We spent three days on the west side of the country, on the mountainous border with the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). After a 7 plus hour flight, we hopped in a car at the airport and drove for six hours…finally getting lunch/dinner around 10pm. Needless to say it was a very long day on top of a few previous long days.
With feet finally on the ground, the first few problems on the trip occur. Three of us thought that we could pay for our visas with a credit card. Nope. I agreed to pull out enough money for three of us and I was given a pass to get to the ATM. Now, to use the ATM, you need to pass through security…and to get back into immigration, you need to pass through security…with a valid visa. You can see where this is going. In a precautionary moment, I decided to tell the police that I was just using the ATM to get money for my visa and coming right back -showing them the piece of paper I had. Their first response? How much money are you going to get out of the ATM to give us? To let you back in? After a little back and forth, I went to the ATM. A little backstory: I have been keeping track and telling people what the exchange rate is for weeks. In a fuss, I somehow forgot and pulled out next to nothing from the ATM. Less than US$4. I got back into immigration and realized what I did. Thankfully, between the other students we were able to make up to difference and get our visas.
We drove through some rough areas, rough as in poverty not unsafe. For about 2 hours we went through what felt like a non-stop town of storefronts, mud huts and street markets. At one point we were high up on a road and could see a stream down below…and I could see kids with jerry cans fetching water. We drove past countless people carrying jerry cans, including one child who was about the same size as the can. This is where I wanted to work and the people I want to work with…so it’s time to get introduced to what I’ll see…and think about what I can do to help.
So why Fort Potral? One of our friends on the trip had worked in Fort Poteal before with father Adolf and Saint Patrick’s school. She thought it might be nice for some of us to take a break and vacation there for a few days before the trip started. We stayed with a family that is friends with father Adolf; we have breakfast, lunch afternoon tea and dinner with the family. We have been eating hard core local and other than some heartburn (from the plantains and bananas), it has been AMAZING food. We visited the school, got a tour and spent a little time on the grounds. There are some orphans there, special needs kids and kids who are trying to go back to school after dropping out. They put on a traditional welcome show for us, with drums, songs, dancing, etc. It was pretty intense emotionally, but I kept it together. It was a bright spot on the trip for sure.
Last night over dinner, I was talking to Ronald (owner of the house) about his work in water and sanitation. We had a really great conversation, talking about helping people, etc. He was talking about how he feels good helping his people here and things he could do to help them more. It was a long talk and at one point he said something like “See, this is why we [meaning people] need to talk. We are just two people talking about ideas and maybe we can fix something. You can make a job out of this, people will like the ideas and the talk. We do not need these concessions all the time.” –concessions are usually put in place by companies/developers/etc so that they get something out of it, most of the time they are not helpful to the local people. He continued talking about me in particular and said “We need people like you, to talk to us…” it was really humbling. He finished by saying, “We are all the same, the world is just a bigger village now.”
Roger has been working for NGOs for a while. He has a degree in public policy and he is going back to school to get his masters…he’s 42, married with 5 or 6 kids…and another 10 or so that he and his wife look after (food, clothes, schooling and a home). Needless to say, that conversation will stick with me for a long time.