As we drive the road from Kavumu to Bukavu I look out at a mosaic of fields climbing the mountains where refugee camps once stretched to the farthest reaches. This road along Lake Kivu was once famous for the huge trees that lined it all the way to Bukavu. They were cut down during the crisis in the nineties for firewood for the camp during the 90’s genocide in Rwanda. Replacements are growing and a feeling of well-being that the worst is over comes over me. I’m wrong.
Bukavu has changed so much I barely recognize it. I was last here 12 years ago and construction has remodeled the city from an African town to a quasi – Italian version of the villas surrounding the Glacial Lake Como in Northern Italy. Lake Kivu is spectacular, surrounded by mountains that spread from peaks Kahuzi (almost 11,000 feet high) and Beiga (more than 9000 feet high), disappearing into the clouds stretching out to Virunga Volcanoes in Rwanda while the houses reaching down the hills are multi-storied structures with A-shaped roofs.
We arrive at the office of our hosts and are greeted by participants for the workshop and the appropriate person for the work being done in Kahuzi Beiga and surrounding areas. He’s one of the most pleasant and diplomatic people I’ve met, but … he’s behind in his part of the bargain (we have a signed an agreement that spells it out clearly what INCEF is responsible for and what our collaborators are responsible for) which was to find us a house or other venue appropriate for the workshop and for we five INCEF people to stay in during the month-long period in Bukavu. We’ve been traveling since 5 am, we’ve only had bread and butter to eat. It’s easily 3:30 pm. Nothing in the way of water, coffee, or refreshments is offered. The driver takes us to the first house and the logistician follows shortly after.
During budget negotiations we had originally indicated a need for $2,000 to rent a house in Bukavu for a month. Our hosts insisted they could find an appropriate house for between $500 and $700. So just to be safe we put $800 in the budget. Keep in mind that the workshop here grew from 6 participants to fifteen participants. And we are five. The participants have been put into two apartments which are still under construction, we find out later, lack water for the first three days and electricity. But let’s move on to INCEF. So this house we are renting needs to have enough rooms and bathrooms for appropriate privacy for 2 women and 3 men plus a common room large enough for the workshop to take place in, for the participants and us to have a coffee break and lunch in, and sufficient space to break the group up into 5 working teams of three. None of this should come as a surprise as we’ve explained it over and over again.
The house we are shown costs $1500. There are loads of noisy children in the adjoining house next door, an uncovered balcony they insist we can work on (its rainy season) and a set of stairs unbarred and unlocked leading to another residence. There are only three bedrooms and four beds, no sheets, no towels and no basic supplies. By this time we are all really thirsty and starving. And the requested cook who we hoped would be there to greet us has not only not yet been hired, but has not been recruited. In the kitchen there are exactly 4 plates, 4 glasses, 4 cups etc. Again we are five. In the common room, there is an attractive round dining table that seats six, three very comfortable black leather couches and an enormous flat screen TV. Our voices echo off the bare marble floors and cement walls as we discuss the improbability of using this house for the workshop and of it working for the five of us. There has obviously been an enormous miscommunication of expectations. We call our host as the logistics person just looks stumped by our worry. It’s now going on 5pm and everyone is tired and hungry and need I say grouchy. You can visibly see the dark rings forming under their eyes.
A short aside here. In the past we have run four of these workshops. Have always arrived to a cook and cleaner and been provided with adequate space to do both individual group work and to do projection screenings the necessary details and manuals and of course videos for instructional purposes. Varous living situations have been provided. And all have been appropriate for us and the participants, in one case over 30 students. Besides the fact that this house is almost double our budgeted amount – the space is just wrong, We really don’t care about leather couches and flat screen TVs. We do care about the ability to split the fifteen people into 5 working groups of three. While some groups are learning dissemination methodology the others are learning to shoot and edit and vice-a-versa.
Our host shows up pretty quickly as charming and diplomatic as ever and we finally decide to cross this one off the list and look at an alternative choice. We are taken to a second house which has a price tag for the month of 2,000 US dollars. The salon is tiny. They’ve just managed to fit in a dining table and chairs. However, they envision us holding the workshops in an outside gazebo like structure that is large, unfinished and without furniture. Did I mention it is still under construction including the floor? And when we ask about glass in the windows, we are met by surprised looks. I did mention it’s rainy season in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo which means almost every day there will be periods of rain, some with high winds.
My team is rightfully at wits end and just plain hungry. After much back and forth we are taken to first a buffet dinner which we are all certainly hungry for and then driven across town to a hotel. We stop for water, cookies and whiskey on the way. The hotel, costs $50 a night for each of us but we are delighted by Roby Guest Hotel, In fact so delighted that after about 30 minutes we decide to never leave.
Together with our hosts we negotiate down the room price, they provide us with a conference room gratis. My room has a balcony and spectacular view of the Lake. In fact all the rooms have king-sized beds, fresh white sheets and it turns out the hotel chef is not just good, but excellent. And steak frites is only $12.00, breakfast is included – a real breakfast with fresh fruit real coffee and eggs to order.
Our $800 living quarters are now costing us $3500 for all five of us for the month. We negotiate with the Roby Guest Hotel to supply a coffee break with snacks and lunch for the same total of our food budget $2,880. Our hosts agree (albeit) reluctantly to take over the participant per diems that $1800 of that amount was to go for. So now we are ready to begin, happy as can be in our lovely rooms with private bathrooms, hot and cold running water most of the day, and electricity much of the time. The participants are happy to come to the conference room where there is plenty of room to work and hold common sessions.
Glodiane and Clever and I begin to crunch numbers: we have to give up most of our indirect operating costs and our auxiliary funds, but we are happy. Thanks to Roby Guest, we are well cared for. Sonny, Tshims and I take care of the Johnny Walker Black while Clever and Glodiane keep us all in good humor. We all tell funny stories about the day while remarking on the beautiful lake view from the balcony.
All’s well that ends well? We’ll see. More soon…..