On Saturday Amy asked if I would like to go see the other Crosiers in a place called Mulo. She warned it is an hour on the motorbike on really bumpy roads, but that the drive was beautiful and Mulo itself was a stunning town higher up in the hills. We agreed to leave early the next morning, but when we pulled out the dirt bike the back tire was going flat. Slightly delayed we set off 2 hours later on what we thought would be an all day adventure.
As we lurched down the path on the motorbike we finally came to a new section of road that we had not yet been on. Thrilled to be headed in a new direction so I could see more of the glorious countryside, I had this realization that the “roads” are more like a series of motor cross tracks that wind around the country side. The “roads” offer an array of driving pleasure with massive pot holes that can launch you 5 feet in the air, large water obstacles, gravel the size of baseballs, and washboard tracks that will loosen even the best dental work. The ride is never relaxed and you continually readjust your weight as you bounce along so you do not fall off on the next bump.
As we crawled along the hillside I struggled with how I could possibly describe the natural beauty that exists here. The earth is rich red dirt that only gets more red with rain. The green hills have every shade of green that exists in the “Jurassic Park” cliffs of Kauai. The terraced maize filled hillsides cultivated at precariously steep angles are reminiscent of the hills of Guatemala. The homes and lifestyle remind me of walking past the doorsteps of the families that live in the Everest region of Nepal, except the huts here are made of mud and sticks and everyone was yelling “Mzungu”.
Everywhere we go here it is like we are some sort of celebrity. When we drive in a car or on Amy’s dirt bike everyone gives a second look, most people stare in a mixture of shock and amazement, and most children shout greetings raising both hands in the air and waving frantically. As times the celebrity of white skin is fun. Everyone is excited to see you and we shout back greetings in the local language, which always elicits a laugh of surprise back. At times however, we have become more like exotic animals on display in a human zoo. Once we reached Mulo we were surrounded by 100’s of children just staring. After a while I felt a pinch, some hands begin to poke at me, and then curiously stroked the blonde hair on my arm. Then before I knew what was happening about 50 hands were reaching out to pet my hair that has been taken out the ponytail. It is hilarious and humbling that these children would be so curious. I guess it is like me wanting to see the Apes in the mountain jungle. I wonder if the apes are worried about me giving them lice and worms too?
Once in Mulo we met the priests and brothers there. They were very happy to see Amy as they consider her their sister since she stayed with them for four months when she first arrived. We had not eaten we were invited to stay for lunch, but before lunch “recreation” which loosely translated means drinking. So we drank with the brothers and priests and I practiced my French by osmosis. Pretty soon they started saying you need to stay and have dinner and attend chapel tonight. Since we had gotten a late start and now had “recreation” for 2 hrs they did have a point. Unless we wanted to turn around in about an hour and drive back before dark we should stay. We briefly discussed and decided to spend the night so we could just relax and check out the town. The brothers ecstatic to have company showed us our rooms where we could put our bags. Our bags consisted of our motorcycle helmets, our jackets, and my camera gear. Other than that we just had the dirty stinky clothes we were wearing.
We let the brothers know we would be back for the evening prayer and set off on foot over the hill to Lubero where one of the UN headquarters is located. A much different feeling than the area we were staying, Lubero is in a valley. The landscape is less alpine dotted with maize fields and banana trees. As we walked along the path a train of children began to follow. After a few minutes of staring a game of Aerobie ensued as we rambled along the dirt road. After a while we ran into a beautiful women who was thrilled to see Amy. Amy later explained that the woman’s mother had been severely raped and later died. COPERMA had helped transfer her mother to a local hospital, but she was so traumatized she had to go to the miserable facility we had visited the week before and she died. Warned by locals that the family would try to ask for all sorts of resources from COPERMA. Amy pointed out that the family eternally grateful for the support and help they did receive has never asked for anything else.
After an hour of walking we reached the small market in the center of town where Amy wanted to buy some local sandals, which pleased everyone in the market greatly. They are plastic flip flops reminiscent of a cross between “crocks” and the soccer sandals everyone used to wear when I was in 8th grade. They are the shoes of the poor peasants and hers were bright coral. The really funny thing I have noticed about the markets here are that a lot of them sell fake fur coats. Now it does get a little chilly maybe the high 40’s some nights, but never cold enough for a fur coat. We are talking full on leopard print cloaks and panther fur jackets. You name it people wear it in the middle of the day because it is a sign of wealth possibly left over or perpetuated by the Mobutu era. It is still surprising to me to see poor peasants, but when they dress up they put on their best fake fur regardless of how warm it is outside.
It was getting late and we needed to get back before dark. We decided to jump onto some moto taxis stop by the UN and have them take us back to the Crosiers place.
Unfortunately, I got a dare devil moto driver who wanted to show me how fast he could drive dodging the pot holes with one hand as he talked on his cell phone. As he tore down the street we hit a man walking down the road. The moto driver adjusted his mirror with out stopping and then narrowly missed hitting a baby’s head with his review mirror. I used the few words of Swahili that I knew. “Polie, Polie!” , I shouted and then out of pure terror and exacerbation just started cussing him out. The he sped up. We arrived at the heavily armed UN compound a top a hill outside of town and just glimpsed across the razor wire. So these are the guys that are protecting the village? Looks like they are in a fortress and how would they hear is something is going on …the base is pretty far away from the town.
I relayed to Amy the problems I had been having with my driver and she relayed a message, “If you keep driving that way you are not going to get paid”. Thinking the message was clear we headed down the hill back toward the other side of town and over the hill to the Crosiers. After the first down hill my moto driver was up to his old antics…I think showing off because he had a Mzungu on his bike. After some more Swahili and cursing I gave up. I had no choice we had to make it back before dark and this guy was not going to listen to me…talking to him seemed to make him go faster. Afraid for my life I closed my eyes to meditate. Now I have always tried meditate in quite peaceful places, but I suddenly realized the power of being able to just check out of a situation you don’t want to be in. As we whipped around potholes, caught five feet of air a pothole, and landed with a reverberating thud I did my best to called on my angles for protection.
Just before dark we arrived relatively unscathed to the gate of the Crosiers.
A heated conversation ensued. Amy told my driver that he was a bad driver because he did not respect his passengers, he did not deserve to get paid, and that he should take some lessons from his friend. Totally lost on a girl telling him how to drive he kind of rolled his eyes and we left.
That night exhausted, dirty, and quite smelly from the day I curled up in bed. How do the people here do it? I am tired and I rode a motorbike here. Most locals would have to walk the 40km and while they walk the women carry 100 lbs of firewood on their head with a baby on top. And I had two meals today and they were lucky if they probably had one. I was beginning to understand why so often people from Africa are such successful elite runners. Life here is demanding and if you don’t walk to five hours to your farm to tend you crops and carry the 100lbs of firewood home on your head, you don’t eat. Running a marathon must be a piece of cake!
As I pulled the sheets over my head to escape the buzzing mosquitoes, I thought of the peasant women of the Congo lying down to sleep in their mud huts wondering if soldiers would come in the night….