(I write as we wait for our ride to the conference center this morning. A ride which is late, of course, but then we are working on African time!)
Our arrival in Congo was far from that which was expected, but it was a great arrival to say the least.
We were greeted with a large party of folks that I later learned were a mix of some locals and some satellite leaders from various places throughout Africa. As if we weren’t surprised to have such a large party waiting to greet us, perhaps an even bigger surprise was that we were greeted not as we got into the terminal, but as we got off of the airplane, still parked out off the runway! After a long day of travel, it was a great joy to have so many smiling, excited faces there to join us, and some familiar and some we looked forward to getting to know in the week to come.
As we walked toward the terminal in a large group, Mama Helene told us to follow her. We went off to the side rather than inside. She led us through some guards who simply nodded at her and allowed her to bring us through, and as we entered the first security gate, we were greeted with a series of photographs being taken and film being rolled as we were led into a VIP room with lots of big, soft couches. They collected passports and took care of the customs for us while we got to know each other a bit, also helping us to skip the hoopla of having to pay off the customs officers to get through. It was a great way to be received.
Upon leaving this private waiting room (which we later discovered we were able to be welcomed into because Mama Helene’s husband is a high official in the national government), our first introduction to the Congo was the roads. The road to the airport was a rare glimpse at a paved road in the country, but at times we weren’t sure if paved was better or not. We did decide that the term “pothole” was never quite sufficient, though, as these were definitely just holes. It was an adage to our adventure, and the more near we drew to the home where we’d be staying, the bumpier the roads (no longer paved) became. No worries, though - by the end of the week we hardly noticed when we were bouncing down a road with our heads knocking together. It was all just a part of the experience.