Five days ago, Kaori and I were at N’Djili Airport, feeling sad to have to part ways with the new friends we had made in Kinshasa. It was the end of our 10-day trip to DR Congo, our first trip ever to Africa! I was sad not knowing when I’ll be back back again, amused that I was toying with the idea of being an illegal immigrant in a country like DRC, and a little bit relieved to know I had safely made it out of that country.
Born in Tokyo and raised in New York, I spent many summers traveling back to Tokyo to visit relatives. I’ve done a fair amount of traveling as a freelance Flutist as well, so the post-travel blues I felt upon arrival were not unexpected. The nostalgia, the yearning to go back and be part of that new culture, the sense that you have a new perspective on everything, and also knowing that once the feelings fade, you will just go back to your daily routines. Regardless of how long or short my trips may have been, I’ve often come home bewildered by how my trips seemed so long, yet so short at the same time; struggling to understand how much I’ve learned, while realizing I will never know much.
Perhaps I’m still deep in my post-travel blues. I’m still trying to process everything I saw, while accepting that it will never be anything but a “mundelee” (or foreigner’s) perspective. Sure, I may never quite understand what is going on in that country. It is massive, plus there are so many complex issues the country must deal with, and I am in no ways qualified to speak about any of these matters.
However, what I DO know, is Music.
What inspired Kaori and me so much on this trip were the orchestra musicians we met. They were so kind, so generous, and so incredibly humble! In a country where they must struggle each day to survive, where water and electricity are scarce, where there are no steady jobs, and meals are never guaranteed, we came across an entire ensemble of musicians, committed to their passion. They quickly accepted us into their community and because of that, we felt safe. We even walked around Ngiri-nigiri with the members, the town the orchestra is based in. It was something I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing on my own; something not even our driver would have felt safe doing for us. It was great to see how their commitment to music allowed us to not only connect with one another, but also respect and trust each other.
It felt even more special meeting the musicians after the security briefing we got from the embassy, after the many warnings we got from the expats, and after I stared out wide-eyed out of a back of a Land Rover as we drove through town – promising not to take pictures or roll down windows. (More on that another time). I can only imagine the strength it takes to live like these musicians in a country like DR Congo.
In a way, I felt just as comfortable there as I do in a studio or a concert hall in NY, leaving my money, my Flute, and even my passport unattended. And now that I’m back, I still feel very connected to these musicians; I feel honored to have met them, inspired by their passion. I’m reminded of them everyday when I pick up my own Flute. It’s quite a powerful feeling, different from the usual post-travel blues I experience. I can’t believe that 2 weeks ago, I didn’t even know their names. This trip was very special to me, and maybe writing about it will help me process it better. And if you’d like to listen, I’d love to share more stories with you.