150 mile safari to Kasongo

Img_4014 Posted by David Gough on Tue, 14 May 2013 | 0 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

Kasongo is a strategic town in the province of Maniema, DR Congo. Originally it was the Belgian Administration centre for the province and it had also been the centre of the Arab slave-trade in Zaire (now DR Congo). This predominantly Muslim region is also centre for evangelism and mission in the Diocese of Kindu – this is an area where the Anglican Church has been slow to develop. The nearest active parish is 45km away, but Bishop Masimango has prioritised the building of a Primary School and then plant a permanent church in Kasongo.

Our journey south took us through numerous mud-walled grass or magongu leaf (large leaves) villages on the edge of the jungle. We traversed many rivers sometimes on bridges made of felled trees, many over bailey bridges and on two occasions we actually drove through the river. On our 2-day journey we passed through three Archdeaconries and were warmly greeted at the seven parishes of Kantimba and Kasenga, Kayuyu, Mubunzi, Lumuna, Kunda and Kipaka. We had dinner and slept overnight in Kayuyu, which is 120km from Kasongo.

On the final leg of our journey to Kasongo we had a flat tyre, while the driver changed the wheel, I took a short walk. Only one bicycle and one motorcycle passed me as I strolled down the trail with dense jungle either side. I was greeted with long stares as if to say…what’s that strange Muzungo doing out here? As I turned around to retrace my steps the half kilometre to our vehicle, a Police truck pulled up with about eight officers aboard. They jumped down and started questioning me in French, I panicked and kept walking pointing to the car now driving towards me. We met the Kasongo Police Chief the following day and the Bishop told me that they were surprised to see a Muzungo in the forest and were cautious when they could not see both of my hands. I could have been arrested, but I was certainly the talk of the town! Thankfully, that evening the driver found someone to repair the flat tyre in Kasongo.

Our vehicle also got stuck, literally grounded, in the mud on three occasions – twice on the outskirts of Kasongo, where the road was in atrocious condition. When we tried to get help to push the vehicle out we had many volunteers who were happy to dig and push us out as long as we paid them.

Our final grounding was a few hundred metres from a nearby village. Andrew noticed a woman pointing out another route, she pulled some branches away which hid the trail. Andrew and I walked it, the track emerged from the forest close by someone’s house in the village. Again for a small fee we were told we could use it…and as soon as we dug and pushed the vehicle out…we did.

The Diocese of Kindu stretches over 500 kilometres north to south and over 200 kilometres east to west. That’s bigger than Northern Ireland and, the Bishop informs me, than the neighbouring country of Rwanda. It was the first time in five years that the Bishop was able to make the safari to Kasongo and even he said that the road was now much worse than he remembered.

I could tell you many stories, share several reflections and show you many photos from our grand expedition to Kasongo. However, they cannot accurately reflect the sights, the smells, the jungle sounds, the stifling heat and the abject poverty we witnessed. Nothing can match the feeling of driving through village after village peering in on people’s lives sitting around a fire or meeting by oil light, LED light and torch light and the smells of their evening meal and burning charcoal. There’s nothing like the night-time market beside the Congo River or travelling across the great river in complete darkness.

The 480km three-day round trip from Kindu to Kasongo and back is certainly one that I hope will live on in Gough family folklore for many a generation.

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