Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Democratic Republic of Congo, not your usual cup of tea

Not long ago my adventurous self got the travel itch and booked a trip to Congo. I did not think about it much, I saw Air France had a direct flight, the travel advisory said the political climate is calm and so I thought, why not. I have never been to Africa before, let's just see the "real Africa".
And Real it was. Congo is one of the least developed and poorer countries in Africa and the world. It's also one of the least travelled as it has been rampaged by disastrous politics. After I booked the ticket I did a little research and all I found out about visiting Congo was rather concerning. First of all as it's not touristy, if you do find a tour or so to join is ridiculously expensive, accommodation in hotels is either in a 5 star hotels of which they have 2 in Kinshasa for which you pay dearly, or cheaper hostels and the likes where safety and bugs is a major concern. Strangely enough though they do have a few private accommodation and I booked one of those via airbnb. That meant I had to share an apartment with a couple but what the hell I thought, it's an adventure right.

And so one dark evening in June I arrive to this house. This is a upper middle class neighborhood in Kinshasa with "proper" two level houses, canalization, electricity, a generator when the electricity stops  working, which is often, security guards. They all look like prisons from the outside. The main streets are paved but not the side streets which are covered with sand and because of that sand tends to be everywhere, in your room, bed, shoes. Not far from the house there is a western style supermarket which makes the neighborhood a desirable place to live, as it's pretty much the only one of that sort in town. Options for getting food were very limited. Either you buy food from the store, which made sense for breakfast, or go to a restaurant which was a very expensive ordeal. From what I gathered it is like that because the country is so corrupt and inefficient that it takes me 5 times as much resources to produce anything. Restaurants are for the most quite empty except the occasional expat or Congo-elite.
There is of course street food. I have never seen this before but I know all my vegetarian and vegan friends would have nightmares for eternity watching a lamb being skinned and cooked right in front of you.
For the rest Kinshasa is practically one big ghetto. There is nothing beautiful in that town except the eye-opening experience that human beings can survive and even be happy in the worse of circumstances.
Just a brief lesson in history. What sets Congo apart from most other African countries is the fact that during colonial times they had the worst of luck to be ran as Belgium King Leopold's private estate where for years he just drained the country resources and treated it's people inhumanly. Things got not much better after Belgium took over and practically did nothing to develop the country or "teach" the locals how to run their own country. Independence came and after a brief political havoc Congo's infamous gen. Mobutu took over and for over 30 years fucked the country up. Corruption is what it seems the most thriving part of the economy, poverty, famine, rape, illiteracy, secret police, lawlessness, off the scale child mortality,  you name it, they have it. Last few years civil wars were added to the mix causing all sort of disasters on it's own.
Basically if you believe in reincarnation, you may think you have done really awful things in your previous life to be born in Congo at your next one.


But there is hope.
I had to do something to get out of Kinshasa and pretty much the only place around worth visiting is the Bonobo monkey sanctuary. Those are the very famous monkeys that solve all their disputes with sex and are bisexual, incest-prone and do masturbate. All in all interesting characters.
But just as any of these places during summer, this one was also visited by school kids.
Here they are, funny, shy, curious, pushing each other around, laughing. Children are hope. They don't know any better than what they have and, as long as they are safe and loved, they are all full of joy and hope, same as all over the world. It really was a breath of fresh air to see the energy of those school kids in the jungly after couple of days in the chaos of Kinshasa.






And it was time to go. I could not even push the whole week so booked a d-tour back via Casablanca after 4,5 days in Congo.
What would I say about if you want to visit Congo. I think if you are crazy enough that you thought that's a place for you to go, then do it. Because you are obviously out of your mind and that's what is great about the world. Just beware to get your yellow fever certificate as that's a moment just after arrival to immediately face corruption, you will be harassed until you pay money, 20 USD in my case.
Also beware there is departure tax at the airport and you need to bring cash. Generally speaking the airport is a dodgy place and if you get the chance someone to help you out, someone that you thrust, go for it. If you have money to spend, you will. Prepare for that too. For the rest, when I went, June 2015, it felt relatively safe and relatively friendly and I must say, they know how to cook chicken. I don't think I have ever had such a good grilled chicken ever before. And brush up your French, you will need it.

CASABLANCA

Casablanca was the creddle of civilization after Congo. I saw the famous Mosque, roamed the market streets  in old town, had wonderful inexpensive food and even went to the mall and had my hair done.
If it wasn't for Congo before, I would probably find the city and bit dirty and chaotic and the locals a bit too intrusive. But since I did come from the darkest heart of Africa, I couldn't care less.
To me Morocco is a bit like visiting Turkey. It's a light, beginners version of their parts of the world. Very user-friendly for the most. What I found particularly pleasant is that most people speak at least basic English and usually fluent French. Visit by all means.














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