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Episode VI from Cade on our Trans Africa Expedition – for those of you that find large groups of children a bit scary!

With a very recent history of political unrest, violent uprisings and consistently high crime rates across the country, it is no wonder the Democratic Republic of Congo is considered somewhat of a black hole in the dark continent of Africa. The name itself immediately conjures images of darkness, mystery and violence. While she does have the ability to petrify people in a sense of fear, DR Congo (or ‘The Doctor’ as I playfully refer to her) also has the ability to tickle the loins of excitement to those venturous enough to set foot on her soil. Although our ‘necessary travel’ through The Doctor was to only include three days from border to border, our veins were overrun with nervous electricity the day our passports were stamped entry.

Digging the Oasis Overland truck out of a boggy roadIt took a mere matter of hours from the time of entering her territory for us to be dealt our first damaging blow at the hands of The Doctor. The road conditions rough and unpredictable as they were took their toll on our truck, and cracked a rear spring stopping us dead in our tracks. In the scorching heat of the early day it took a number of hours and numerous buckets of sweat to get ourselves up and running again. It was then we were able to breathe a heavy, yet temporary sigh of relief.

Three days passed and as a result of our spring set-back and rough road conditions we had not covered as much ground as we’d hoped, and had fallen behind. We rolled into the town of Matadi tired and weary, and in desperate need of a rest. We decided to recuperate and sought refuge in the safe grounds of a nunnery.

Polite, kind and friendly the nuns were all too happy, welcoming us and taking us in as their guests. While we were at first appreciative that we were free to make use of their showers and toilets, the fact that there was no running water put that to an abrupt end. The nuns assured us that we would be safe within the grounds of their enclosure and were free to set up our tents in the courtyard. As they were women of the church and we were people in need, they granted us a discount and charged us ‘mates rates’ of $5 per person. Like the signing of a deed to a haunted house, it wasn’t until an agreement was reached that one simple warning was given: ‘come morning, come children.’

While many of us enjoyed the afternoon in town, night time eventually fell on Matadi and with it a degree of nervousness and anxiety as to what the night would bring. Our group all returned to the grounds inebriated yet safe and took to setting up their tents in the courtyard as instructed. As a means of security, I set up my mosquito net next to our truck.

Having slept in a mosquito net most nights since my first overland trip some five years ago, I like to think that my years of experience have given me a sixth sense when it comes to matters of safety, security and most importantly predicting the weather. Knowing when to hold my ground and when to run for cover has become a vital instinct in the never-ending quest for peaceful sleep.

So when the sun rose over the hills of Matadi bringing an end to the night, it meant we had endured another incident-free safe night’s sleep. It was then that the first few children appeared. I woke up, I quickly identified them as non-threatening and treated them just as I would a few raindrops; I rolled over and went back to sleep figuring it was nothing to worry about.

When a few more droplets arrived dressed in full school uniforms, I opened my eyes to see them stood over my net smiling. I simply waved to them, closed my eyes and assuming it was a light shower that would soon blow over, once again drifted back off to sleep.

It must have been a deep sleep I had fallen into because when I finally did wake up, it certainly wasn’t due to my sixth sense alarm that had been sounding for some time. Nor was it to the code red calls that were echoing through my skull. I sat to attention to discover a crowd of children had surrounded my net and were laughing, singing and playing in total disregard for my will to sleep. As a result of the Oasis Overland crisis situation training, I instinctively thought of the rest of the group.

In the distance, from the direction of the courtyard I could hear what I thought was singing and feared the worst. I leapt out of bed like our lives depended on it and ran through the ocean of chaos to the courtyard. It was there I discovered my worst fears had come true.

A flash flood had ripped through the nunnery and an ocean of children singing, and dancing in unison were being led around the courtyard by none other than the nuns themselves. Our unsuspecting group stood soaked with fear and surprise, their backs to the wall with looks of total bemusement slapped across their faces. Their tents that up until now had weathered a variety of extreme conditions were unable to take the raw power of the storm, and had been swiftly packed away and abandoned. We were left drenched, afraid and homeless.

For about an hour chaos reigned as we watched on, comforted each other and wondered when, if ever the storm would pass. It was only when all the damage had already been done that the bell sounded for the start of class and the storm gradually began to subside. The children slowly began making their way to their classrooms and with the exception of only a few droplets remaining, the courtyard was soon clear. Like a stubborn old ship captain I had drastically underestimated the severity of the oncoming storm and realised the error in my ways when it was all too late. My ship had sunk and so too had my sixth sense that I had believed in for so long.

The Democratic Republic of Congo as I now respectfully refer to her certainly had no trouble exceeding her reputation as an icy, cold-hearted mistress. The use of children as a form of ammunition and a school disguised as a nunnery to provide a false sense of security to travellers has proven to be the most ingeniously lethal combination since sleeping pills and alcohol. The Democratic Republic of Congo proved beyond doubt to us that her soil certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted; and while three days is barely enough to scratch her surface, we learned that it was more than enough to scar us for life.

Posted in Africa, All Blogs.

2 Responses

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  1. Kenzie says

    And no mention of ‘Primus’!

  2. Sanj aka Rafiki says

    Cade your my hero.

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