The Heart of Darkness

Admit it. Heart of Darkness is what first comes to mind when you think about the Congo.  It is the first thing many people say to me when I tell them that we are moving to Congo in July.  “Yikes,” they say. “The Heart of Darkness.”

Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and, while some things may not have changed (the Congo is still “a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land”), we are not moving to the Congo of Conrad’s time, any more than D.C. is similar to its former self, or, if you moved to Charlotte you’d find a city of 7,084 people that looked like this:

Charlotte 1899

To be sure, Kinshasa is also not a first world metropolitan city, but it may not be what most people are expecting when we tell them where we are going either.  Obviously even I was not very well informed when we first learned we were going to DRC – I called it “West Africa  (home of war torn strife and ebola).”

So, first, it’s not West Africa – it’s actually Central Africa.  Second, while ebola the disease got its name from Ebola the river, which is a tributary of the Congo River and is located in the DRC, it turns out that the disease actually began miles from the Ebola River, and, in the current outbreak that dominates the news, no cases of the disease have been identified in DRC.  There have been plenty of prior outbreaks in the DRC, but most were in rural areas and, from what we’ve read, the population understands Ebola better than in many other African countries and treats preventative measures seriously.  As of today this is what the ebola outbreak looks like in Africa:

no ebola

Our new home is approximately 7 hours – by plane – from this area.  Don’t worry, a trip to Liberia is not on our “Bucket List for Africa.”

What is on the bucket list? We’re not sure yet.  But there are a lot of options.  There is even an entire blog with a list (or several) of things to do in DRC and Kinshasa.  We’ll take our time getting adjusted, but we’ll also enjoy our time in Congo – that’s part of the point of this adventure, right?

When I have travelled in the past, I have always been sad that I couldn’t really immerse myself in any culture in a week, or two, or even three.  But now I have two years.  Two years to learn more about the Democratic Republic of the Congo than I ever thought I’d know. It’s crazy, but exciting.

One other thing I’ve learned in the last few weeks is that we won’t be taking any “weekend” trips to other places in Africa (beyond Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, which is right across the Congo River from Kinshasa).  I knew Africa was big, but the sheer enormity of this continent is a little mind boggling.

real-size-of-africa

Crazy, eh? If you take out China and Japan you can add Canada to the list to the left instead (at 9.985 km squared).  That means that the entirety of North America fits into Africa, along with a good portion of Europe, as well as India and several other countries.

My parents want to meet us in Cape Town – it’s an eight hour flight.  Farther than flying from D.C. to London.  Farther than flying from D.C. to Denver AND back.   Our friends J and B are moving to Agadir, Morocco.  To visit them it would be a 10 hour flight – I could go to L.A. and back from D.C. in the same amount of time.  And that doesn’t take into account the fact that there is no such thing as a flight from Kinshasa to Agadir.  To fly there we would have to fly from Kinshasa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (yes, for those who are familiar with a map of Africa that is on the other side of the continent from Kinshasa and Morocco), then to Cairo, then to Casablanca and then to Agadir.  That is the fastest way – it would take over 24 hours of traveling.

One of my friends wondered if we could drive instead.  It’s impossible to say – since there are no passable roads that stretch between Kinshasa and Agadir.  Of course, even if there were it would be literally days of driving.  Given this image though it may be worth it…

Agadir

The bottom line is that I’m really hoping we get to explore other places in Africa while we’re there on this tour, but I’m definitely learning that I need to manage my expectations.  Still, while the world is a big place, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Well…How did I get here?

As I’ve told people our news a number of them have asked me what made B want to pursue a career in the Foreign Service, so I thought I’d share that story here as well.

If I had to guess, when B and I met at a little pub on 5th Street in 2006, he could never have imagined that 8 years later the two of us (and C; oh, and Miller the dog) would be packing up, leaving Charlotte and heading to an as yet unknown foreign city to serve our country.  He had just bought a house, and a puppy (which he used shamelessly to entice me into accepting a first date), and, I’m pretty sure, imagined his life proceeding in the typical dating, marriage, kids fashion.

And, I’ll admit that, while I’ve always had some wanderlust – and had no dog and a house I’d been in for 6 years – I also saw my life proceeding forward in Charlotte – even if not in the typical fashion.

Then, for Labor Day 2006 I invited B to come with me to Mexico City to visit my friend J, her husband N, and their new baby, B.  With us were two of my best girlfriends from law school, who, along with J, formed a multi-sided place where I, to this day, go to get the very power that often sustains me = Girl Power. J was an FSO, in the middle of her second tour at the embassy in Mexico City.

So we went to Mexico City and visited J & N in their fabulous condo supplied by the USG, we ate wonderful food (and drank wonderful drink), we toured the Mexican Embassy, we visited the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico’s home (at the time he was married to the heiress of Modelo, so their home was, uh, quite nice) and actually met him and shook his hand.  To say that this was pretty cool is an understatement.

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Then we managed to top even that and the seven of us (four women and three men, we left Baby B at home) drove to Acapulco and rented a house for 4 days.  It was, as they say, the bombdiggity. We had a wonderful chef at the house and a young man who brought us drinks by the pool as we lounged.  Let’s just say this, too, did not suck

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During this trip B talked a lot to J & N; he asked them a lot of questions about their lives, how they had gotten interested in the FS, and what had led them to Mexico.  And, while no one was under any illusion that the way we lived in Acapulco was in any way the way an FSO typically lives, the prospect of visiting and living in these amazing places got under B’s skin.

I didn’t have enough interest in the overall workings of the State Department and foreign policy (especially given that I was, at that time, not even a U.S. Citizen) for it to peak my interest the way it peaked B’s, but I’ve always had an interest in adventure, so I have been, and still am, B’s biggest supporter in making the dream that was born in Mexico a reality.

J and N have amazing careers in the FS – and I can only hope we get as lucky as they have been in that respect.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful that we have them (and our friend P) to help us along the way.

And we may find ourselves in another part of the world…