I remember taking off in a tiny bush plane in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The plane was filled with chickens, fruit, and luggage that crowded the small cabin space. I sat there wondering what I had gotten myself into.
When we landed on the grass runway in Beni, I learned that there had been a massive amount of rain, causing mudslides on the road we were supposed to travel on. We took an SUV on bumpy dirt roads until we reached a complete traffic jam. My guide got out and talked to some of the other drivers who were stuck and some of them said they had been there for a couple days waiting for the mudslide to be cleared.
I was told that we had 2 options. Number 1, we could wait until they clear the mud in the road for the vehicles to pass. But that could take days. Or number 2, we could start walking and cross the section by foot. I decided a hike sounded good at that point.
I had my heavy camera bag on my back and a large suitcase. It was about 6km to cross to the other side of the mudslide where another vehicle would be waiting for us. I had only walked a few hundred yards and realized it would be a challenge to carry everything. A well dressed young woman approached us and told us that she could carry my suitcase for me. I felt bad to have her do that but she explained that she had been there for days and just wanted to go do something. So I agreed and she threw the heavy suitcase on top of her head and walked down the road effortlessly. I was in complete shock!
Throughout the walk, I had a lot of eyes on me since I clearly was not a local. By the time we reached the end we were all tired and sweaty.
We were picked up on the other side of the mudslide. The next few days were amazing. I met so many incredible people. I felt humbled by the poverty and humility of the locals. Like many of the places I travel, I immediately connected with the children. They were fun and energetic.
This was by far one of my most challenging assignments to date. Despite its natural beauty, I can see why this country consistently appears on the “poorest countries list” each year. The people are in great need. I’ll absolutely never forget the experience I had in the DR Congo.