Testimony: Congo, 751 days of happiness far from my France
Well, my time in the Congo is over. It’s been two years and a few days since I knew this day would come. And here it is, close at hand. As my mission at the Special School comes to an end, it is time, this Sunday, to leave Brazzaville, and to leave behind me the Congo that has given me so many suspended moments.
I arrived here after an extraordinary year, spent discovering 19 countries, each one more beautiful, more interesting, more intense than the previous one. And then, coming out of a year of nomadism, I lived for two years on a single continent, in a single country, in a single city. An experience barely interspersed with a few mops here and there. And, paradoxically, I have the feeling that these years, so much more rooted, have borne comparison.
Because, throughout these 751 Congolese days, I have experienced emotions different from those I am used to. I am used to nomadism, to discovery, to solitude: since I turned 18, I had never lived for a year in the same place, not even in my own country. And yet, for more than two years, I tasted stability, commitment and friendship in all its forms.
The Special School a place full of special memories
At the École Spéciale, I welcomed Serge Ibaka, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and many others during their visits to the Congo. I organized and enjoyed fantastic school parties. I saw the birth of a new annex school, the Case Vincent, and contributed to the creation of training workshops all over the city.
Finally, I had the divine surprise, one afternoon in October, to learn that a project that I had worked on in 48 hours had finally been validated and financed by the French Embassy in Congo. A few weeks later, new machines, safety equipment and stocks of raw materials are present, in the training workshops of the Special School, to remind me of this great accomplishment.
In the capital, I had wonderful times, week after week, weekend after weekend. Days spent on sandbanks, in the middle of the Congo River. Not to mention the wild evenings in the city’s most unexpected VIPs.
Delirious atmospheres in front of football matches lived so much more intensely than in France. And hikes far from the urban pollution, in the hills or along the river. Added to that, moments sitting on pleasant plastic chairs on the side of the road, enjoying the time passing by.
And, far from Brazzaville, I discovered the immense equatorial forest of the far north, the magnificent villages on the banks of the Congo River, the calm and simplicity of bush escapes, the natural beauty of preserved national parks, almost devoid of tourists.
I owe these emotions to friends, real friends like you only have at home. Sylvie, Chris, Stefanie, Juste, Etienne, Zara, Julie, Kandza, Célina, Cyril, Marty, Pierre, Weilfar, Mathilde, Cyprien and all the others, I will miss you terribly.
Seriously, I’m leaving the Congo, but some people say I’m bluffing.
That the coming weekend won’t be my weekend off. That, like so many others, I’ll be coming back, because life will make me want to come back to Brazzaville. I can believe them. But I have no idea. This city is full of mysteries. How can one imagine that in the heart of a capital marked by so many power cuts, so many water problems, so much erosion, disease, political mismanagement, life can be so sweet?
So yes, when I return to France, electricity will be very present. The heat won’t suffocate me. All I’ll have to do is turn on a tap to see water flowing. I won’t be very ill, and if I ever have a health problem, I’ll be well looked after. But happiness is not only to be found in roads, sidewalks, hospitals and street lamps.
And in the midst of development and wealth, I will always miss the sweetness of life in Brazzaville, the grandiose calm of the banks of the Congo River, the wonderful atmosphere of the street bars in Bacongo, the inordinate buzz of the shops on Avenue de la Paix.
Involved in my mission during the day; funny and sociable in the evening.
I loved being the man I was in Brazzaville. I felt at home in this exciting mission as well as in this so informal existence. I will miss the direct relationship with things, the ease of dealing with people.
In France, you can’t drink a 500-franc beer in an improvised bar in the middle of the street, watching a football match. You can’t be hired as Santa Claus in a shopping mall when you’re young and half-beardless. In France, they say to be wary of strangers; too bad for those who think that, deep down, a stranger is never more than a friend you haven’t met yet…
So what’s the point of me leaving? I belong here. I can feel it. Everybody’s telling me. I’ve seen so many friends leave, and I’ve never left myself. Jennifer, Thomas, Louis, Marguerite, Mégane, François, Jean, Camille, Jean-Luc, John, Pauline, Nolwenn, Paul, Thibault, Antoine, Monie said goodbye to Brazzaville; I missed everyone.
Each time, I stayed, gradually turning into the great dinosaur of the Congo. Turning even into a Congolese, some say. And yet, I am flying at the end of this week.
After two years in the Congo, my mission is coming to an end…
But do I have any choice? I have done my best; and I am convinced that Cyprian, my successor, will be capable of great things for this beautiful Special School.
To stay in the Congo, but to do what? I can’t think of any other position here that would attract me as much as this volunteer mission, I can’t find a Brazzavillian alternative to the Special School. I don’t want to stay here, with anything to do there, with no purpose in life. I want to believe that it’s better to leave too early than too late.
In the meantime, I’m going backward. I’m not looking forward to seeing France again. Kevin, the school caretaker, is enjoying it. What a paradox! I’m a Frenchman worried about going back to France because I want to stay in Africa. So many Africans dream of reaching France, and would do anything to leave this continent.
Luckily, I know that nothing will stop me from coming back if I feel the need too strongly. And I don’t forget that my Visa is still valid for more than a year, just in case…
Thanks to my family and friends in France
In the meantime, thanks to my family and friends in France, who have kept in touch despite my lack of enthusiasm, sometimes, to give and take the news. Thank you, because it is you who remind me that when I arrive, I will have nice people to see again, and beautiful moments to live. I know this all the better because you reminded me of it when, last year, I saw France again during my holidays, and I spent extraordinary moments with you.
While waiting to take the plane, all that remains for me to do is to take full advantage of these last days of a wonderful Congolese existence. My departure weekend promises to be epic. I hope to bite into it to the bite. I don’t want the emotion to catch up with me during the weekend; I just want to live extraordinary moments with people I care about. I’ll have plenty of time to get nostalgic when I get back.
What’s next? It’s a big blur.
In a year’s time, I can hope to work in an NGO in Southeast Asia, or do odd jobs in the Argentinean bush, or even work in one of the few structures whose programs in the Congo interest me. I have no idea. It’s a bit stressful. Or exhilarating. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Life has more imagination than me, my father-in-law sometimes says. I know how right he is.
Live as if you were going to die tomorrow, but learn as if you were going to live forever, Gandhi said. I’ve done my best in these two years. And no ordinary plane ticket is going to stop me from doing that.
We’re in this together.
Written by Aymeric Dechezelles