Congolese heat to British winter

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.

Trying to make foufou in Kitutu.  At least my team were kind enough to eat what I had prepared.

Trying to make foufou in Kitutu. At least my team were kind enough to eat what I had prepared.

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.

A young boy standing outside a shop selling gold

A young boy standing outside a shop selling gold

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.

Me with helmet

Me with helmet

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.

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19 Responses to “Congolese heat to British winter”

  1. shu en Says:

    welcome home Harriet :) !! have a well earned rest now, you surely deserve it

    and i’m sure Congo and its people are going to miss you loads..

  2. Kerri Johnson Says:

    You brought a piece of the Congo day alive for me with this piece. What I take as a simple thing like making dinner, which i often just stop and buy already made , you have described as this day long chore. What must go into the day to assure that there is dinner at the end of the day, the work involved…

  3. Pam Strobel Says:

    I can’t believe the synchronicity of your blog and the blog I am trying to get done.

    I’ve spent 3 weeks with the Anglican Province in DRC in Bunia, Boga, Kinshasa and Mbuju-Mayi. Thank you for your great blog and blessings as you re-enter Western life.

    ps I support MSF financially and was so pleased to see their presence in Bunia, Boga and Kinshasa. The work you all do is priceless.

  4. Denise Kraft Says:

    I want to say, “YOU ARE APPRECIATED!”
    Good job and thank you for caring.
    Blessings on you!
    Denise Kraft R.N. Santa Cruz, CA

  5. nestor M.D. Says:

    good to hear from you and to have a glimpse of your last journey in the Congo. So you will forget the chuch going?

  6. nestor M.D. Says:

    Wish you all the best in your homeland. Thank you for my continent and country you haplily served for all these years. God bless and reward you in return.

  7. Alys Milner Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love the image of the children in the puddles. My son also runs out into the rain and stays till he’s soaked.

    Our lives are so privileged. I’ve often wished I had the strength and courage to go an make a difference in these areas of need. Kudos to you and to those that do.

  8. rosemary baxter Says:

    kia ora from new zealand

    just read your blog…, very moving. i am a registered nurse, do you work alongside nurses at all?

    yours sincerely

  9. Vicky Says:

    I am happy that you are returning home after your sacrifice and service to these people of Africa, but at the same time, sad to read your last post! I had always hoped I could eventually do something with my medical career as you have, and have the utmost and greatest respect and admiration for you and your collegues! Blessings, and Safe Travels Home.


  10. Brian Lawlor Says:

    Thanks for keeping us posted. Media acts as the developing ears,eyes and voice allowin gus to read your reports and those of the world to which I greatly appreciate..thanks again for keeping us posted..what they have endured over time and the abilty of people to cope during harsh times. Take care out there.

  11. Joanna Says:

    Thank you for sharing your observations of life in the Congo on this blog. we sponsor a child in the DRC and I am always looking for articles etc. that will give me a better idea of the area. Mostly what I find are articles about the political problems, atrocities and horrors. I admire you and your colleagues for your courage in tending to people in these types of places.
    Joanna Meyerstein

  12. Colleen Says:

    Congratulations on a wonderful 5 year journey. To spend your time in a difficult terrain to help others is just fantastic. To read your article, tickled an emotional cord within me and tugged at my heart strings.
    I too would like to do some work within the International Health realm as a nurse, but not sure at this time where to begin. If you have any suggestions, they would be most welcome.

    All the best for your next adventure.

    Colleen Fossey – Perth, Western Australia

  13. Kathleen Bourchier Says:

    What a magnificent contribution you are making to a better world. I am greatly humbled, reading your blog and feeling your commitment. I hope you settle back into UK life on terms that work for you. I suspect that you will never be far from places that need you.

    Bless you and have a Happy Easter.

  14. Christine George Says:

    Dear Harriet,
    If only there were millions more like you. How much could be accomplished in this world. Everything you have done to help those less fortuanate is wonderful. The world is blessed by your presence.

    Christine George

  15. joan ota Says:

    Thank you for the memories…I lived in the DRC more than 30 years ago.
    I could smell the rain on the dust, see the little kids waving and yelling
    “muzungu,” as I thought it takes a trip to Africa to be considered “muzungu.”
    (I am an Asian American.)

    I only found your last blog from Kitutu while lookin at an entry on Facebook. I will
    attempt to find and read more.

    Good luck to you in readjusting to Britain….it was harder than I thought it would be when I left the then Zaire.


  16. Pascale Brabant Trouve Says:

    I want to wish you well.
    To thank you for all what you have done.
    And I hope that some of those nice smell will stay in your memory for a long time.

  17. Herm Says:

    Awesome work and a wonderful blog.

    Biking in a UK city will be no where near as exciting or fulfilling!

  18. Antonina Says:

    Hi Harriet!
    You did great job. I will wait for you next blog-reports.

    Take care

  19. David Patterson Says:

    Wish you could continue to share your journey with us on this blog. Are you writing somewhere else? Would love for you to get in contact with me. We might have some interesting medical opportunities for you.