A friend of mine described the election politics happening in Congo right now as “trying to guess the course of a hurricane.” She was speaking metaphorically, of course, having said this several weeks before Hurricane Matthew started churning in the Caribbean. She had no idea those hurricane-force politics — which kept me from returning to Congo as planned, instead keeping me on the ground in Florida with my folks — inadvertently put me directly in the path of an actual hurricane.
I mentioned being in this holding pattern in my previous post, waiting to hear news while our sixth anniversary came and went. News came pretty quickly after that, but not quite the news we wanted to hear. The company decided that all trailing spouses and other dependents are not returning to Congo. At least not for the foreseeable future. I hope things will change early next year, but for now this decision is permanent enough that they call it “repatriation,” and it includes shipping our “personal effects” home.
Problem is, we don’t really know where home is. Our houses in Tucson are rented out, and if Seb continues working in Congo, as he is for the moment, then Tucson is a heck of a long commute for him.
If this should happen to be the end of the line for my adventures in Congo — and I really hope it’s not — I can at least be grateful for the closure I already have. Because we moved houses a few months ago, I had already said my literal goodbyes to base camp, to my English class, to Viviane, and to Lucy the monkey. I feel a sense of closure in a broader sense, as well. I mean I’ve spent a good long time there, and have taken full advantage of it. There’s not much I shied away from and didn’t view from the perspective of curious discovery. I’ve met incredible people, learned quite a bit of French, and built the most diverse pantry in all of Central Africa!
I do have heartburn about other things, though — namely being away from my husband, who on top of being alone can’t very easily feed himself with all the mysterious dried chiles, hibiscus flowers and seaweed left behind in my pantry. I also miss my Congo kitty Zawadi and the new house that was starting to feel like home… and regret having spent a month here in the U.S. filling up my darn luggage with things for that house and pantry that might never make it there!
Anyway. The day we found out I wasn’t going home to Congo after all was the day before Hurricane Matthew was due to hit Orlando. Seb and I decided Arizona was the place I needed to be. But I had no desire to get on another airplane, not if it wasn’t headed across the Atlantic. In the Congo I’m not allowed to drive; in Florida I skipped the rental car and got around on foot or with the folks; so this time, I knew the only way I wanted to reach Arizona was by road. I picked up a Hertz one-way rental and hit the road at 6am, amid frantic messages from Seb and the folks to hurry, the hurricane is coming! A few rainy hours later I started seeing gas stations without “NO GAS LEFT” signs posted. After one night in New Orleans and another in San Antonio, I pulled into Tucson, and realized that in one way or another I’ve circled across this entire country twice since arriving in mid-August.
Mom and Rudy decided to stay put in Orlando and weather the storm. They stocked up on water and batteries, filled the tubs with water and the cooler with snacks before the electricity went out twice, the second time for about 20 hours. Their yard caught a lot of debris but otherwise, no damage was done. If I hadn’t had a pet waiting for me in Arizona, I might have enjoyed staying there with them to see what adventures Matthew would bring — but instead, I’d say we all dodged another bullet there.
During the road trip my mind often wandered to what my Congolese English students would have thought if they’d been with me in that car. “Women can drive here?” might be one of those thoughts. But mostly, I think they would have been incredibly impressed, like mouth-agape impressed, at all the systems we have in place. Our roads are in great shape. Seriously. You can go 80 miles an hour, legally, in Texas! Our bridges, especially in Louisiana, are massive! There’s rest stops every 70 miles or so, and everything including construction is super clearly signposted. We have rules, and lots of them, and most everyone who isn’t Texan follows those rules. We have gas stations where you just wave a card and get your gas without having to talk to anyone, and drive-thru restaurants where you order your food from a machine. We have hotels with nice beds and plumbing, and no cockroaches. We have radio stations, air conditioning, and automatic transmissions. We have places like Hertz where you can fill out a little paperwork, show a couple of plastic cards, and walk out a few minutes later with a new car, for goodness sake! These are mind-blowing modern conveniences, when you think about it.
America is a great country, no doubt about it. I can’t yet say that it’s my home for good, but for now, it’s good to be home.