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Following Miles' trip with Warchild

We’re on the road to Congo

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Stayed in Kigali last night in Rwanda. It seems like there’s been a lot of development there since the genocide of ’94, and we were lucky to be in a really nice hotel, although out of our party it seems I’m the only one who got a proper nights sleep, which is rare enough for me anyway so greatly appreciated!

Didn’t get to see much as we got there when it was already dark, and having started our journey from London at 3am everyone was pretty tired. We just had a couple of drinks in the bar before I attempted to go and do some work, which is not easy when the shared internet connection for the hotel was on a 56k modem, and when you have no mobile network (cue the o2 users in our party being smug, as they had them!) but did manage to get online for about 10 minutes.

We left this morning at 9am with Michele who runs the War Child DRC operation who was driving us from Kigali to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the WarChildmobil. As we left I caught a quick glimpse of the national football stadium – it really is a universal language – then started on the 3 hour journey on proper tarred roads, something which we won’t be seeing a lot of for the rest of our stay.

As is normal on my roadtrips, I kept an eye out for Coca-Cola logo’s. Here though they are superceeded by those for Skol and Primus, an Africa beer. But, as is the way of the world, everywhere we stopped, there was Coke. They really do get everywhere.

The further away from Kigali we got, the less developed it became, although it’s interesting to see so many new villages being built. The sad thing was to see mass deforestation, but people have got to get heat somehow. The roads started to get a bit more bumpy, the vehicles on the roads changing from motorbikes to bicycles, or people walking miles up mountainous roads to go from the markets to the villages with their goods on their heads, and the occasional van with workers or armed police on the back.

10.30 – we made a quick stop at a little cafe/shop and found some passionfruit squash. Result! Also bizarrely saw a local women wearing a t-shirt with playstation controllers on it. Was about to take a photo but a bunch of police with AK47’s turned up, and the rules are clear that we don’t take any photo’s when someone with a gun is standing near you.

11.40 Just saw my first football shirt out here – the classic Man Utd Sharp sponsored kit. Not surprisingly the guy wearing it didn’t have a Manchester accent. Like Coca Cola, they really do get everywhere.

11.50 Stopped off to take some photo’s of a tea plantation and some very pretty views, and we were immediately surrounded by 20-30 childred. Wendy (one of the people on the trip who works for War Child in the UK) gave them a bag of Haribo, and nearly caused a riot. Not just amongst the kids, but by me in the WarChildmobile – if I’d known she had Haribo, they would have been eaten a couple of hours ago. She made up for it by pulling out a bag of wasabi peas though – I think she had a magic snack bag, where snacks just appear, like one of those magician hats that has a rabbit in it (how DO they do that?).

12.00 Just saw some kids playing football with a ball made of what looked like rubber bands and plastic bags. They had proper goals (no nets) and seemed to be having a lot of fun. Not sure if www.thegreatfootballgiveaway.org.uk have got out here yet, or this close to the border.

12.05 Wendy, the other poor person on Orange, just got connected to a network. Cue excitement for both of us. Then disappointment as it died just as quickly.

12.30 Lake Kivu now in sight. It’s beautiful, and a sign that we’re very close to DRC now, my home for the next couple of weeks. A lovely lunch followed before we got ready to cross over the border.

 

Now, things to remember when at the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, but this is probably the same for most countries.

1) Fill in your visitor card properly. That includes me remembering to fill in my name on the card, especially when I’ve taken so long and asked so many questions about how to fill it in.

2) Take your sunglasses off. Even if you are female, Wendy.

3) Don’t leave, or think you’ve left, your camera at the immigration desk Tom. You can’t go back and get it. Although I’m glad you did just leave it on the seat in the WarChildmobil.

There are huge differences between each side of the border. For a start, one has road, the other doesn’t. The initial roads in DRC are formed from lava that was left over from a Volcano eruption a few years ago. It’s bumpy. It’s dusty. Poverty is everywhere. The buildings around here all seem to be linked to an NGO or charity.

The football support is different too. Gone is Man Utd – this is Arsenal territory. Although I did see one brave soul wearing a Drogba Chelsea shirt.

Within 30 seconds of being as passport control on the DRC side was a child selling second hand trainers, 2 women with food baskets on their heads, one selling cauliflower, and one selling banana’s, and someone selling pirated DVD’s. At passport control.

Once through it was a relatively short journey across the lava roads to War Child’s office. They’ve been without power since yesterday. It’s regular for them to have no power between midday and six every day, but it’s not normally down for this long. It was fantastic to meet the staff there – the work these people do is nothing short of magnificent, and I look forward to sharing some of it with you over the coming days as I get to see the projects.

One security briefing later, and we go off to our hotel. It’s also been without power for a while, although it has come back on now, or else I wouldn’t be able to do this blog! We’ve got a few hours “off” now, which I’m going to use to catch up on a bit of work, and there’s a wedding going on in the hotel. It’s quite surreal congratulating a bride and groom that you’ve never met when 4,000 miles away from home, but the universal language of the “thumbs up” and a round of applause seemed to go down well with them!

I’d also just like to say thank you so much to all of you who have been mailing, tweeting and texting messages to me, and spreading the word about the blog, especially to MCV who have published a story about it today. It really does mean a lot, and anything we can do to increase the knowledge of War Child and their work is fantastic.

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Written by milesjacobson

June 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Hey! great to read this since I’m from the D.R.Congo and FM is one of my favourite game. However the must important thing here is to see read about what you do with War Child org.

    I like the way you depict your trip and I hope to see more picture.

    Rudy Sumi

    June 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    • Thanks Rudy – there are lots of photo’s from Goma and Kivu, but very few from Kinshasa. I have to be very careful what I can put up, and even more careful when taking them in Kin, as I’m sure you’re aware!

      milesjacobson

      June 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm


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