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Driving to Bukavu

We arrived safely in Bukavu yesterday. Interesting story, to say the least. Unfortunately, we are still dealing with the slow internet connections at internet cafes, so I cannot upload the photos.

We were told we would leave at 7:00am We were up, packed and ready. Flory and Amina showed up a little after 8:00am. Apparently there was trouble exchanging some of our money (they demand perfect bills if you pay in American), and it was more difficult than they expected to hire a car. But they made it, we all piled into the car and off we left for Uvira were we were to catch a bus.

We took a photo of the speedometer because we knew no one would believe us how quickly they drive here. We were driving 110-120 down a only large enough to fit two cars – mostly paved road with people walking on each side. There are no speed limits, no traffic lights and no stop signs. It is the “law of the jungle” as Dr. Florimond put it – the one who gets there first goes. So the drivers are like NYC taxi drives on speed and/or cocaine. They honk as they come to corners to warn oncoming traffic and people. You must get out of the way – they will not stop. And they drive so close to the people we were sure we were going to kill someone. Thankfully, everyone survived.

In Uvira we got our first taste of Muzungu “white person” celebrity. They had us sit inside the bus office, and people walked by just to look in. Some people even came in to shake our hands and try to show off their English. We stepped outside with Aminia and caused enough commotion for the bus station workers to send us back inside.

We only saw a small part of Uvira, but it reminded us of Bujumbura – which reminded me of Juarez, Mexico. Walls everywhere, old run down buildings, dirt roads and sidewalks. But it is a very busy city. It was here that Tammy bought a sim card for her phone. The bus we were to take was a van that Flory had hired to take us to Bukavu – so we were not piled in with 14 other passengers. But the seats were hard and the roads – even the good ones- are bumpy and full of pot holes. We knew it would be a long bumpy ride, so we had prepared by taking a Dramamine before we left Bujumbura.

Neither I nor Tammy realized that to get from Bujumbura to Bukavu you need to travel into Congo, into Rwanda and then back into Congo. We only had single entry visas into Congo – so we had to take the “bad” road from Uvira to Bukavu. It was definitely a road – carved out of the mountain. It was dirt, and just wide enough for two cars (although that would be a very tight squeeze in parts of it). You looked over the edge of the mountain, with no guard rail, at the beautiful scenery. We saw the river and the mountains in Rwanda. So why is it the bad road? The rocks and potholes made for a very slow, very bumpy ride. The van shook so much you would have thought it would fall apart, and twice I swore we broke something under the van. The strangest thing to us was that despite the bumps and driving on the edge of a cliff Tammy and I were so calm the whole time. We don’t know if it was the peace of God or the Dramamine.

We drove through several smaller towns on the way, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant where we had our first taste of fufu. We drove through Nayngezi and ended in Bukavu late in the afternoon. I have pictures of the people, mountains and houses along the way – but those will have to wait until we get a better internet connection.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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