Sunday, April 10, 2011

DRC Part I

DRC Part I
3-6 April 2011

Sunday afternoon I caught the plane from Dakar to Kinshasa via Nairobi, a flight that has become routine for me. Monday afternoon I arrived in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and made my way to my friends house who lives in Kinshasa. Shortly after arriving at my friends house the rain that surprised me in Nairobi found me again and released a giant cloudburst soaking the city. Unfortunately at the same time a UN flight from eastern DRC was attempting to land and was caught up in a windshear which smashed the small plane into the ground, killing all but one passenger. At the time another friend was stuck circling above in a SAA flight that only revealed that there was a delay due to the weather conditions. When he landed 30 minutes later he said he had no idea that there had been a recent accident and saw several wrecks on the ground around the airfield.

When we were all together on ground at my local friend's apartment he gave us the low down on life in Kinshasa: even though crime is considered critically high there haven't been any violent acts against expats. You had better lock your car doors as people will try to open them in traffic or when you slow down for the many pot-holes or larger road craters. He also said only crazy people take taxis in Kinshasa as many have been driven off and robbed at gun point. A recent scam was for locals to approach an expat and flash a badge and say they were undercover police, then pull a gun and force the victim into a vehicle. However, he said the robbers are usually polite and have been known to leave enough money to catch a cab back to where they were abducted. My friend also warned me not to take any photos of anything or anybody as it was against the law until recently and police have seized many cameras from tourists. Armed with this knowledge we stayed in for dinner that night.

On Tuesday, my second day in Kinshasa we attempted to visit the Bonobo monkey reserve outside of town but my friend got lost and we ended up to our surprise a couple hours later making a giant circle around the town to his neighborhood again. We gave up, got some lunch, and headed to the Bralima Brewery, a place he easily found. My friend had toured it several times and arranged an official tour guide who took us through the museum of old vats and then through the soda section (Coke, Fanta, and Schweppes) and the much larger beer section. At the end of the tour we were guided to a beer garden and offered as much as we could drink of whatever we wanted. My friends started with the Turbo King (7% alcohol rumored to be mixed with nicotine), then moved on to the more traditional Primus and Legend beers while I sampled the Fanta, Sprite, and Soda water. After the heat of the day we crashed for a while in my friends air conditioned apartment before going out for dinner. After dinner I fell asleep to the sound of a solid rain on the pavement below.

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