Kinshasa Week 5…
… except I’m not in Kinshasa. I’m in a town in the East called Kindu which is the provincial capital of a province known as Maniema. Maniema is one of the most isolated places in the DRC. You can’t fly in directly; you fly to Kinshasa, then Kisangani then into Kindu if you are on a UN flight. But if you are flying commercial, you fly from Kinshasa, then Kisangani, then Goma and then finally into Kindu. And we’re not talking about short hops either. The flight between Kinshasa and Kisangani is about 4 hours – the two cities are in different time zones. Then an hour and a half into Kindu or 2 hours to Goma and then into Kindu. Its mentally draining but I’m glad I did it if for no other reason than I got to see the other side of the country, and got to go off the beaten path.
Kindu is the provincial capital – and province in the DRC doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as in other countries. Province here means the equivalent of state in the US or province in Canada. When you think of things in the DRC you have to supersize them. The local tributary is bigger than most rivers in other parts of the world (it’s bigger than the Orange in South Africa). I mean the province of Orientale is about 3 times the size of Spain! Even though it’s the capital, Kindu feels a lot like my village in Kenya. Seriously, it’s uncanny. Everything from the sand, to the palm trees, to the facilities (not)available. Its been like going to shags to visit grandma and them. Really really cool, for the most part.
But. And there’s a big one. Maniema is surrounded by 3 provinces that are at the heart of the current crisis in the DRC. This means that insecurity is such a big problem here. Well, not traditional insecurity like the one we get in Nairobi but just being at the risk of war and at the risk of being attacked. It’s actually quite scary, and two nights ago, I didn’t sleep at all because there had been a gruesome murder a couple hundred metres from where I work, and there was a soldier in the camp near my house who had committed suicide. Two random and unconnected events I suppose, but enough to remind me of my vulnerability. The people who live in Kindu are people too, but at the same time, they seem resigned. I can’t explain it. Knowing that the head of the host family I’m staying with had been in the military didn’t make me feel better. It just frightened me more.
Being in Kindu the last week has been great though for helping me get some clarity on the direction my life is going in. The DPhil would have been a bad idea. A terrible idea. Not in and of itself, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I keep feeling this pressure to be ready and stuff, you know, for LIFE, in part because all my friends are moving on with things. But the reality is that I’m just not there yet. I still don’t know where all of this is going although I have a better idea now that I’ve more or less eliminated general development work. Honestly, I respect the people who can do it, but I’m just not one of them. I need some kind of structure or a sense that the work that I’m doing is going somewhere. I can’t just be about chugging along developing plans and lobbying donors and all that nonsense.
If there was some way in which I could see my work actually making a difference in the day to day lives of people in the DRC, I’d probably feel differently about this whole adventure. But from where I’m standing, all this policy business is well and good in the classroom but thoroughly useless on the ground. And I say this as a person who’s just spent a year at one of the best universities in the world, studying with some of the best in the field, doing EXACTLY what I spent all that time studying, in one of the most challenging but occupationally rewarding environments in the world. Honestly, I feel so useless a lot of the time. I don’t think more graduate school will help that so much. So now I’m looking into professional school.
Let’s see how that goes!
KT, gaining clarity.