Thursday, November 26, 2009

Orion, Upside Down

After lunch, N, our receptionist, walked the three flights up to my office, and told me that a woman was there to see me – maybe someone I’d studied with – some “Jeanne d’Arc” or something.

I raced down the stairs, two at a time, and there’s Jeanne d’Arc, whom I know from a former life at graduate school, who knows me. Everyone in Goma is a relative stranger to me – and all of a sudden, here’s someone I have seen in other, familiar contexts. Jeanne d’Arc is Congolese and I had tried to e-mail her when I first got here, but she hadn’t responded – I hadn’t even known she’d been in Goma – and then, all of a sudden, on Thanksgiving, here she is, finding me.

Our mutual friend Grace, who is Rwandan, but is living in Pennsylvania at the moment, told Jeanne d’Arc that I was here. So that is how she found me. It was such a wonderful shock.

Moreover – Jeanne d’Arc said that as she’d entered our office compound, telling the guards that she was looking for “Rachel”, they told her that I was learning Swahili. I’m not really learning Swahili – I am only repeating back the small-small phrases that the guards say to me. But in our hundred-person office, the guards know who I am and told a sweet anecdote about me when a stranger asked.

After work, French lessons for an hour, and then one of the women I run with picked me up and drove me to another’s house for Thanksgiving dessert and drinks. (I knew that running would pay off.) We spent four hours there, a group of about seven or eight, sitting around the table, eating Treacle Pie, and talking.

Treacle Pie – like the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. And what is Wonderland but a foreign country and who is Alice but our quintessential sufferer of culture shock?

Above the house we could hear the MONUC helicopters buzzing by, circling again and again. At the end of the month, apparently, they fly to burn off the fuel they didn’t spend, so that in their monthly report, they can list it as spent.

At the end of the evening, as we left to go home, the sky was spilt ink and the stars glimmered through. Orion was hanging upside down to the east. O familiar body in an unknown pose.


When we go running, we run in a big loop through our neighborhood of the city, past everyone’s respective compounds. I get picked up last, so I run with company for the first two and a half miles or so and I run the last half-mile alone.

As I was running the final stretch this morning, our cook JB zipped by on his motorcycle, heading to the house. He slowed down, yelled “Courage!” at me, and then kept going unhurriedly – far enough ahead of me for it not to be obvious, but slowly enough that I kept him in my sights and he could look out for me in his rear-view mirrors.

It was sweet, and it kept me running after the point that I usually stop to walk – like there was an invisible thread attaching me to the motorcycle, tugging me along.