For those of you who have been following my adventures in Congo (first one starts here), we are approaching the end. After reading the excerpt below, you might understand why, at that point, I was counting the days until my escape…literally.
For the last 2 months, the calendar on my wall served as an anchor to my sanity. I became obsessed with finding new ways to break down the months into weeks, the weeks into days, and the days into hours.
For example, every Wednesday for lunch, beans were served with cabbage instead of the usual plantains.
Only 8 more servings of cabbage before I get to go home.
Besides my 24-hour excursion to Bukavu (read more about that epic reprieve here) and when Eric swept me off to Uganda for 2 weeks (which literally saved my soul), I was pretty much confined to my house and the sanctuary.
I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere by myself due to safety restrictions, especially after dark. I also wasn’t supposed to wear skirts; women’s legs have to remain covered…although no one seems to know why.
So, as my tiny act of rebellion, every Saturday night after the sun went down, I would put on my only skirt and sneak over to the hotel next door and have a beer…exposed legs and all.
Only 7 more scandalous outings before I get to go home.
Another survival tactic was keeping a regimented workout schedule. Thankfully, my room was spacious enough that I could work out on the days I didn’t run with the boys (more about dodging goats and small children here)- So, running on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays, Bar Method video on Tuesday/Thursdays, circuit training every Saturday, Yoga on Sundays…
Only 6 more yoga sessions before I get to go home.
Yes, there were pockets of fun throughout the day. I loved the staff and, of course, the chimps. But the circumstances and treatment I had to endure had worn me down. And I missed my boys terribly (Eric and Biscuit)…and my freedom.
I was ready to go home.
Only one more month, 7 days and 10 hours sitting across from her, inhaling her smoke…
I never imagined that my biggest challenge in the Congo would be a tiny woman from Spain.
I have tried to spare you the details of trying to navigate one of the most tumultuous relationships I’ve ever experienced (which happens to involve the same person who dictates what and how much I get to eat; if I can leave the area I’m confined to; when I get to use the internet; how much second-hand smoke I will be inhaling a day; and whether or not I will serve as an outlet for her random bouts of anger originating from any number of sources on a given day).
Below is a glimpse of a weak moment, during an exceptionally trying day, at the end of a grueling week…that pretty much sums up six months of enduring an impossible situation.
I often envision myself setting one off, seen from a birds-eye view, catapulting out of the 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 the Congo, held prisoner by an abusive, parasitic woman who exists solely on souls and cigarettes, exhaling an endless stream of poison that slowly, methodically extinguishes the essence of those who have unknowingly landed in her web, kept alive just enough to quell her appetite as she whittles them down to an empty shell of their former selves, forcing them to resign the passion they once had for the cause they were fighting for…and question whether anything is worth fighting for at all.
A side note:
This woman does, in fact, have some redeeming, even admirable qualities. Perhaps, on a day far removed from this one, I will remember what they are.
You can donate directly to the sanctuary here to support all the work that goes into protecting the chimps and other wildlife in danger of extinction.
Breathe, sweetie, breathe!!!! Don’t give her the power to steal your peace, joy, energy and enthusiasm—-only YOU have the power to steer your life. She is probably feeling a little panic, recognizing that you will soon be leaving, preparing herself to be “alone” and without your company. You do bring energy and excitement wherever you go—-that will be hard to give up. Stay strong, drink in all that is good and beautiful and exciting from your Congo adventure. When you leave recognize, with pride, the impact that your 6 months in Africa has made, and learn from the impact made in your heart by others.
Mom- so wise.
Sad 😦 You will be home soon. Something I learned yesterday: it doesn’t matter where you work, or go, negative people will always be there. There’s a soul sucker in every job. We must light our own paths and maintain the least amount of contact with them. You will be home soon.
well done Brooke for making it through. I am so sorry for you that this experience wasn’t your dream experience. Fortunately you have a husband you did not want to leave for more than 6 months, otherwise you may have signed up for longer! The moment you leave you will of course only remember the good things, which is what makes people like you so special. Safe travels home and let’s talk soon.
Ps- your writing is brilliant. I reckon a book on those 6 months is in order… 🙂
I found you through A. Mole and his memory vs imagination post. I was in Rwanda and Zaire in 1994. I’d gone to Rwanda in June for the displacement/killing and ended up in Goma for the epidemic. I was back and forth between Kigali and Goma/Bukavu for six months. What you write about brings back many memories. Of course, what I was doing was different from what you did. I used to drive near where the gorillas and chimps were, but I had other things to worry about. I really never processed any of it until much later. I was only reacting during that time. The best I can make out of it now is some sort of nightmare that comes during the day at the oddest and most inappropriate times. Anyway, hope your writing is going well. Thanks. Duke
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Hi Duke. I just can’t imagine the horrific things you have seen. I’m not clear on what you were doing, but it sounds like it might have been humanitarian work. I know from experience how defeating it can be to witness all the insidious and debilitating issues that cripple those countries…and the people. I hope those memories relinquish their grip on you, but I know that is next to impossible. My very best to you and thank you for taking the time to read my post and share some of your story.