SOS

I never expected that my biggest challenge in the Congo would be a white woman from Spain.

Although I have tried to spare you all the endless rants about the reality of trying to navigate one of the most tumultuous relationships that I have ever encountered (which happens to involve the same person with whom I spend every waking hour- who dictates what and how much I eat, when and if I can leave the extremely restricted area where I live and work, how much second-hand smoke I will be inhaling in the span of a day, if I will be granted access to the internet or electricity, and whether or not I will be the lucky recipient to serve as an outlet for her anger originating from any number of sources on a given day). Below offers a glimpse into my experience at a weak moment of a particularly trying day after an exceptionally grueling week that makes up a seemingly endless string of months enduring an impossible situation.

Rocket Flare

I often envision myself setting one off, seen from a birds-eye view, catapulting out of the green blanket of trees like a frantic, directionally-challenged shooting star, alerting some sympathetic flyers-by that there is an overzealous crusader trapped in the forgotten trenches of Congo, held prisoner by a manic, abusive, parasitic white woman who exists solely on cigarettes and the souls of those around her, exhaling an endless stream of smoke that masks the toxic force that slowly, methodically extinguishes the essence of the unfortunate victims who have unknowingly landed in her inescapable web, kept alive enough to quell her appetite while they and their fellow crusaders are whittled down to an empty shell of their former selves, resigned to their inevitable fate, forgetting the passion they once had to fight for their cause…or even what that cause was.

A side note:
This woman does in fact have some redeeming, even admirable qualities. Perhaps- on a different day, on a different continent, far removed from the day of my departure, when I can bask in my strength of character and proven resilience- I will remember what they are.

A Welcomed Reprieve

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The rainy season is definitely in full swing, and it has truly transformed the landscape into more of the ‘tropical forest’ in which I envisioned that I would be living. During the dry season, just looking over the distant hills would elicit thirst-  a harsh, almost blinding backdrop filled with dusty plots of cultivated land that had little to offer besides dried out crops scorched from the relentless sun. The tragic effects of deforestation were amplified by the dehydrated state of the small groups of trees that still remain, their dull green leaves seeming to acquiesce to the parched color du jour, extinguishing any thought of moisture. 

And then the rains came.

Almost daily, around 3 in the afternoon, enormous dark clouds come rolling in, bringing a deceptive, light breeze that dances in the trees, inspiring long, languid backbends from the palm branches and a gentle rustling of the leaves. The wind starts to pick up and all things relaxed begin to tremble and shake frantically, summoning the inevitble. An eerie darkness settles in and within a matter of seconds the clouds unleash with a ferocity of which I have never experienced. A barrage of enormous rain drops pummel the roof, trumping all other sounds. Then the lightning joins in, lighting up the entire sky while you hold your breath and wait for the thunder to come crashing down. I am not clear on the scientific reasons that designate night as the ideal time for violent thunderstorms, but they have not proven helpful for my extended bout of insomnia.

The resulting conversion, however, has turned the parched landscape into a vibrant canvas covered with endless shades and textures of green- thick, tall blades of grass, wildly overgrown bushes, vibrant flowers, an explosion of leaves covering once bare branches- all competing for recognition as if an electric current is illuminating them from the inside out. Now when you look out over the  hills, it looks like a rich, velvet patchwork quilt, exhibiting subtle contrasts of green- emerald, lime, jade, avocado- interrupted only by dark brown patches of freshly turned dirt…or more accurately, mud.

La Boue (mud)

The dust that used to make its way into every possible crack and crevice has now been replaced with a dense, relentless, pasty, dark clay that invades every part of your day. You are either trying to maneuver your way through it without falling or searching for any available hard surface to scrape it off of your shoes, only to step right back into it and then drag its dried up remnants into the office, the house, your sheets. Chunks of mud are forever finding their way into my socks, shoes, drawers, books…a bit more intrusive than their dusty counterparts.

This seasonal visitor is not an natural element that seems to submit to experience or adaptation. The farmers on their way to work the fields, the women on their way to church, children on their way to school, even the goats trailing behind; they all can be seen treading gingerly along the road, stopping every so often to remove their shoes (minus the goats, of course) and attempt to shake, scrape or slap off the thick clumps stuck to their souls. Some continue on, letting the layers build, others opt to carry on barefoot. But, they all are as consumed as the foreigner by ‘la boue’.

I will have to say, this season is proving to be my favorite so far. Despite the sleepless nights and sloppy walks to work, la boue has granted me a reprieve; for the first time since I arrived, all eyes are focused on something other than the approaching Mazungu (white girl).