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‘When you get to the fork in the road, carry on straight…’ – Unknown

It has been over two weeks since I arrived in Congo and what an epic adjustment it’s been. Within my first 4 days I had seen my first gorillas, attended my first community meetings and met the president’s wife.

Congo ChroniclesMy first day in the villages was a good indication of what the next month will be like. Although we only managed to do two out of the four villages on the schedule, my brain was rather thankful after 4 hours.

The southern villages speak predominantly Lingala in which about every 5th word is French. So my little lists of vocab were: ENG – FRENCH; FRENCH – ENG; LINGALA – FRENCH – ENG. That’s a concentration headache waiting to happen.

On average though, the people seem to be positive about the park and will hopefully slowly come to realise the great economic potential a special place such as this can hold for them. There is a serious need though for alternative sources of employment and food for a vast majority of people.  Micro-finance ideas anybody?

There is the rather ominous presence of USAID and a local NGO currently doing ebola sensitization in the region. It is believed that the outbreaks occur in 7 year cycles so my excellent timing has landed me right at the beginning of a potential new cycle.

Heading into one of the villages the labourers along the road in the forest kept shouting to us that there were sick people in the village ahead. Being a woman of vivid imagination the butterflies definitely took a spin in my stomach for a second as I suddenly had this de ja vue of an old school Hollywood movie ‘Outbreak’. Thankfully all is quiet on that front although malaria is rife in the area at the moment.

As for the president’s wife, the whole village came to a standstill. We all got commandeered to go and meet her with the local ladies and gents of prominence.  She was in town to open up the new maternity wing at the clinic.

Health care seems to be sorely lacking in this area. Along with a predominance of teachers who buy their diplomas, doctors and nurses are as rare and endangered as the gorillas. One positive out of the exercise was meeting 3 South African helicopter pilots so hopefully there will be some Niks Naks and biltong heading our way in the near future. (I know, no originality in that but you miss the basics.)

Congo ChroniclesThe weekend was spent camping at a place called Mboko, where the previous lodge was located.

Driving into the camp we spotted this curious sign written on the door to the old kitchen where some scouts are now  based. Basically it translates into ‘beware before entering the kitchen, there is a buffalo that lives inside.’ Classic, especially as the buffalo decided to make an appearance in the door. Scouts and buffalo seem to live together quite happily though.

Wilderness Safaris  are currently busy building a road to where their new lodge will be. The most pristine location on the edge of a bai.  Having enjoyed a tam-tam free night and falling asleep to the sound of a hyena close by, we took a hike in the morning to see their location. After 2 hours of crossing a dusty and ash covered savannah and fighting our way through a swamp with grass above my head, we emerged onto this spectacular clearing in the forest.

Congo ChroniclesThe bais are called ‘windows in the forest’, saline clearings where the animals are abundant. Buffalo, collobus monkeys, flocks of African Grey’s although sadly no ellies. There are still ancient pot shards from where people used to come to collect the salt.

The forest is alive with history and it’s even possible to still find massive iron sickles, used as currency from long before colonisation. Tonight I am left wondering whether communication was also better in the pre-colonial period as this is day 7 and counting without cell phone reception.

 

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I’m Catherina Hall-Martin and I’m based out in Congo Brazzaville, currently working as a volunteer for the African Parks Network. Follow my blog posts The Congo Chronicles for stories about working hard to create community development projects around the wilds of Odzala National Park.