grace in all corners
Well, after five days of travel, four airplanes, six airports, and six countries, I made it to Goma.
It was a highly entertaining taxi ride to Goma (the first question my taxi driver, Moise (Moses), asked was, "Are you a socialist or a capitalist?" I said, "We don't really have very many proper socialists in the United States." "Oh," he replied," then you're a Democrat." It was all I could do not to laugh. The conversation went on from there to what life is like for an immigrant who shows up in the U.S. without a visa or employment to what Moise thinks about female candidates for president (Something to the effect of, "They will always be relying on their husbands.") to whether I think the election of Sarkozy will help improve Franco-Rwandan relations.
We made it to Gisenyi (the town on the Rwandan side of the border) in about three hours, and I walked up to the immigration desk, where my "friend" works. "I still have your gift from last time," he said, referring to the obnoxiously burnt orange Texas hat I left on my final departure last year. (He asked for a gift. What was I supposed to do? All I can say is that crossing that side of the border is ridiculously easy when he's on duty. Ahem.)
By the time I finished those formalities, Moise had arranged for a teenage boy to carry my bags to the other side of the border, which was nice, since he can't drive me to the other side. We walked the 30 or so yards of no-man's land and I started up the steps to the border post and who should be standing there but Wilco Ben! Neither of us could believe it. He was supposed to be gone by now, but changed his mind and extended his stay for a year. He's now posted way far south in Katanga, but is off this week in Gisenyi, so we're going to hang out later this week.
There couldn't have been a better way to arrive in Goma. The border guard, newly attired in uniforms in their freshly painted-and-repaired office, was friendly and expedient. I told him I was doing research, he said, "At Heal Africa?" That's technically true; some of my research is there, so I just said yes, and he let me through with a smile. Two moto-taxis later, I'd arrived at C & E's house, which is lovely. N and I caught up on her work, and I tried to get settled. C & E's home is absolutely lovely; right on the lake and next door to the governor's house, so it's pretty secure. You can see the view from my window above, and my home for the next few weeks below:
No, I am not sharing a room with a baby! The baby stuff was for Ida, whose 13-year-old mother died after giving up on life in a world that failed her. (If you haven't read Ida's story, please read it now. Ida got a miracle.) I am so thankful to be staying with C & E. Not only is it saving me lots of money; it's also so much easier to not have to worry about cooking and transportation and the thousands of other things that make life challenging here. I can walk to Heal Africa from their home if need be, and if something goes wrong in Goma, we are quite close to the peacekeepers' barracks.
Things seem to be getting a little better, at least for some people, in Goma. There are new buildings that hadn't been started when I left, and others going up all over the downtown area that was destroyed by the volcano in 2002. N told me that there are now 350 doses of ARV's for children living with HIV/AIDS, which is an improvement over the 200 that were getting treatment last year. Electricity and water have been running ever since I arrived. This is a small miracle in and of itself.
Despite the fact that it should be the dry season, it is raining, raining, raining. I stopped at Vodacom to get a new SIM card and to get out of the rain. The guy at the desk said, "It's been awhile." Everyone remembers you in Goma.
Anyway, that's all to say, after all my nerves and unhappiness about this trip, I'm so glad to be here. I'm excited to see what's happened with the people and places I know, to see what things have improved, and to learn how to help make them better. I am very concerned about my research, but I think it will be okay. For now, it's enough to rest in a beautiful place and to know that friends are near.