central african republic: a first taste

This week I had my first taste of the Central African Republic (CAR). This was a quicker trip than anticipated (I arrived Wednesday at 9am and was on a plane Saturday at 9am) and I did not make it further than the outskirts of Bangui, the capital of CAR. While admittedly a brief first visit, it did provide a taste-test of CAR that has left me hoping for more. Here are a few thoughts and images:

  • French and Sango mixed with French. Sango is the main local language, a language of trading, and in the capital is heavily mixed with French. And so every time a conversation started up, my ears and mind would come alive with the thought,”I can understand.” But, I could not, and I desperately wished I could simply switch my brain off.
  • Dirt roads and incomprehensible traffic. Every African country has a lot of dirt roads, but their prevalence where paved roads often are in the capital is a reminder why CAR is one of the lowest on the development scale. The traffic was not heavy (that would require more cars), but HELLO – it was every man for himself as far as side of the road and traffic laws. Maybe I lie… people tended to stay on their side of the road – it is just that “their” side typically amounted to about three quarters of the road, as did ours.
  • Ranch style homes. The tall buildings in the small downtown were two or maybe three stories tall. Everything else is one story, and outside of the nicer homes, they are mud brick. We can argue the durability of mud brick, but I love the texture and shape it gives a land.

  • Life outside. Like many warm places, houses are not used for much besides sleeping (there is typically a separate kitchen or cooking house). This includes a choir practice that we happened upon one day.
  • African fabrics. They were everywhere I turned. I simply love seeing people dressed in these vibrant, sometimes wild fabrics. The traditional dress for women seemed similar to Benin – a loose fitting shirt and wrap-around skirt.
  • Warmth and humidity. Reminded me of my summers spent in Benin where a shower before bed was a necessity.
  • Remembering Benin. Benin was on my mind as there seemed to be reminders left and right including the French, the pronunciation of my name (three syllables: Pam – E – la), the clothes, and the heart of the people I met.
  • Bread. Baguettes in baskets on street corners and in markets and in stores.

  • Open people with big smiles. Sometimes we say this is classic Africa. I think each time I come across this, my heart is warmed because it does exist and not every place is so inviting. This picture was taken after an interview with Marceline (on my right) and her junior sister… I am sure you will hear about them more later in the year.
  • People who love the work they do. I was visiting Blood:Water partner ICDI and was so impressed with everyone I met. They were people who loved what they did, loved how they could help make a difference. And they had visions to do more, reach more people.
  • So much more. There is so much more to see. There are rainforests and rural village and pygmies and wild animals. And most of all, there are more people to meet who all have stories to share. I hope to be back next year.

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