Much in the same way I was stopped in my tracks by Haiti and my insane love for those memories of rain, motos, rivers and people, is the same way that Congo has unequivocally, captivated me.
Like most other fiery loves, Congo at first didn’t want me. When I first came across the words ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’ in a textbook or paper, my sophomore year in college, and decided that this is where I wanted to work, Congo resolutely shut me out. It was only after two or three years that he finally accepted my love, which had by no means waned, just sat quietly on the back burner, waiting to be ignited again.
And now, Congo, after patiently biding his time with me, giving our relationship false starts like a sputtering engine, or calculating man, has me eating out of his hand, and he knows it. Upon landing in Bujumbura or Kigali, my only thoughts are of the dusty road by the border, the rainy evenings, the tired soles, the mud at Panzi, the Meridien, sombé in town, starry nights and Mutzig at San Jacob, pizza and Primus at Lodge Coco, the sliding along the muddy roads into the interior, the spray of the Lake against my face headed North, whizzing too close past trucks, caramel yellow essence in water bottles, blanket wrapped AK-47s, the dirty green of uniforms, early mornings, late nights, the hum of generators, the glow of candles, the sting of mosquitoes, the third day no-shower smell, the buttery avocado, the jambo’s and the kwaheri’s.
Don’t get me wrong. In this case, love is not blind – it has given me hyper-vision. This love of mine, Congo – is not perfect. He is a bastard, and more often than not, I leave him more exhausted and drained than when I first came. I look a mess, I feel a mess. I’m usually not happy with him and more often than not, I am in a heated argument with Congo. Why can’t you behave? Why can’t you do this, do that, be more like there, be less like this? Why can’t this just work out perfectly?! Why can’t you just be what I want you to be?
Congo doesn’t ever fight back though. He stands back, smiling, with his vast plains, giant mountains, lush forest, still glass lake, mud and torment filled roads, waiting on me to stop shouting into thin air and come on home.
Like a child’s mother or dedicated spouse, I am quick to stand up for Congo and our relationship – because no one, unless you have lived here, understands him. Its impossible to speak about something you don’t know – or to talk about a problem with my Congo when you haven’t shared a Primus beneath the stars, woken up with spatters of mud on your feet, or looked out your window into a hazy, crowded city, awakened by the songs of the fishermen.
But my relationship with Congo, is terse. It is one of those loves that takes your heart on a roller coaster, plunges you deep until you think you are drowning, then releases you, just long enough to enjoy the blackness of the lake, the feel of the silken water, the beat of the sun, the music of the people, before it flings you and hurls you adrift.
And like all other fiery loves, I am constantly aware that my relationship with Congo, this insane, passionate and at times very unrequited love, has the power to destroy me. To rip my heart into shreds until I am unrecognizable as a human, as a being. I know it. We all do. We are not only drawn to Congo, we are compelled here. It is a dangerous, insane, vibrant, life-breathing, life-consuming captivation.
Congo, you have captivated me.