We are driving home from the school, six of us in an old Izuzu (sp?) Trooper that has to be jump started each time. Well, maybe it isn't old. It's just weary and worn from working so hard in this place. The driver has to make sure to park the vehicle heading out, and preferably down a slight incline. . I don't know which of the gauges on the dashboard work and which do not, with the exception of the gas gauge. It always registers Empty. David Kasali is driving tonight.
It is 6:30, or 7:00 or 7:30 and the night sky has covered this part of Congo. Time is a different, more friendly construct here. There are some stars, but swaths of cloud mask the moon. The first few miles of our drive is along a 3-mile stretch of road that is part of a longer road the Chinese are paving. Well, they are providing the materials. The Congolese are providing the cash and the labor. Some have said that Congo will be indebted to the Chinese for years for this road. But that's something for another time.
A road under construction here is not a road under construction in the U.S. For one thing, in the 9 days or so that I've been here, no tar has been laid down on the road. The surface is hard-packed gravel. Already the rains are beginning to rut the surface in places. Perhaps later on there will be tar.
This is an example of why the work and vision of UCBC are so vital. Without national leaders, politicians, business people, policy-makers to engage in international relations for the benefit of this country, other interests will take advantage. Secure contracts to deliver the much-needed services and infrastructure, but without the oversight to ensure quality work.
But back to the drive.
We bump along in complete darkness. Absolute darkness. The kind of darkness you only experience if you are completely out in the wilderness or deep in rural America, far away from the glow of commerce. The only lights are from the stars, the feeble headlights on the Trooper, the occasional vehicle we pass or meet along the way, and the darting single headlight and red taillight of the "motos" that weave in and around. These "motos" and the ubiquitous black bicycle are the public transportation of at least this part of Congo.
There are no traffic lanes or shoulders. In general, vehicles stay on the right of the road. But is perfectly acceptable to pass any truck or moto or van that you come upon and that isn't moving as fast as you'd like. The only rule of the road I've picked up is, "Honk if you come upon someone on a bike or moto or on foot who you might hit if they didn't move."
Did I mention that there are no streetlights? No traffic lights? No gas stations, CVS stores or Krogers to light the way? But there are people everywhere. It is still early evening. People on the move. Men, women, children. Going home. Going to places of work. Going about life. People carrying water. People carrying jugs of petrol lashed to their bikes. People hauling bags, the size of square hay bales, filled with charcoal. The road is furiously busy with people. People appear out of the dark, just barely in front of our headlights. We didn't have rain today, so the dust is thick. The light from our vehicle scatters in it, making it even more difficult to see and steer clear of the people in the road.
Along the road are dwellings and businesses. Some shed a glow of orange, yellow, or white out the tiny openings that are windows, or out their open doors.
We come to the place where we turn off the main road into our quarter of town, Ndoni. It is a busy 3-way intersection. There are usually vendors of various fruits, vegetables, and fuel. This evening is no different. I am stunned, though, as the turnoff appears so suddenly out of the dark.
The roads through Ndoni are not under construction. They are hard-packed, red clay whose surface is under constant onslaught by rain and vehicles. The roads are also narrow. Two vehicles can pass, but must navigate the people and vendors who line the edges of the road.
Paul Robinson has referred to Congo as a "fractured and beautiful place." Every day, every new sight and sound confirms that to me. Tonight is no different.
It is still dark. There are no traffic lights or streetlights here, either. David sings a hymn softly in his resonant baritone. It is a tune I recognize, but cannot call up. When I ask David the title, he says, "Ah...I do not know. I'm singing French, Swahili, and Lingala. That is how confused mind is tonight."
We arrive home. Park the car. David claims with reverence, "Thank you, Jesus."
The swaths of cloud are receding, and the sky is rich in stars.