I have tried many times to decipher the complexities of human behaviour but every so often I run into new obstacles that leave me confused and perplexed. My time in the Central African Republic has provided me with many such examples even though I have only been in the country for a short time. Central African Republic is a little-understood country and I do not claim to know more than the next person. Overshadowed by the Democratic Republic of Congo when it comes to human rights violations, the country has had its fair share of violence over the last decades and it is among the ten poorest in the world. It is not easy to find a positive story coming out of this country and yet, for some reason, it has fascinated me more than any other country I have been to.
Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, is a mishmash of unpaved dusty roads with ngo and government buildings dispersed all over the city. Here and there grandiose names like “Grand Café” or “Carré Gourmand” remind you of the city’s attempt at ambition and grandeur. Then there is the humidity that drives people into their homes every afternoon. When the dust blows in, followed by a thunderstorm, it brings with it a breath of fresh air that only lasts for so long until the sticky heat takes over again. Seasons don’t exist, people refer to the names of fruit to determine the time of the year.
Flying over Central African Republic is marvellous. A small Cessna 206 takes off from Bangui airport and flies in one straight line to the east of the country. With only 5 million inhabitants living mainly in the west, the east is almost uninhabited. A three-hour flight takes you into DRC for a while and then onwards until you reach the border of the 18.000 km2 faunal reserve called Chinko. The landscape reminds you of Jurassic Park and Chinko sits as a small human-made island right in the middle. At night the stars are brighter than in any other place in the world and you feel the pressure of the universe almost as if it kisses you on the cheek. Sounds of hyenas and silent laughter of the workmen are a soothing lullaby at night, the overwhelming bird noise a perfect alarm clock in the morning. I go about my days driven by the wonder of nature and the sheer determination of the people working together to build something valuable.
Eastern CAR however, is a place where armed groups are rampant and vying for power. Chinko feels like a safe enclave amidst a mountain of problems. The more you learn about the problems, the more you realise that finding quick solutions is a dream and that, to move forward, you have to find a way to navigate your way through them. All the while, you keep going and you strive to create something sustainable that entails conservation as well as development. Wildlife will return, you just need to make sure you get the people on board and provide them at least with the hope of a better future.
As the helicopter lands at 6:30am on a gigantic rock in the middle of the vast green jungle that is Chinko, I find myself a comfortable place to sit and drink a cup of tea. With the overwhelming silence and the African sun on your face, you realise how exceptional this is. To be in Africa, in the middle of nowhere on a gigantic rock where probably no one has ever set foot before. And then you look out at the landscape and the only thing you can think of is: “This is why I do it.” Nothing more, nothing less.