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Monday, June 14, 2010

Hotel Congo

You can check in, but you can't check out. At least that's how we felt today (Monday). It's been a long time on the road. And we have a lot to do in Bundi. So from the moment we woke up this morning, we were eagerly anticipating being HOME.
Only Joel had to do some things at his conservation office in Beni first, anticipating an hour delay, so we took the opportunity to visit one more mission hospital. Nyankunde-Beni, another in the network of CME Chrisitan hospitals in East Congo. Basically when rebels smashed Nyankunde, the staff fled to Beni. And rather than sitting in stunned displacement, they found themselves an old building, renovated it, and opened a hospital. Like the proverbial backfire of martyrdom and persecution, the attack on Nyahkunde merely led to its duplication. Now five years later, they have purchased a large tract of land to build an even bigger, new facility. Meanwhile four Congolese doctors perform over a thousand surgeries/year, deliver babies, admit patients, manufacture IV fluids, run a pharmacy, preach and heal. Dr. Justin led us around. Like Dr. Mike at the original Nyankunde he grew up on the mission station but was at school when disaster struck. He and his wife now run this thriving, growing hospital, with input from Samaritan's Purse again, and visits by missionaries. The most fun was meeting the senior nurse, Mr. D, who is Dr. J's father. Mr. D's parents became Christians in 1931 when CT Studd preached in NE Congo, moved to Nyankunde to support the mission and church there. Now their grandson is the medical director of an off-shoot of that work. Again, the sense of history is amazing, and to shake hands with someone whose parents heard the preaching of one of the greatest missionaries ever, and to see the thread of continuity, the generations of bearing fruit.
From the hospital it began to be clear that the day was not going to go as efficiently as we hoped. The driver was making statements about mechanical work that needed to be done on the truck, which is probably always true, but we suspected he really did NOT want to drive to the border. Many times with the language barrier (French and Swahili only, forget English!), Joel's relaxed no-hurry style, and being guests, it was hard to tell what was just the Congolese pace and what was a passive-aggressive slow-down. Anyway it was out of our hands, so we accepted an invitation to visit the new UCBC (French initials for the Bilingual Christian University of Congo) and attend chapel, a rousing pentecostal-style service with a lot of electronics and speakers and good preaching and earnest good will. After the service Joel appeared, looking a bit shaken. The driver was now completely refusing to go further, because rumors were circulating that the ADF had distributed a letter in the last week threatening to attack, perhaps along that road.
You can't check out. It was now getting close to noon. Visions of another day in Beni, another week in Congo trying to get home by another route, began to loom. The University people thought they could send a driver, but then theirs refused too. Bundibugyo was only 100 km away, but so out of reach. We sent prayer alerts. And within another half hour had some good data: the MONUC forces and the US state department both knew of the threat and troop movements, but there had been no incidents, and neither considered the situation unusually dangerous. Our driver went to the taxi park and talked to others coming from that direction. Suddenly the threat lifted, and a third party was found who owned a Pajero and agreed to take us on the road for $50. Only it took him another hour to show up, and then we had to collect our bags and his phone and fuel and whatever. Finally we headed East.
The Mbau to Kamongo road is a bit of a track. Much better than a decade ago, we're told, when it was a bicycle path. Now there is a one-lane dirt road, sometimes with grass growing in the middle, many dips and curves, bumps and holes. It was slow, tedious going. Sparse population again, and frightening amounts of charcoal for sale. Until you drive for an hour through the Virunga Park and the forest seems endless.
The road seemed endless. Beautiful, but so long, as the day was fading and we knew Heidi was waiting for us on the Uganda side of the border. Just a few formalities for leaving Congo . . . which drug into another hour. We sat in a cramped room while a semi-hostile mostly-bored young man scrutinized every detail of every page of every passport. And insisted that Julia's photo was not of her, that this was not her passport. Asked her details, like her middle name, and age. She was not rattled. I was. Joel kept explaining that we were her parents. Then he did the same with Jack. Then he heard we were doctors and questioned us about AIDS at length, with rather explicit transmission details. We all just wanted to get to Uganda before dark. Heidi was trying to detain the immigration official there, as we kept exchanging sms's. But even after all the passports were cleared, more men needed us to unpack all our clothes from our backpacks and show them everything. It was invasive and a power-play. But also probably just confusing to them. They probably only get a handful of people with passports and baggage a year. This is not a well-traveled road. Most of the traffic is local trade.
Finally we emerged, and shouldered our packs, and walked through the knee-deep border river, the Lamia, amidst stony currents and women washing clothes and boda-drivers looking for fares. Uganda! I think it was our 7th border crossing of this long trip, and by far the hardest, and the most dramatic (actually walking IN the river, after all). And the Ugandan officials had not left thanks to Heidi, and she gave us all (including the official) a ride back to Nyahuka.
So thankful to have taken this trip, but the long road home shows it is not a route to be undertaken lightly, or often.


greece_traveller said...

You have an interesting blog. Check out mine at Santorini Greece that is about Santorini island in Greece.

Peter said...

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave... Hotel California by the Eagles... Is that what you refer to? ;-)