind man who wrote down our information, asked a few questions and welcomed us into his country. We were now in Bukavu.

Dom brought us to the Swedish Mission, which will be our home here. We chatted for a while in the garden, then sat down to talk about our plans for this week, in order to make the most of our time here before heading to Ethiopia for the permaculture course. He updated us on the land situation and Xavi explained all his ideas for the design of the permanent project on the new land. We agreed that short, medium and long-term goals need to be set for this project. Buying the land will take time (maybe months), and meanwhile it's important to use our time here for three main reasons:

1. To meet the community, talk to its decision-makers and get an idea of their needs, in order to point the project in the right direction. Assuring that the Pygmies are excited and enthusiastic about the project is essential to its success.

2.  To teach the Pygmies as many useful skills as we can, in order to give them the tools they need to grow their own food, while also emphasizing the importance of forest conservation. Learning new skills will raise their confidence and broaden their possibilities, reducing their need to turn to the forest for means of subsistence.

3. To lay out short, medium and long-term goals for the project, and establish ways of steering it, supervising it and measruing its success over the following months and years.
Dom kindly showed us around Bukavu, we went to the supermarket for some supplies and he treated us to a delicious chicken and lamb chop dinner. We stopped at an ATM and were surprised to discover that the machine gives you crisp, new, U.S. Dollars. Congolese Francs are only used as spare change.

So after just one afternoon here, my first impression is Bukavu is quite different from what I imagined, based on stories I've heard from people who have been here. We did not feel unsafe at all. However, people have it hard here, with electricity going out many times a day and terrible dirt roads filled with potholes. There's no water in our bathroom (we have to wash with water from a bucket and flush the toilet the same way), and we already value brushing our teeth far more than we did yesterday. Let the learning begin. 

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