“Darkest Africa.” “Deep, Dark Africa.” These terms remembered from my youth, evoke in the mind, a world of mystery, intrigue and danger. The name “Congo” would cause me to think of drums beating in the night and tribal warfare. These images may have stemmed from stories like Tarzan of the Apes, but there has been a grain of truth in them in history.
As a young person I read about Stanley and Livingstone searching for each other, as they attempted to find the source of the Nile River. Their tale of trudging through disease infested swamps and hacking away at impossibly thick jungle grasses paints a distinct picture of the African landscape.
Today dirt roads allow travel through the jungle from one end of Congo (The Democratic Republic of the Congo – DRC) to the other, though the roads are poorly maintained and deep potholes can swallow up the sturdiest vehicle. There is no AAA and no McDonalds along the way. Dangers await those who venture through forest and traveling all the way from Kinshasa to northern Congo is often done by way of the massive Congo River. Air travel has become a more commonplace, albeit expensive, way to cross the vast distances covered by swamps and jungle too. Nevertheless, transporting food and supplies by barge is still the most economical process.
The river is nearly 3000 miles long and curves within the country of Congo, though its tributaries come from as many as nine other nations. It isn’t as long as the Nile, nor as massive as the Amazon, but it remains one of the world’s wonders and is still the life blood of this troubled nation.
Being a missionary in such a land was not something I ever expected to do, but God had other plans for me. When I attended seminary in the 1980’s, I thought about working as a missionary doctor someplace closer to home such as Mexico or Ecuador. Africa seemed so remote and dangerous that I didn’t really believe that I would be needed there. However, there was a need and my family and I answered the call to serve that need. In 1988 we traveled to Congo (then known as Zaire). Our outbound flight took us to five countries along the west coast of Africa before arriving in Bangui, in The Central African Republic, just north of Zaire. The journey was difficult for my wife and I with three children over thirty hours of travel time from New York to Bangui. We ultimately made our way to the edge of the jungle forest of Zaire, not far from the Congo River. Working at a hospital in a village called Tandala.
In my next book Dr. Sharp experiences life in Congo much like we did and has some dangerous encounters. The story is, of course fictional and the characters made up. Jack’s experiences, while fictional, are, nevertheless, realistic depictions of life in Congo and other African nations.
I have been intrigued by the blog of Peter Gostelow who, at great risk, has bicycled his way from England through Africa all the way to Cape Town, South Africa over three years. His description of riding a barge up-river on the Congo is fascinating. I encourage you to read of his adventures at – http://petergostelow.com/thebigafricacycle/by