“I’ve seen many people go a bit crazy here.”, a friend said. And that’s how the conversation started. We kept on talking for hours on end, the electricity going on and off and eventually resorting to the light of a few cherished candles. “Either you create a short term memory or you create an alternate reality to be able to deal with the loneliness as well as the misery you see every day.”
I’ve been contemplating these words ever since. In North Kivu, DRC, extremities are the norm. There is no grey zone. It’s either black or white, life or death. Everything in between is pure survival. Stepping into this world as a foreigner, a European, requires a huge mind shift. “How to deal with this reality?” Textbooks can be written about this and some people’s answer would be: “Create an alternate one.” Empathy can be a burden. Seeing children as young as 5 years old carrying their little sister or brother on their backs, and just bursting into tears. At a certain point you have to find a way to deal with this and switch off your mind or you become an emotional wreck.
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do anything excessively and I certainly don’t lose myself in anything. I try to keep focused on the tasks at hand even though this sometimes requires every muscle in my brain and body. I have two friends who do things differently. One drinks an excessive amount of alcohol every night and giggles the night away. Spending the evening with her is always entertaining and gives even me a boost. You start the next day reminiscing about the jokes made the night before and yes, it helps. The other one doesn’t drink or smoke but creates this wonderful world on social media, romanticising life in the African jungle. Social media works like a drug. The compliments ensuing from these pictures and posts with people back home proclaiming him as a true modern-day hero keeps him going until the drug has done its job and a new dose is needed. But behind the scenes, life is nowhere near the picture perfect created on social media.
So what’s the answer to this dilemma? What’s the best option? I find there are no best options in this case. I go into survival-mode and live hour after hour, day by day. And maybe we do go a bit crazy here but maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. This place makes us lose grip on our own reality, our own belief system, and replaces it with a completely new one, a more urgent, present one. I’m not sure there’s a way back. I’m not sure I can go back to Europe and be the person I was before. I’m just figuring out if this scares me or not. In the meantime I’ll just keep going.