A few days from now, I will be disembarking a plane in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As I have planned for this trip over the last few months, I am constantly asked a series of questions and comments that bear answering. So, folks. Blog numero uno will be answers.
This will be my fourth trip to Africa. The intent in going is always the same: as Stan says, it will be intellectually stimulating. Allow me to muse on this a bit. For as much as that phrase makes me want to throat punch him, he’s right (!). The Point A to Point B is typically the least inspirational, but alas, it has its highlights. Travel time of 30 intellectually stimulating hours will include 4 airports, 2 customs lines, a Visa query, yellow fever and inoculation proof, a blood sample, and a turn-your-head-and -cough inspection. I’m joking. I don’t have to give a blood sample. It’s always an intellectual process when dealing with customs officers and TSA. I am also stimulated by my itty-bitty seat on United and Air France that will be surrounded by people who are grumpy, smelly, and if I’m really lucky, screamy children. But seriously. I almost always meet interesting people who have great travel stories and are sojourning their way around the globe.
Last night my daughter asked me if I was nervous. My response when I’m facing my 17 year-old who is clearly nervous about me going was, “nah…” She then said, “you’re gonna be careful, right?” And, as all good mothers do, I responded with, “always, babe.”
But that conversation calls into focus a couple of things: one, I’m not always careful. Two, it’s impossible to travel to a ‘third world’ country and always be careful. Sometimes, you have to make a judgement call and step outside what might be considered careful, throw caution to the wind, ask the good Lord to watch over you, and just. Do. It. (Thank you Nike. You’ll get your cut when I get my first paycheck).
So, why do I go? Because I need to. Everything in my core says, “go!” Go, and greet the unexpected with open arms and a shit-eating grin. Go, and see a part of this miraculous world that most people will never have the opportunity to experience. Go and learn something. Learn about people who are different than I am, learn how to survive. What? Survive? Yes. Absolutely survive. Hey, friends, I’m a white, middle-aged woman traveling alone to the place otherwise known as “The Heart Of Darkness.” Regardless of my ‘white privilege’ here in ‘Merica’, it doesn’t mean much when standing among a nation of people who live on less than $1 a day. As a matter of fact, it pisses some people off, quite a bit. Oh, and let’s not forget that whole, colonization-and-exploitation-of-a-continent-just-cuz-we-can, thing. Traveling keeps me sharp, it keeps me young, I expand my ability to be resilient, it feeds my soul. It stimulates my senses; not just the basics either – it more than what I see, what I smell, taste, hear. Traveling literally feeds my soul.
I am forced to problem solve on the fly, with very few resources (I say that, but with a few choice credit cards and a bunch of cash firmly in my grasp, because most real, get the hell out now, immediate problems can be solved by throwing money at it. Welcome to the power of good, old fashioned American spirit…)
I go because I want to make a difference. Cliche, right? Nope. Just my truth. So, if I make a little film documenting what I experienced and it’s shared, if someone takes interest in my photos and wants to know more about it, if I’m really lucky, and I can contribute back to the people who allowed me to learn about them, then I’ve done my job. And, bonus! I get to have an existential experience that, God willing, I get on film.
So, I’m going to take a look at conservation and culture change again. Except this time, the conservation is taking place deep in the interior of the DRC, funded by some serious NGO’s, and meant to protect Bonobo’s; a super interesting group of primates. The interesting challenge here is the effect on remote ethnic groups along the Congo river. These folks thrive on bush meat (Bonobo’s), and are being asked to embrace the idea of conservation of both land and animal resources. Similar to Namibia and their community-based conservation, NGO’s are reaching out to “train and develop” these ethnic groups to manage their resources. It brings up a whole lot of questions about what effect this concept will have on their current culture and ideology.
I’m going to poke around Kinshasa and Brazzaville and see what comes to the surface. And then, I’m going to head in to the jungle a bit and dig around a little deeper to see what might bubble up and who might be willing to share their stories with me.
Blogging is a new one for me, so I’ll do my best to be informative, clever, and keep anyone who is interested up to date. Internet access is always a challenge in Africa, but I’ll do my very best to post at least weekly.
For the record: I have a satellite phone for emergencies, a solar panel to charge it, an LCD filtration pen so that I don’t get a tummy-ache from yucky water, meds that cover every foreseeable illness, a shit-ton of batteries, a headlamp, a sleeping bag, a mosquito net, 7 pair of clean underwear, lots of hand sanitizer, a first aid kit with a stitch kit in it, a Fitbit (because, well, just because. . .) and a toothbrush. (I have other stuff too, but this is what most people wonder about, so that’s what I listed. And it’s kind of funny. To me, at least.)
Lastly, this blog is coming to you from my webpage. Which isn’t complete yet. So don’t judge. Just read the damn blog and keep me in your thoughts. Home on June 13!