On Monday we went for a much-anticipated outing to see the Lulua river with our friend and colleague, Ruth Brown. It happens that all three of us have birthdays in April, so we thought a short excursion on Easter Monday would be a fun way to celebrate. We invited our friends Pastor Mukendi and his wife, Mamu Helene to accompany us and be our “guides”, since they have visited this area before. Our trusty old Land Cruiser (“Tshikunda”) spent two days in the shop with various repairs (after a longer trip the week before), and then we packed up a picnic and set off, eager to get outside the city.
Just a couple of of kilometers outside of Kananga, we heard a strange noise and realized we had a flat tire. We pile out, find the jack, and enlist someone along the road to help us. As we start the process, we realize that our jack doesn’t have enough oil to work properly and raise the car. So, they start digging a hole under the wheel (only on dirt roads is that an option!). Serendipitously, another vehicle passes that loans us their jack, and we get the tire changed. Whew!
Our first stop is Malandi Makulu, a recent Catholic mission. The priest in charge graciously shows us around and tells us about the rich history of the place- the first place that a worship service was held in Kasai, Protestant or Catholic. We drink in the fresh air and the views of the lush green valleys near the Lulua river. We live in the center of Kananga, so it feels great to be outside of town for a change! One of the staff offers to show us the gravesite of Rev. Sommer, a German protestant pastor who was apparently the first missionary in the area, although he died just a year or two after he arrived. We set off on foot down the road, enjoying the quiet and beauty of being in the country, but hurrying because of dark clouds threatening rain.
The rain comes just after we reach the overgrown cemetery. Our guide invites us to take cover in his house, just across the road. He finds some chairs from neighbors and squeezes them into the main room of his house. There is barely room for the 6 of us, but we are grateful for shelter from the rain and use the time to ask more questions and hear stories about the history of the tribe in this region and the coming of the Belgians to the area.
When the rain stops, we head back to the car and on to the real goal of the day – to get down to the river! We drive about 10 km on a small dirt road, until we reach a village called “Bena Kanku”. The road starts to get narrower, with deep muddy ruts and ditches that look ominous. “Should we leave the car here and walk?”, we wonder. “No, the road is better up ahead, we can make it,” our guide encourages us. So, we push on, until we get one tire stuck in the mud. People show up to help (for a fee, of course), shovels are found, and a crowd of kids quickly gathers. It is a long hour of digging, finding sticks to give the wheels traction, trying to move, and then digging again.
Finally, we are out! We leave the car parked in someone’s yard, and villagers assure us it is just “a 10 minute walk” down to the river. It is already 4pm, and we need to be home by dark at 6:30. After 30 minutes of walking and the river not yet in sight, we decide reluctantly that we can’t continue. We spread out our picnic by the side of the path, and enjoy the scenery and good fellowship. Ruth even dyed eggs in honor of Easter! At this section of the river is a boat crossing, so there is heavy foot and bike traffic of people coming or going from Kananga with goods to sell. Several stop in surprise when they see us “You’ve come to sit in the weeds??” “Yes, we like the weeds!” Bob replies jovially. We enjoy our brief picnic and begin our trek back up the hill.
Back at the car, we face the commotion of people claiming to have helped get us out of the ditch and wanting payment. Bob pays the key people he had worked with, and we feel the relief of being done with that ordeal. Just about 200 meters down the road, though, we are again stuck, with the mud almost covering one back wheel. This time, the crowd is larger, pressing in on those who are digging, with everyone offering advice at once. We start to wonder if we will be spending the night in this village. Ruth and I set off to find some branches and sticks to stick under the wheels – looking for a way to be useful and get out of the chaos. Bob is left to try to keep the work going without a conflict erupting. Gratefully, this time getting out of the mud doesn’t take a whole hour, and we can be on our way again. Some of the men of that village made a good deal of extra money that day!
As we drive back over the bridge on our way home, we take a few quick pictures from the car of the Lulua river. We pull into Kananga just after 6pm, glad to be safe and home. It wasn’t exactly the relaxing picnic that we had anticipated, but it was a good adventure. We’ve now seen a new section of the region, learned more of the history, and enjoyed some beautiful scenery and time of fellowship with our friends. All’s well that ends well, right?
A brief view of the Lulua River at twilight as we cross the bridge