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Caterpillars, water and more in Mbuji Mayi

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Democratic Republic of Congo, Infrastructure

My colleagues and I went to Mbuji Mayi (capital of Kasai-Oriental Province) for three days to attend the opening ceremony for the first water network out of eleven that will be constructed in Mbuji Mayi using DFID funds. The day started early and we were at the airport by 6am. After a short plane trip and an even shorter helicopter ride (my first ever!) we finally reached Mbuji Mayi. After a huge chicken lunch at the hotel (the Congolese really love their meat) and a brief meeting with the Governor of Kasai-Oriental we drove to the outskirts of Mbuji Mayi to see one of the water networks in action. This was the first time I had actually seen how water boreholes are drilled.

Locals gather around the water point
Locals gather around the water point

Then we went round visiting the various water sources that had been constructed and talking to people there about the impact of these water networks on their quality of life. Mbuji Mayi is a city with a population of approximately three million people, but only 300,000 have access to safe drinking water. DFID is funding the construction of 11 water networks in Mbuji Mayi that will give another 300,000 people access to safe water. One woman told us how much better it is for people now that they don’t have to walk for hours to the river to get water and they can drink clean water that won’t make them and their children sick.

After our long tour of the field we went back to our hotels for a much-needed shower before meeting colleagues for dinner. Dinner was at a new hotel in Mbuji Mayi that we were all trying for the first time. When we got there, there was a power cut, and it seemed like the hotel generator wasn’t working very well because we had very little lighting at the restaurant (a few small emergency lights and a candle) and had to squint our way through the menus to find something to order. We were left to wait more than two hours for our food to arrive by which point we wouldn’t have minded eating grass as long as we could eat and go back to our hotels to sleep – we’d been up since 4 am!

The dancers keep us entertained
The dancers keep us entertained

The next morning was the opening ceremony for the first water network. The ceremony was scheduled to start at 10am after the arrival of the Governor and other senior people. Unfortunately the VIPs didn’t get there until noon so the ceremony started quite late. But we were entertained with fabulous music and dancing so we didn’t really mind the delay.

After the ceremony was over we rushed to the field again this time to talk to people who were isolated from the city because of poor roads and the impact this has had on their lives. One woman told us how her sick brother had died because they were not able to get him to the hospital in time to be treated. Unfortunately, by that time she had already sold most of her clothes and some plates to pay the 5,000 Congolese francs (appx. $7) to rent a bicycle that could take him to the hospital. DFID has funded the rehabilitation of about 800 km of rural roads and network links in the agricultural areas of Kabinda and Kasai-Oriental that will help people like this woman have better access to services.

A plate of...caterpillars
A plate of... caterpillars

The next morning, before going to the airport and back to Kinshasa, we went over to the house of Diane’s uncle (my friend and colleague) to eat some caterpillars. The caterpillars were seasoned with garlic, onions and lots of spices and stir fried. Considering that they were caterpillars, they actually weren’t bad. I even managed to finish my plate! But to be honest, I couldn’t shake the queasy feeling all day of knowing that there were dead caterpillars in my stomach (my poor tummy!). But I’m glad to say my stomach survived it with no drama. So, although I doubt I’ll ever go to a restaurant and order caterpillars, I can still pat myself on the back for having the guts to eat them, and even like them!

The last act in the drama that was our trip to Mbuji Mayi occurred two minutes away from Mbuji Mayi airport – and right in front of the hotel we had had our disastrous dinner in the first night (coincidence?). The driver was stopped by the traffic police asking to see the insurance and registration papers for the car. Unfortunately the papers weren’t physically in the car and someone from the office had to come down to bring the papers. By this time we were due to check-in in 10 minutes. We had no choice but to get out of the car, take our luggage and walk (run) the short distance to the airport. Diane had a suitcase and a huge cooler filled with food she was taking with her from Mbuji Mayi (caterpillars, mushrooms, dried fish and other delicacies). She was lucky to find a UN car on the way and hitched a ride with them to the airport. We must have been quite a sight, four people with luggage of various shapes and sizes running down the road to the airport. What got me most was the casual ‘au revoir’ the policeman shouted to us as he watched us drag our bags out of the car and run like crazy people to the airport.

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  1. Comment by Sahar Abdin posted on

    Hey! Sarra... Nice blog. I’m so shocked to know about water situation there! But so pleased with what DFID is doing to make things better …
    I can’t believe that you actually eat caterpillars!! OMG! But you know what good for you,,,, that is what I call courage ..

  2. Comment by Shakir Deya posted on

    You've probably had 'butterflies in your stomach' all the trip eating those caterpillars!. But im sure it was an amazing experience and I would've loved it too.
    Glad to hear bout the great progress you and DFID are making. Im so proud of you sis!!!

  3. Comment by Aisha posted on

    Wow sounds like you had a great time! I cant beliveee you ate caterpillas, i eat anything and i dont think i would have been able to do that! It must feel good to know your helping make that many lives easier. Keep up the hard work. God bless

  4. Comment by sophie aubrespin posted on

    thanks for this "promenade" with you.....
    I can see that every where there is unexpected events which give a plus in our job!

  5. Comment by Carew Treffgarne posted on

    Hi Sarra
    Sounds like DFID DRC is throwing you in at the deep end ! Glad that you have managed to get out of Kinshasa to experience things in Mbuji Maya - though like others I don't much fancy eating caterpillars. Anyway it makes great reading, am really enjoying hearing what you get up to.
    Will be back in Sudan next week and shall be sorry to miss you.


  6. Comment by marie eve kayowa posted on

    I m so happy and so sad for you poor Mme Ismael, I can imagine you eating something you never ate before, but I m happy that you have discover something new, Myself I miss all that and in South Africa where I m living there is a sort of caterpillard called "Masonja" but are not sweet like those from Mbuji mayi.

  7. Comment by Safaa posted on

    You sound like you're on a learning curve and I could almost hear your voice, bubbling with enthusiasm, telling me the story. It is so disheartening that access in our continent is still at such a primitive level, and it never fails to remind me of how important transportation is (comparable to healthcare and education).
    I can't wait until you get back and inspire me to keep kickin'. I'm happy that you're having so much fun learning new- and trying- new things!

  8. Comment by Augustin Amisi posted on

    Dear Sarra, how well written and interesting your report is. As a Congolese and DFID Programme Officer, I really appreciate your coverage of these events. This is the true picture of DRC. Thanks God, we have carterpillards....very rich in vitamins and recommended in malnourished infant food... We will miss your presence and work in DFID DRC office. Aurevoir from the bottom of our heart.... not as teh Mbuji Mayi policeman...

  9. Comment by Mohammed Suhail posted on

    Dear Sarra, It is good to see you working for the great humanitarian cause as a DFID Programme Officer. Hope you will continue carry out your work in the future. I am impressed with your efforts of arranging for the people the pure drinking water.

  10. Comment by Shabeena Begum posted on

    You are doing really a great work and hope that you will continue doing such work for the humanitarian cause. i am pretty sure, the people are very happy with your work. God bless you and keep you in good health in order to carry out such works.

  11. Comment by African Caterpillar delicacy « Enjoying Life & Loving It posted on

  12. Comment by Irwin Rohman posted on

    You are a very clever individual!