Monday, May 01, 2006

First pictures from Bukavu

I arrived in Bukavu on Monday afternoon, after a 3 hour drive from Butare. We drove through Nyungwe Forest and saw a few black and white Colobus monkeys on the way. There are many differences here from my life in Butare. To begin with, this is a much larger town with many more people, and much more going on in the way of general commerce, markets, restaurants, and various offices and institutions. There's also a UN mission (MONUC) based here, with various MONUC buildings and other UN agencies around town. MONUC vehicles with armed soldiers regularly patrol the streets. A variety of police and other military groups are also frequently in evidence. The general population seem pretty relaxed about it all. The INGO expat staff are all linked into a security network with frequent radio checks (I have the two-way radio with me when at home, and carry it if I go out in the evening). All the INGOs are located in one small area of town close to the border with Rwanda, and the area is regularly patrolled by MONUC. I'm glad I had the security training while in Holland.

Work is very different from before. I'm with a much smaller organisation, with only two expats here. Some things are much more efficient: I had a new laptop immediately, and business cards within two days (they took almost two years on my last job - I received them just a few weeks before leaving!). On the other hand the office and living quarters are combined in a small house, and I find this a little strange. Our living room doubles as a meeting room, with my desk in a corner. The advantage is that I have internet access most of the time (unless it's down). Once we move to separate house and office (as planned, when we can find something suitable), then there'll be no internet access at home. For the time being my personal space consists of one bedroom, so I have yet to unpack most of my things. I had a large portion of a six-bedroom house to myself before, so this requires some adjustment! At least I still have a view, and from my desk I can gaze out the window and look across at the hillside which is Rwanda, just across the narrow inlet of lake that lies between our hillside and the opposite one.

A few other differences: people here are generally much friendlier and more easy-going than in Rwanda. Social events are far less formal, as evidenced by the leaving party held for a colleague here compared with the one held for me when I left Butare. And even though everyone in Butare seemed convinced that prices in Bukavu would be cheaper, everything here is much more expensive than in Rwanda - except, for some inexplicable reason, powdered milk, which is considerably cheaper. So far I've already been out to four different restaurants in town, out of which three were pretty good and one was just average. Service is faster than in Rwanda - thank goodness! Gerda's place (the subject of the New York Times travel article, posted earlier) is very good, with a modern, bright decor - all exotic flowers and plenty of the local carved figures which Congo is famous for.

The office/house with a volleyball net on the front lawn - a rare small piece of flat land on the slopes surrounding Lake Kivu.

Looking across the inlet to Rwanda - the red and white antenna tower marks the border between Rwanda and DRC.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are reading your blog and we love it.

write more.