Well, once again it’s time for me to say farewell, this time to the DRC. I confess I find it much more difficult to leave here and I’m even more at a loss for what I could possible say to describe the time I’ve spent here. I realize that I haven’t written as much while I’ve been here and that I have shared very little of my experiences. At this point I’m not even sure where to begin. I’ve already described where I’ve stayed in Uvira and some of the friends I’ve made here….Clavert, Isadord, Willy, Francine, Rolphe. They taught me much and I admire each of them in different ways:
Clavert for his unflappable optimism and his belief in education, the possibility of change, and the goodness in people, even in the face of a life that has shown him so much death, destruction, and hardship.
Isadord for his inevitable ability to make me laugh. I swear all that boy had to do was walk into the room and he could make me smile.
Willy, Rolphe’s younger brother, for his many insights on politics and history. I had some great conversations with him.
Francine, Rolphe’s fiancé, for being my dose of femininity in a world chalked full of male friends. It was always a good day when Francine and I got to hang out together, cooking and chatting.
And finally Rolphe, for being such a great friend and guide. He is quite possibly the most helpful person I could have encountered in the DRC. I can’t even begin to count the ways in which he has helped me – offering me a place to stay, helping me meet the people I needed to meet and find the places I needed to find, sharing great meals and conversations, welcoming me into his life in the
And these are just the people that I spent the majority of my time with here, there are plenty of other great people I’ve met and befriended as well. Rolphe’s family in Bukavu, for example, who so generously welcomed me into their home and their lives. I had a great time staying with them, hanging out with the girls (of whom there were 8 between the ages of 21 and 1), chatting with them about whatever they wanted to chat about. Often times that was life in America….they really wanted to know how we live, what I think of the Congo, why I wasn’t married and when I thought I would get married, and all sorts of fun things (my non-married status is something of a continuous theme in conversation in Africa….though I think I’ve pretty much mastered my techniques for dodging that bullet….I find that vague half-truths about plans to marry in the future, after I finish school, work well).
As far as research I’ve learned a lot here. I’ve met with some very interesting and helpful people and had some fascinating conversations. But I won’t bore my non-academic friends with the details. Probably the most important thing I’ve discovered here in regards to my research is that, without a doubt, this is where I want to do my field work. I’ve been fascinated by the history of this region for some time and this trip has just served to add fuel to that fire. There is much to be learned about the history here and, I believe, even more to be learned from that history.
I’ve also learned a lot about language. Language is a fascinating phenomenon, and is rendered even more fascinating in region where conversation flows fluidly between Swahili and French, at times from sentence to sentence, at other times from word to word within a single sentence. Admittedly this made it more than a little bit difficult for me to follow conversations at times….you get used to nodding your head and looking like an idiot half the time. Just Swahili I can do without the slightest problem, just French I can follow with a fair amount of effort, but the way the Congolese switch back and forth between the languages makes my head spin. Still, with a little more time I think I would have it down. By the end even I was beginning to mix the languages. And, it is ever-so-interesting to follow when and where people use French versus Swahili…which language is used to express which ideas and in what circumstances one language is emphasized over the other. I did not have enough time, or enough linguistic skill for that matter, to be able to do any sort of thorough analysis of the matter, but it is certainly fodder for future intellectual endeavor.
I haven’t really even begun to give sense of what, exactly, it was that I did here every day. Many times it included taking long walks around the city in the afternoons with Isadord and Clavert or sitting around in the evenings at the MJA building cooking, eating, and conversing with friends. Other times it included seeking out people to talk to, to discuss the possibility of future research. Other times it included just listening, watching, and recording my thoughts about the things I’ve seen and done here. Other times it included long drives to Bukavu on bumpy, dusty, narrow mountain roads that provide some of the most stunning scenery you’ve ever seen….as long as you don’t look down over the edge of the road. At other times it involved an impromptu meal with a kindly old woman who spends her life caring for orphaned children and was beyond excited to chat with me because she was just sure I’d be able to help her find an old friend from America who had worked for the Red Cross in Uvira in the 80s….even though she only knew the woman’s first name because all of her documents with the woman’s contact information were stolen during the war. Other times it involved watching a team of young Congolese men play soccer against a team of Pakistani UN soldiers….and then having half of the Pakistani players ask me if they could take a picture with me after the game (so embarrassing).
Ashley asked me in an earlier post how the
Still, even if my living circumstances in
Anyway, I’m babbling at this point. Please forgive the super-long post. I guess that’s what happens when I wait to long to make a post. Congratulations to those of you troopers who stuck it out to the end! I hope I’ve been able to share a little bit of what my experiences and thoughts have been here. In a word, it’s been amazing. And, though I am excited to get back to the states to see all of my friends and family (and, of course, Bjorn), I am admittedly quite sad to leave this place just as I was beginning to settle in and I will miss all of my new friends here. I look forward to my future return.
Ninawatakia wote hapa
And now begins the 3 day trek home….I’ll be seeing many of you soon. And for those of you I don’t see, stay tuned for the Swiss Edition of the Traveling Historian’s blog beginning Sept. 12….