Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bukavu, DRC: La Belle Musique

After we returned from gorilla trekking, Lotte and her parents and I relaxed back at her house for a bit, which was a little flooded from a bout of intense rain. I explored the garden and the lakefront, where a boat was parked. 

As I got closer, I could see that the boat—painted with the words “Canal Pleasure Tours”  and “M/V Karibu Princess” was in bad condition—the wood was rotting and the metal parts were rusty. 

Lotte had told me it had come all the way from Dublin--an incredible journey no matter what route they took: down the Atlantic Ocean and up the Congo River hundreds of miles to Kisangani, and then overland through the jungle, or through the Mediterranean and down the Nile, through Egypt and Sudan and Uganda, and then overland to Congo. Though it had seen better days, it would be a fine boat with a little love and attention, and I pictured turning it into a houseboat and living my days floating about on Lake Kivu. Parties interested in making this dream a reality can send checks my way.

            We watched the sunset, as the perpetual blues of Kivu gave way to yellows and cotton candy pink clouds. Lake Kivu’s sunsets are among the world’s best kept secrets, in my opinion. The four of us decided to get dinner at a place called Lodge Coco on the same peninsula as Lotte’s house. We walked there in the dark, using our phones to guide us along the muddy road. It was a really nice place, complete with a pizza oven. It was fairly empty when we got there, but became more crowded as the evening wore on (although I’m told that Fridays are more popular, since they have a live band). We ordered beers, which were cold even though the power went out several times when we were there, and we could hear the hum of the generator starting up. The Swiss owner, who has lived in Congo for years, came and introduced himself, which was a nice touch.
             After a filling dinner, Lotte and her parents went home since they had to catch an early morning boat to Goma the next morning. They took my phone with them as a precaution against potential pickpockets and/or muggings (sorry if you're reading this, Mom and Dad), leaving me just the bare minimum money I’d need for that night. My friend Congolese friend Godelive picked me up in a taxi, and we headed for a soiree salsa. The streets of Bukavu at night were so quiet compared to the daytime. The taxi dropped us off on a dark street, and at first I thought we’d made a mistake in the location. But we walked through a dim entryway and arrived at a large room with chairs and tables around the outside, a bar set up in a corner, and couples with some SERIOUS dance moves dancing to a mix of music—salasa, rhumba, cumbia-- in the middle. I was pretty intimidated, but my Congolese friend Racky, who is a professional dancer, showed me the ropes. I met a group of Godelive and Racky’s friends, and everyone was so friendly to me. Congolese couples flowed to the rhythms on the floor, dipping and spinning furiously through the night's thick air. 
            After the soiree salsa, we had to make a stop at Parc des Princes, a larger club on La Botte peninsula. We could hear the music pulsing from outside as our taxi pulled up to the nightclub. Despite it being one of the more popular spots at night, there was no sign marking it out front. We hurried down the two flights of stairs into the gaudily, even garishly, decorated club, where several disco bulbs made the room spin. If a fun house in an amusement park were turned into a club in the Congo, it would look something like Parc des Princes. Some walls were painted with stripes, others with a leopard print, and there were Louis Vuitton logos painted carefully on the walls leading to the latrines. Parc des Princes has a sort of maze-like layout that makes you feel like you're in a cave, with little seating areas carved out and a billiards area with a great view of the lake.
            To me, there are two kinds of nightclubs in the world, one of which I detest, and the other I adore. The first kind is the type where you have to pay a cover, everyone is dressed up and the place is really fancy, but no one is really having fun—you’re just there to “seen and be seen.” People kind of do a little side-to-side shuffle, but mostly it’s just looking around and seeing how much everyone’s trying to pretend like they’re having fun (but no one is wiling to admit how truly awful it is). 
            The second is the type of place where you can crazy dance to your heart’s content and no one cares. No one is afraid to get on the dance floor. Everyone is sweating buckets from dancing and no one cares. This, I adore. And this, my friends, is Parc des Princes.
            When we arrived, the dance floor was full but not too crowded. Racky and Godelive and I got some drinks and then danced. And danced. And danced. As the night wore on, more and more people arrived, crowding into the many nooks and crannies of the club. The Congolese, in my experience, love their music and know how to dance like nobody’s business, and that night was no different. It’s those moments that make you feel alive: dancing to Swahili and French music, in a sweaty maze-like club overlooking the dark waters of Lake Kivu. 

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