Although the plane circled once to announce our arrival, I could already see the small crowd that had gathered to welcome me. Lined up to the runway, Bruce, our pilot for that day, started our descent. Vast, green and seemingly empty forest gave way to the tukuls and the dirt paths that make up the village of Shamwana. We dropped quickly to the grassy runway and, after a couple of small bounces, were safely heading toward the end of the runway and the crowd that was waiting.
Before the engine had stopped, they started to sing. Kate, my Project Coordinator and new boss, was also returning to the project after a week in our headquarters for meetings and exclaimed “Look…they are singing! They are singing for you Grant!”
…and they were. Something like “Welcome, welcome, welcome, Mr. Grant…welcome to Shamwana…welcome to logistics…”. The singers were about 25 of my new staff members, a couple of fellow Expats and at least as many kids who had gathered to see just who this new Mazungo was. Incredible. The singing continued as I got out of the plane and headed towards them. Everyone, including myself, had huge smiles on our faces. Handshakes and introductions followed as I met, for the first time, a large part of my new African family. It is really something special to feel so welcome by total strangers.
Our cargo – 1000 mosquito nets, a cold box full of fresh food, 2 cases of beer, some Christmas treats and a bunch of personal luggage – was quickly loaded into an awaiting land cruiser and off to our base. Since Bruce was on a pretty tight timeline and there were storm clouds gathering, the next passengers quickly signed the manifest, loaded the plane and, before I knew it, the plane was off to its next destination and simply a spec in the sky.
We chose to walk and, before I knew it, I had a small black Congolese hand in each of mine as the children led me to the center of town. What a picture…these small children confidently pulling this tall Mazungo into a completely foreign environment. This was it…after 5 airports, 3 days of briefings in the provincial capital and so much anticipation; I had arrived in the village of Shamwana in the remote plains of Katanga, the southern-most province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I had also arrived in what was to be my new home for the next 6 months, at my second mission as a logistician with MSF and, truly, in the heart of Africa.
…it was absolutely an amazing welcome.