Fellow explorer, Jaco Botha, talks to An Unravelling Exploration about his adventures in the Congo. Jaco and I have done more than 20 000km’s worth of ‘Africa’ together. He is no longer just my friend, but my brother.
This is ‘The Art of Exploration’ in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Follow him on twitter at @eksjaco.
Ubuntu: a challenge and thank you to my friends.
Pweto: The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
How I got here is important.
6 days ago, I got on a plane from O.R. Tambo International in Johannesburg South Africa. After a few hours, we landed in Lubumbashi, the largest city in the Katanga province in the South of the DRC. A day later we drove 200km northeast to the Zambian border. After crossing the Luapula River in what seemed to be more of a log than a boat, we entered Zambia and drove another 300km north to the northern shore of Lake Mweru. There we crossed back into the DRC, we drove to the little town of Pweto, located on the shore of this 150km long lake.
In Pweto, there are no petrol stations, tar roads or stalls that sell African trinkets to tourists. In Pweto there are no tourists. This part of Africa was not made for tourists. This part of Africa was made for survival. Here the grass houses of the local people, the Bemba, are littered with sails handed out by the UN for waterproofing. I am here to work on a farm for the December holidays. The farm is located about 50km northeast of Pweto. There are no fences to mark the border of the farm, which is also the border with Zambia.
One day I took a rather good looking Honda 250 on one of the many footpaths what leads to Zambia. These footpaths are used by the local people to travel between the 2 countries. Here there are no fences or rivers to mark the boundaries of nations, only a manmade line on a map (which I didn’t have). I rode for about 15 minutes, following the path that curved and swirled like a big red vane through the undergrowth of the rainforest. Then I stopped.
Only accompanied by a camera, I turned off the bike and was immediately scared by the loud sounds of the rainforest. Birds and bugs that I have never heard seemed shout all sorts of warnings to my western tuned ears. After calming myself I stepped cautiously onto the undergrowth, took a deep breath and looked around.
I was the only human for miles.
No one knew where I was.
I didn’t even know in which country I was.
At first I was completely overwhelmed by the fear of knowing, that if something happened to me, no person that I knew would even remotely know where to start looking. The fear of being complete alone and completely dependent of myself and my non existing survival skills (except those that I learned from watching Bear Grills which I suddenly and completely forgot).
After calming my racing heart rate I started to notice something. Every single thing that I am, every skill, talent and class that I have taken and had ever learned or developed, had here, lost its meaning. Everything from my bad math skills to my thoughts about politics, love, and my love of friendship and wine, everything that I know meant less here than ever before. I was like a fish out of water. Vulnerability had been dumped on my head like a bucket of ice cold water.
And then I realized, it was because I was alone.
If my dad or one of my amazing friends had been with me, I would have had someone to be someone with. In an interview Laird Hammilton, one of history’s greatest big wave surfers, described this feeling in a profound way. He asks:
“What is a dragon slayer when all the dragons have been slain?”
The answer, sadly, is rooted is the word meaningless. This is the thing about us humans. We only find a way to express ourselves, and to be ourselves, in ways and places where our being, has meaning. For the local Bemba people, that place is home, that road leads to a place where someone is known. For me it only meant solitude. Being away from everything that made me, me. There on that red, metred wide footpath, all the potential that I possess, didn’t have any value.
I started to think about all the things that I can do and all of the things that I want to do. Not the mundane “I really want to TP Knandla” stuff, but the heavy stuff (if you read about someone arrested for TP’ing Knandla, know that this was only a joke…). The stuff I was created to do. These dreams and hopes that I carry are immensely important to me (as yours should be to you). In my head I listed the things that I knew I was made to do, and affirmed that there might be one or two more that I didn’t yet know of. This reflection lead me to a place of new discovery. The reason I was here was because of the people that wasn’t here with me. My family and friends.
These people, these ordinary hero’s and human angels, have shaped the chapters in my story in ways that I cannot imagine. The people that are in my life, expect of me to be, who I was made to be. The constantly inspire me to be the Jaco of tomorrow. The person who I am becoming. They have inspired me to study Theology, challenged me in my identity and carried me in my fragility. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be me.
I find my meaning within those who I love.
I find my meaning within those who love me.
There is an Nguni word that captures this idea. Ubuntu. It literally means “a person is a person through other persons”. This idea, this way of understanding ourselves has grabbed my heart in a new way. I am confronted by the trajectory of my story and the other lives that are entwined in it. My choices and deeds are gracefully impacted by those people who share in my story.
It is because of this that I want to, not only say thank you, but to those friends who I call family, my brothers and sisters that share in this life, please shape me into a me that is more. My past, believes, hopes and memories are littered with you, but so is my future. Please then, help build on that which I need to become.