Finally, I broke through the mosquito net. 5.30 am. It was still dark outside. Oblivious to it all, the cock was already crowing. I groped for my headtorch and hit the switch. I had 15 minutes before dawn, to find the bathroom, splash on some water, string up my hair and tie on my shoes. The generator was only used at night, so getting ready was to be under the cover of my Petzel.
By 5.44, the dark was struggling to keep hold. A few stretches later, and with my watch at quarter to, it was light enough to start the day. Saluting the guard I ambled out the gate, he still sleepy from his night-long shift.
I knew which way to take. We hold flown into the area the day before, a direct plane flight from Goma in Eastern Congo. After landing in our 12 seater jet close to a yawning river, we had driven from the airfield, straight to the town and our office. It was a dirt road that linked the two places, a 15km track to jog along there and back.
The road was red and fresh from the morning mist. Before I knew it, it began to narrow, as thick jungle greenery crowded in from either side. And just as I thought the foliage was bound to win, I came upon large hundred metre chunks carved out of the thick, wherein lay homes and farms and families. Some farmers were already up and out. Out of the early revellers, there were those who just stood and stared. Others though greeted me just like the other morning passers-by.
I travelled out for half my run time before swivelling to make my way back. By now it was 6.30. In these parts of the woods, school starts at 7. So as I began my pitter-patter home, I started to come up behind groups of kids dressed all alike in uniform. They were heading the same way as me, I back to town and them on to class.
As I made to pass a group of schoolboys, they thought it fun to keep pace with me. With books tucked underarm and flip-flops flip-flopping far too fast, we jogged through the jungle, the white girl and her band of merry men (well, strictly speaking soon-to-be men). This Congolese Rocky recreation would have made even Sylvester Stallone proud. However, I was somewhat distressed as I looked down and saw seven year olds keeping up whilst I sweated under the strain.
One boy took the opportunity to introduce himself and to ask for my particulars. I strategically sprinted as he requested my number and address. This sudden turn in speed dropped the students, but left me slow as I trundled towards the forest edge. My amble was sufficient however for a farmer to take up where the students had left off. He jogged happily along with me on my way. And then, after ten or so minutes of his silent company, he turned to me, said “Thanks very much” and made his way back home. Strange. But true.
By now I had reached the town’s perimeter and knew I was close to base. I turned the final corner, passing the town’s sole school, only to now run full flight into a road filled to the brink with school kids going straight to work. There were thousands of them, a sea of children decked out in shades of green, big and small and every size in between. Although the road was wide, I was travelling against the flow. Forcibly, I ran in the gutter with the chickens and other animals trying to escape from the mass exodus. The children walked on, clearly with other more scholarly things on their minds.
Eventually I arrived home, unscathed and yet bemused. After such an adventure, never has a bucket shower been so refreshing or a breakfast papaya tasted so sweet…