Congo: take 2

Posted on August 28, 2011

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So I find myself back in the Congo, once more. I realise there has been a fair bit of radio silence from this blog for a while now, for which I apologise. I will attempt to make up for that.

I arrived at 00.30am last Friday night (technically Saturday morning) after a rather gruelling 14 hour flight to South Africa from Australia, then a five-hour set of flights up to Lubumbashi via Zambia, followed by a 45-minute wait for luaggage at Lubum airport.

Welcome back to the Congo. Not best pleased.

A lot has happened in the last two and a half months, and particular highlights include returning to the UK in June to perform best man duties for my best friend from school (including a stag weekend in Barcelona), catching up with friends and family, and holidaying in Mozambique and Sydney for the last 6 weeks.

The wedding aside, another big event happened while I was back in the UK on holiday: I lost my job. By e-mail. Dumped by e-mail – that is sooo last decade, so cowardly. FZS (Frankfurt Zoological Society), my (now ex-) employers here in the DRC, had decided to end my contract after 3 months. No prior warnings, no utterances of discontent, no communication in a face-to-face meeting the week before taking my holiday; nothing.

Strangely, despite all this, I wasn’t bitter. I felt hard done by, sure; aggrieved at being treated with such contempt and unprofessionalism, yes. But, more interestingly, I felt relief. Relief that it was finally over.

My time here has been mixed. In the latter months, it has proven to be a roller-coaster of varying emotions. On the whole, I’ve had a great time. The professional side of things, however, has been nothing short of a nightmare, and – dare I say it – a waste of time. I came to the Congo for the job, first and foremost. The sense of adventure in a journey to the heart of darkness, the exploration of one’s self and one’s limits, as well as of the ‘unknown’, were also healthy drivers in making my decision – but ultimately, the professional opportunity on offer seemed far too good to turn down.

As with any new relationship, the honeymoon period was sweet. Much laughter and excitement was shared, a common purpose and goal was reflected on and loved. But some relationships simply don’t work. Most of us will have experienced them at some point or another, but are still at pains to put our finger on the exact reasons why they fell apart. There are no rules, there are no formulae, and there is certainly no handbook when it comes to making relationships work. Just as you begin getting settled into one, a particular quality you were unaware of suddenly makes itself apparent; this gives rise to further personality traits that you hadn’t seen in those early, heady, lovestruck days: incompetence, mis-management, a general lack of belief, trust and respect. You start to question things – “what am I doing?”; “Is this the right thing for me?”; “I didn’t sign up for this!”

Of course, when any relationship falls apart, it is often both parties who are responsible for the breakdown in communication. This despite protestations to the contrary – there is always at least one side pointing the finger of blame. With hindsight, my failures were quite plain to see from the start: caring too much; being naive; trying to move things forward too quickly (due to limited timeframes of my contract and project contract); and not dealing with my frustrations better.

I never stopped believing in the project’s aims, even when it seemed it was doomed to failure, even when disorganisation and lack of communication reigned. It’s hard, but you carry on. The problem comes when you lose respect for the people you work for. Liking them is one thing, and not necessarily something to be adhered to – but respect, that is critical. When respect and professionalism have gone, you know it’s over.

Break-ups are hard, they are painful, they are often difficult to comprehend. And the wounds can take a while to heal. You constantly look back and analyse – “where did I go wrong?”; “what could I have done differently?”.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.

The only way to take solace and comfort when you have a bad break-up is to acknowledge this very simple fact: some relationships are built to last, and some aren’t.

What now?

The first few days after my return to Lubumbashi were a rather sobering affair, as the realisation rapidly set in that I was returning without a permanent job, penniless, with a lot of debt, and to a large degree, alone and unhappy as friends are no longer around either. I came back from Sydney to have another go, leaving behind a city, a lifestyle and a group of people that I love. Back in July when I made the decision, it felt right. Now, I’m not so sure.

Something is missing; the fire has gone. And that is a shame.

But one can wallow, or one can move on.

I have a few projects set up, including teaching English at a local school and university in Lubumbashi, as well as helping out a friend with a web project that should directly benefit his charity here. I have also bought a motorbike, which I’m hugely excited about.

The best plans are flexible though. They have to be. I no longer feel an emotional pull to Lubumbashi, or to this country. And that saddens me. But that may change over the next few months, and it may not. All I can do is to take each day at a time, and see what happens – it’s often hugely surprising to see what lies around the corner.

The immediate priority right now though is to plan my lessons for the start of term next week – don’t panic!

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