“Si tu pars n’oublie pas
La terre où ton coeur a vu le jour
Zanzibar ou Kinshasa
Faudra jamais que tu oublies l’amour”
– Si Tu Pars by Lokua Kanza
Last November, I went back home. I had to go back…I was dying inside, I needed to see the house I grew up in, I had to breathe the air I remembered…I had to stare at the stars at night as I did so many times long ago…when I used to be a teenager, confused but hopeful that tomorrow would make more sense.
“C’était hier quand Mboyo jouait sur les pirogues
De l’autre côté, Dimitri faisait du roller à Prague
Tous les deux, ils ont été touchés par l’aventure
Comme toi, j’aurais un mot simplement à te dire…“
So, I set a date but the Paris attack took place the Friday before my scheduled flight…yet, I refused to stay. My friends and I visited a traumatized Europe with armed soldiers at each corner, high security and long lines in Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and Bruxelles. It seemed as though the world was falling apart as I was finally going home. But I had to be home. When I finally landed in Kinshasa, the little girl inside me felt at peace. I wasn’t dreaming anymore. True, a lot had changed in a decade. The airport was fully air-conditioned. The roads were not as bumpy as I remembered yet they served more cars than they could handle and this resulted in painful traffic jams and jaywalkers.
Oh, there were scooter-taxis everywhere and 24-hour churches promising prosperity in exchange for your hard-earned wage. Kinshasa was more diverse with a larger group of Indian and Chinese immigrants. On the other hand, there were less Lebanese and they left with my favorite shawarma restaurant :-(
One of the highlights of my trip was a stop at Lola ya Bonobos or Heavens of the Bonobos. The Bonobos are a species of intelligent monkeys only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nowhere else. They are known for their peaceful attitude. Unfortunately, Bonobos are an endangered species because they are killed as bushmeat in Congo. It was an amazing experience to see the work and love poured into preserving them at Lola ya Bonobos. If you’d like to learn more about the sanctuary, visit the official website or watch the 60 minutes episode with Anderson Cooper.
I was home, finally. A lot had changed, yet things had remained the same. My mom still sang when the lights went off but this time she sang alone. Love, money and family were still the main subjects developed on television. Commercials were still ridiculously funny with catchy tunes to hypnotize us into buying milk, beer, skin lightening creams, hair products, lottery tickets and spa treatments. The sky still shone bright in a midnight blue hue at night and my favorite stars were still there and so were the pool as well as the swing my baby brother and I played in.
I was home and could finally let my brain remember moments I tried to block out by fear that my heart would be too heavy. This time at last, my eyes and my hands could match the memories to concrete objects. And the people had changed, yet they were the same hard working, family oriented, fun loving, optimistic and fashion conscious people I remembered. A decade had passed and things looked different yet it all felt the same.
“Tu verras la beauté des hommes et leur douleur
L’important c’est de pouvoir toujours garder ta chaleur
Bien des fois tu auras la visite du blues d’un soir, mais tu vois
La vie a ses beaux jours et ses déboires”
- There are some bonobos in the US per this video
- Quoted lyrics from Si Tu Pars by Lokua Kanza