This will be my last blog from Kitutu, as I am at the end of my contract and heading back to England next week. I’m starting my mental preparations to adapt from jungle living in the Congolese heat, to city living in the British winter. Having spent the last 5 years working on humanitarian projects in Africa, with short breaks in between each mission, the effects of “culture shock” have faded. There are always a few things which manage to stop me in my tracks when I get back to England…the choice of products in the supermarkets, the anonymity in the streets, the bombarding of adverts…but it doesn’t take long to get back into the swing of my other life.
What is more difficult is to keep the memories alive – the sights, sounds and smells. I think that Congo, more than other countries I have visited in Africa, can overwhelm the senses. The love of Congolese people for music is renowned. You cannot listen to a popular Congolese song on the radio without a few people getting off their chairs (or motorbikes!) to dance.
The sound which I will be happy to forget is the church bell in Kitutu at 5.45am each morning, just 20 metres from my bedroom. In fact it is not really a bell, but a metal container which is hit very hard with a stick. It seems to do the required job however of waking up the whole village.
A sight that will stay with me is of women all day long carrying out endless chores to make sure their family can eat in the evening. From morning to evening, you see the women working in the fields, collecting the water and firewood, preparing the foufou, grinding the manioc leaves, washing the clothes…the list is pretty endless.
Last Sunday I spent the morning with our cook in the kitchen. I asked her to let me prepare the meal for our team, with her guidance. I spent the next 2 hours sweating in the kitchen as I ground the manioc leaves with a 1m wooden pestle, and mixed the manioc flour with boiling water to make the foufou. By the end, I had an even deeper respect for the burden which Congolese women live with every day. I was exhausted, and I hadn’t even done any of the preparation work to fetch the water and make the fire.
There are many other sights which I will not forget from Kitutu – the rickety bridges which I was so nervous to cross on the first day; groups of young children jumping up and down with excitement to see a muzungu woman arrive in their village; the bicycles piled so high with merchandise that you can’t even see the person pushing it; the incongruous mix of gold mines in an area of such poverty.
As for the smells, the one which I love the most here is the rain on the dusty roads. Unlike at home, where the umbrellas go up and the head goes down in a bid to reach the destination as soon as possible, out here the rain puts a smile on people’s faces. Especially the children. That first smell of rain is an open invitation for children to strip off their clothes and go and jump in the huge puddles.
So while the MSF team will continue to provide medicine by motorbike to the displaced families around Kitutu, I will be heading home with some of these memories in my mind. Thank you for reading, and until the next time.