During the COVID-19 pandemic, much has changed here at Kikongo. After the government announced the closure of churches and schools, both stabilizing forces in society, Kikongo experienced some periods of chaos and unrest. Maintaining order became a real challenge. Finding creative and positive ways to meet these needs outside of the routine structures we have relied on for so long became an acute priority.
One of our projects to try and bring people together with a new focus was to build a foot bridge. Over the years, we have built at least three bridges over the Yasa stream, located on one of the main trails in and out of Kikongo. Wooden bridges in such a humid environment, however, don’t last very long.
All we have had for a bridge during the past few years is a metal truck chassis. I have a scar on my thigh where I slipped on the bridge one dark night while trying to stay ahead of a rain storm. This site is down in the valley. Truck traffic has to go around the valley which makes the trip to Kikongo much longer.
If you are on foot, or bicycle, or motorcycle, you take the short cut down the valley across the Yasa Stream. If there is a big rain though, the short cut is not accessible. The water rises and makes it dangerous to cross.
Due to the pandemic, there was not much truck traffic between Kinshasa and the interior, but we managed to have enough cement and rebar for the project. We asked everyone to participate in the project by carrying rocks and sand to the construction site. We figured many people were bored and had time on their hands.
Amazingly, everything came together and we were able to build a strong concrete bridge. Before we could use it, however, concrete needs to cure. We had to block the access points for a whole month.
Last week we inaugurated the bridge. With the confinement rules we only sent out 20 invitations, but we had a crowd for the big day. We even had village chiefs who wanted to honor the project.
Now during the dry season, the bridge site has become a favorite hangout. A concrete slab was added next to the water’s edge so that people would use it to wash their clothes on rather than use the bridge. People now go down to bathe, wash clothes, and just relax after working in the fields. It has become a real refuge. I have been told that if you want really white clothes, you use the cement slab down at the Yasa bridge.