A foreign place is not something one can simply imagine or feel through a book or movie. In order to grasp the true meaning of "foreign," one must experience it first hand. During the second semester of my sophomore year, I had the privilege of doing just that. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is also the place my father travels to every year to perform and teach surgery to an uneducated third-world country.
Over the two-week course of my stay, I was blessed by meeting my dad's contacts. One of which lived in the neighboring country of Rwanda. Out of all of the people I met, this man was by far the most interesting and also the hardest to reach. He lived in a small mountain village called Shiyra.
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Him and his wife were maintaining a hospital there as well as raising four of their own children and one orphan boy. They do not trek down the mountain often, as it is a treacherous journey.
The day we left for Shiyra was the last leg of our trip. I along with my father, two other surgeons and a driver who spoke no English hopped aboard an "ambulance" (which was an ancient, gutted, Mercedes Land Rover fitted with narrow wooden benches on the interior) and we were off! We crossed the border with no problems and within an hour arrived at the base of the mountain road that would lead us to our small town destination.
The road we traveled was a one-lane, dusty, dirt road with a staggering cliff face on our left and a steep, foggy abyss on our right both lined with dense banana trees. My dad and I and the two other doctors glanced at each other with eyebrows raised. I think we were all too tense from our fear to even summon a nervous shrug. Though the road looked peaceful, we all knew anything could go wrong.
Our driver knew what he was doing – maneuvering around the hairpin turns and avoiding the worst of the potholes. But just when we were settling into our new surroundings the first drop of rain hit. The once dusty road turned into a sliding, slippery slope.
At each turn, a single tire would slip off the edge. When we thought our situation couldn’t worsen, the driver stopped the car and walked around back with a puzzled look. He motioned at us to step out of and then pointed underneath the ambulance. Our gas tank that had previously been held up by two metal rungs was now dragging on the ground hanging for life by one thin strap of steel.
After only a minute of being pelted by the pouring rain, twelve locals appeared from every direction, emerging from the banana branches. The eldest of the men began talking to our driver about the situation. A moment later he ran back to his hut. In the meantime the youngest boy gathered some leaves to shelter us from the rain.
The man came back with a rope he had made from a rubber tire and tied the gas tank back in its rightful position. We snapped a few pictures, shook hands and were on our way. It only took another hour longer to slip and slide up the road to reach our friend’s house.
You never realize how much you take for granted until you’re in a situation like mine. This trip opened my eyes to the world and made me appreciate what I have.
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