yet another unexpected experience in the Congo
Well, it’s been about three weeks since I’ve posted any updates (whoops). I promise that it’s not because I haven’t wanted to. I would have loved to hop online and post about something about some of the incredible people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had. But, unfortunately I wasn’t able to due to the fact that there wasn’t a decent internet connection within 15-20 kilometers of where I was staying. My expectations before I left was that I’d be able to keep you updated, but one of the first things I learned after arriving to the Congo was that nothing is as you expect it to be and everything can change in a matter of minutes.
For instance, we thought that we were going to be dropped off at the airport in Gemena and head to Kinshasa around 10am last Saturday. It seemed like it would be a fairly straight forward day to me. We would get up, eat breakfast and then be notified after our jet arrived by someone at the airport so we could drive over and take off shortly after. But, like I said, things change quickly in the Congo and the night before we were planning on leaving the plans changed completely.
Mossai Sanguma, the president of the CEUM and our awesome host while being in the Congo told us that we were changing up the schedule a bit due to the fact that some head honchos from the World Bank were coming in on a private jet into Gemena and that his presence (along with many other local Congolese leaders) was needed to welcome them in. As I asked some questions about why the representives from the World Bank were making the trip to Gemena he told me that they had been working together on a $120 million dollar agriculture project that was recently approved and is set to begin soon in Gemena. It was a big investment and a big deal for the city of Gemena and the local officials wanted to make sure that the people flying in were received with a proper Congolese welcome that showed them how happy they were to see them.
Just like that our seemingly normal trip to the local airport was turned into an experience that I’ll never forget and once again what we initially expected was flipped upside down and turned 180 degrees into something completely different.
Instead of being dropped off by one of Sanguma’s drivers he ended up driving us, along with some of his most trusted church officials to the airport around 9:00am. When the guard in front of the airport saw who was driving us he quickly said hello to the president and raised the red and white striped gate so that we could park. Instead of driving into the regular parking lot we made our way to what was a type of VIP-only building that was reserved only for the who’s who of Gemena and apparently that included Sanguma. Just like the rest of trip none of us asked questions and just followed him in.
The VIP building included several nice-looking couches and a front row view of the airport runway. When we first arrived we were the first people there, but quickly more and more city officials, miltary leaders and religious represenatives made there way into the building as well. There was also a good-sized crowd forming outside of the building which was made up of the local people of Gemena. Some were playing musical instruments while others were holding huge banners and branches filled with green leaves. All of them were preparing to to sing and dance like crazy once the World Bank officials showed up. Once the band started playing I even saw one woman who was waving around a chicken while she danced and sang to the music.
Sanguma chatting with some of the local officials in the VIP
Stephanie, me and Joan in the airport VIP
the crowd was ready to celebrate
this woman was so excited that she was waving around a live chicken!
the band was getting the crowd fired up
As our jet arrived and was ready for us to board, the crowd only continued to get bigger and only sang louder and louder. The amount of joy and excitement was contagious and I couldn’t help but feel the joy and anticipation that they had for the arrival of their guests. Unfortunately we had to take off before they arrived, but I can only imagine the amount of celebrating that went on at that airport once they did. One thing that the Congolese people can do is celebrate and that day they were pulling out all the stops. We all felt blessed to be a part of it and like I said, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.