Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Road to Bukavu

The road that runs between Bujumbura, Burundi and Bukavu, DR Congo is roughly 100 kilometers long (62 miles), but it takes a good five hours to make the trip.

No one expects it to take less time, and although van drivers drive like madmen and use their horns instead of brakes, there is no way to hurry the trip. One must just be patient—and believe in prayer.

These are some of the reasons the trip takes so long:
Ø Searching the barrios for petrol because the gas stations are out,
Ø Pedestrians, bicycles, and small children in the road,
Ø Wayward goats and long-horn cattle,
Ø Slowing for large potholes,
Ø Stopping at a fruit stand,
Ø 3-5 Security stops to check driver’s ID and baggage,
Ø Stopping to give a blind friend money,
Ø Rain,
Ø Maneuving huge potholes very carefully,
Ø Stopping to buy sausages,
Ø A Rasta passenger who enjoyed his favorite pastime at the border and forgot to get back in the van,
Ø 4 Border crossings with proper ID and forms to complete (out of Burundi, into Rwanda, out of Rwanda, into DR Congo—no pictures allowed, and the Rwandan police are very strict about everything, so one must be careful, but on the bright side, there are no potholes in Rwanda).

Regardless of when it leaves or what happens along the way, the 11:00am van from Bujumbura arrives without fail at 4:00pm in Bukavu.

Flory, Amina and I are staying at the Swedish Mission, which was the Swedish Consulate some years ago. The individual rooms have a communal kitchen and dining area, so we can cook our own meals and have a place to lounge. The bed is comfortable, the shower has hot water, the price is right, and the rooms surround a beautiful central garden, so I’m a happy camper.

That first evening we walked to the central market to shop for dinner. What a wild place! Money sellers sit under umbrellas with huge wads of bills ready to change any kind of currency; they are the virtual “banks” of Bukavu (forget about using credit cards here—you have to go to Bujumbura or Kigali to get money, or to have your airline ticket changed).

The produce is beautiful, lots of tomatoes, potatoes, greens, cabbage, oranges (green on outside), onions, garlic, and peppers. The avocados are round and huge and delicious, often eaten with a fork at breakfast. And the pineapples are to die for, different tasting than Hawaiian ones but still yummy. Bananas are plentiful, and cooked plantains, fried or boiled, are a staple. Corn grows everywhere and is ground up and mixed with water to make foo-foo, the Congolese comfort food.

Eggs are sold in laundry baskets, and some are good and some aren’t when you go to cook them. Fish is popular, tiny sardine-sized ones from Lake Kivu, which are eaten crispy-fried like popcorn, and larger “capitaine” from Uganda, which are more expensive. Sausage is a favorite and tastes like Spanish chorizo.

Bukavu is infamous for its horrible roads. I believe there is one paved road in this sprawling town of almost one million, the rest are dirt and when it rains, which it does every afternoon right now, everything turns to mud. From what I’ve heard, Congo has the worst roads in Africa. Car passengers are bounced, jolted, and thrown from side to side like a carnival ride, laughing most of the time since it's so crazy. You quickly learn to hold on to something.

Walking is precarious as the mud is deep and slippery. Yet the Congolese maneuver it with ease. It is not uncommon to see a woman, elegantly dressed in local libaya, her hair intricately braided, picking her way effortlessly through the muck in high heeled shoes.

No comments: