So you only know that we finished the Congo Marathon, you may think that was the most important thing. But the time between Kigali and leaving Bukavu I learnt so much and in a small way began to understand and learn more about the DRC. The more I saw and heard, the more (stop saying more) I began to realize that my naïve dream and vision of running for congo was so tiny compared to what has happened in the DRC and continues to this day. I’ve learnt I can no longer do this alone. What I’m about to write and tell you is why we must all continue to be aware of the conflict, because peace is only the answer for the people of the DRC.
As a bit of background. The reason I was so keen to come back to the DRC and get people interested is down to last year. I went to Goma and just walked round like a stupid tourist, I only took and never gave anything back. So basically I was so eager to not just be that guy who goes there to look about. I wanted to do something positive. The people of the DRC deserve better than some ginger guy just observing their lives.
Yeah we got stuck in Kigali for 5 days, this was not the plan. But Monday came and we had collected Nicola, Millie and Fjona from the airport and travelled down through some of the most beautiful landscape that I’ve ever had the privilege of viewing. So many hills and valleys that never ended – it was breathtaking.
We arrived in Cyangugu (I’m going to call my dog cyangugu) at nightfall, all of us pretty tired from the drive. I had earmarked a place to stay and thankfully there was space at the Hotel Du Lac. You could tell a storm was near, the air was so close and my breathing became slightly shorted upon seeing a couple of dudes with sub-machine guns on the door. No room for bell boys in these parts. I felt pretty vulnerable. I could see the bridge over to Bukavu, it resembled a bridge you’d make out of mechano, rusted orange from too much dust and time in the rain.
Like many people, actually probably like most of us I’ve never been in a horror film, but with a torrential rain storm, wind blowing, and an eerie French man who resembled Frank RIbery’s father, and the lights going out, I felt pretty nervous than I let on to the others. The darkness of the night and light glow from a candle sent my mind flying back to my time in Goma last year, my stomach was churning.
To lighten the mood we told stories to one another. I told one about the London Ultramarathon – they all found it pretty funny so I’ll quickly recap it:
Basically, the day before the London Ultramarathon I sank about 3 pints and ate a shed load of spaghetti. This didn’t go down too well on the run. After about 30 minutes I need to stop for the toilet. Then again 20 mins later, I had ran out of paper by this point. Then I was forced to use a spare t-shirt when there was no paper left. Then at the 5th time of asking I was left with two options, give up on the race or tearing the lining out of my running shorts with my teeth and use that. I took the later option. Supposedly this is quite funny, it wasn’t at the time!
After a while we headed to bed. For the first night of many I had to sleep in the same bed as Dom. I was hoping that the complementary condoms on the bed wouldn’t give Dom any ideas! Looking back on it the prospect of sharing a bed with Dom, made me more scared that anything that the DRC could offer. My fears were confirmed in the morning when he had crammed me to one side of the bed!
As soon as I woke up I was edgy, the two cups of strong coffee didn’t help. I was pretty stressed by this point. I just wanted to be there in the DRC, I had been working towards this day for over 4 years. I was getting frustrated at times as the others were taking too long in my mind. In retrospect I should have chilled out, it is easy to forget that it was a big day for them too.
I went to the border to scout things out, felt pretty intimidated. I was met by Vincent, the driver from Women for Women, he was an absolute star the whole time there. We drove across the border and got pushed into the border office to have our Visas checked. Me and Millie had been comparing visa – mine and Dom’s looked pretty basic compared to theirs.
Fjona’s visa got the thumbs up from the border official. Then when I gave him mine, you could tell something was up.
We were told that we had bought a visa in Kigali that was only valid for Rwandans! We were never told this. Because of this we were not allowed into the DRC. It was at this point that it dawned on me on how much I cared for this, I could feel the bile drawing up into my mouth. I couldn’t believe this. A prime case of so close but yet so far. I felt so angry and upset. It just didn’t seem fair. FUCKSAKE.
After some amazing lingual skills by Fjona, we were then told that me and Dom could enter DRC for a day. With this is in mind we had one day to do the marathon. My mind switch from being hurt and angry to – if we have one day then lets make this the best day- I smiled at the official and said thanks. I was ready to do the run that day. However, with a bit more negotiation we had persuaded them to let us stay in the DRC. There was one condition, we could never leave and come back. As we had basically pissed our money up the wall in Kigali and on visas we were pretty short on cash by this point. Accommodation in Bukavu…hmmm. we never planned to stay the night there for security reasons.
Once I had chilled out I was able to take in the beauty of Bukavu. A city that is made up of 1 million, set on a lake with hills all around it. It should be paradise.
I’m conscious that I’m rambling a fair bit, so I’ll let post again later to explain what happened on the others day. I come to learn more about the DRC in these short days, that I could ever learn through books or articles.