I finally took a trip across the Congo River this week. I’ve wanted to go for a long time and we were opening a new community bank on a day that worked with my schedule so I went. The canoes look small from my apartment but they’re really huge. Occasionally I’ll see people pushing one down the street on a large wheeled contraption - they must weigh at least a few tons and they are very stable in the water. It gave me a completely new perspective of canoe travel as we zipped past other boats with 40 or more people lining the sides and merchandise in the middle. The trip takes about five minutes in a motorized boat and up to 30 or 40 minutes when paddled.
Recently we tried to buy life jackets for our staff and the only ones we could find in town were nothing special in terms of quality and had been painted across the back in French “gift from the Belgian Kingdom”. The NGO that was selling their gift wanted $100 a piece. Instead we’re waiting for a couple of high-quality $25 jackets to come from the USA.
In the meantime, I am happy to report to my mother and anyone else who cares that crossing the river in a motorized canoe is pretty darn stable and safe. (It helps to have reasonably good confidence that the motor is in good shape as they don’t keep emergency paddles in the boat. They rely on other motorized boats to come to the rescue.)
It was a cloudy, dry and relatively cool day for the trip and I enjoyed walking from the canoe landing to the church where the community bank meets. There are almost no cars over there and fewer motorcycles than here. People didn’t even seem surprised to see me walking around. A couple of them called me “Pere”. They think I am a priest visiting the local parish. I’m often assumed to be a priest if I am not assumed to be with the United Nations mission. At the loan disbursal I was able to hold a baby for a photograph and she didn’t even cry. About 90% of the babies I’ve held here freak out. I am the abominably snowy-white man so I can’t blame them at all, but this little girl was not phased and I was blessed.