Return to the “Big Bad City”

Jolted awake, my first thoughts were, “OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO DIE.” This quickly changed to relief when I peered out the window and realized the plane was only landing at another city before reaching Kinshasa.

Earlier that morning while waiting at the tiny Basankusu airport, someone from The Bureau pointed at a small plane on the runway,

“You see that plane? The engine failed about 1km before reaching the landing strip. The pilot stayed calm and didn’t tell anyone and glided it in. I wouldn’t want to be on that plane when they test fly it for the first time after that.”

“Oh…thanks for telling me that…it’s not like I’m about to get on an airplane…oh wait…”

Congolese domestic flights are not known to be the most reliable.

Having arrived at 10 AM after a trip to the market to take photos of some bushmeat, we found out the plane wasn’t arriving until the early afternoon instead. The pilot decided to stop at another city first. The airport, a small brick building with one large waiting room and a few offices, was extremely crowded for the amount of luggage they had dragged onto the dirt runway to go. Turns out someone from a political party was visiting today and everyone had come to support and join in on the parade. Completely clueless, I watched as everyone cheered and waved flags as someone exited the plane. Swept off down the road towards the city, we relaxed as the ridiculous noise–and the crowd–died down.

A few hours later, I arrived in Kinshasa–pollution, traffic, noise, crowds, trash everywhere…I immediately began missing the peace and quiet of the forest. Whisked off into a mediocre and expensive hotel, I unpacked all my still wet and now mildewy clothes. At least there was Wi-Fi AND running water! My first hot shower in almost three months. With a few days to spare until my flight back to South Africa, I started to plan my time in the Big Bad City: trip to The Bureau, dinner with some people from the office and a trip to Lola Ya Bonobo.

Everyone was concerned for my safety as I decided to walk to The Bureau or to the store for some groceries–insisting on escorts and whatnot. After being used to the forest and walking for hours everyday, the lack of freedom and the supposed impending danger around every corner was really annoying. However, I managed to slip away into the city walking down busy streets and acting confident fairly hassle free. In Kinshasa more than other African countries, I found there were less beggars and most people were actually quite helpful. Although, I admit being vigilant is still of course important–it is a big city afterall.

My trip to Lola was great although it was sad to see bonobos in captivity. I loved the baby bonobos playing around with toys and reaching out to try and grab my camera. A large male threw dirt at my cab driver and host who explained he was “jealous.”Given the heat and humidity, we didn’t stay long.

On the way back to The Bureau, our cab was stopped twice by policemen–all trying to solicit bribes. My taxi driver was covered in sweat and smiled nervously as I made polite conversation pretending I had no idea what they were saying.

“Excuse??” with a shoulder shrug and a small smile.

Eventually they gave up although the second pair was harder–making us drive round and round in circles until we were all dizzy.

Dinner and drinks in the city was interesting. Primus, the DRC pale lager, was served in large bottles that got warm before you, or I rather, could finish them. The streets were lively and a Congolese girl offered to buy me a kebab which immediately made me think of Flight of the Conchords. I was too tired and in no mood to be up late so went back to my hotel fairly early.

Leaving in the afternoon of June 1st to catch my flight, I was so excited to return to Lajuma for a little under a week before going to Germany. Chattering away to a South African missionary, I was exploding with excitement!

Getting out of Congo!

Arriving in shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt, I had forgotten it was practically winter in South Africa. At -4 degrees Celsius, fingers and toes turned blue as people gave me odd glances. All my warm clothes were still wet and smelled awful so I would have to wait to change until I arrived at Louis Trichardt the next afternoon.

Waiting for the bus while wrapped in a sleeping bag liner, I tried to read to distract myself from the cold. Unfortunately my book, The Snow Leopard, made me feel even colder! Finally half a day later, I bought a pair of jeans (haven’t worn jeans since last September!), a sweater and some wool socks to bundle myself up in.

Oh Lajuma, how I missed you.

The Barn was fairly empty and I was able to get my old room! I spent the next several days walking a little (finally to the Eucalyptus forest!), sunning myself at the rock pools (nights were freezing but days were nice as long as you stayed in the sun), catching up with people and drinking whisky.

The following Monday, I said Goodbyes again (still hate this!!!) before spending a night in Pretoria to catch my flight the next day to Germany. Olga, the cleaning lady, asked where I was going. Since I had left Lajuma several times, she assumed I would be coming back.

“I’m going home Olga.”

“Oh…Okay.”

Waiting at the airport, I couldn’t sit still–I was finally leaving Africa after nine months! About ten hours later, loaded with about 45kgs of luggage (how I have so much stuff is always a mystery…), I arrived in Frankfurt ready to backpack around Germany for the next nineteen days before Home.

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