Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A bad Trip to Kinshasa

There's nothing better than that feeling of excitement the day before an overseas trip. Which is why I couldn't figure out why my stomach was in knots and I felt the anxiety move through me like a bit fat aligator looking for something to kill.
Perhaps the fact that I was on my way to the Congo, the veritable heart of darkness, two weeks before the next election might have something to do with it. The Congo (DRC to be exact) where more than 2.5 million people are reported to have died from famine, disease and that most pernicious of plagues, civil war driven by greed and more greed.

Anyway, this was not my first trip to the Congo, and I wasn't prone to the kind of debilitating fear that seems to run the editors of the major news organisations, never mind most of the world. Colleagues of mine were in the capitol, Kinshasa in the weeks running up to the first set of elections. They, like me, were there to film a series of television commerials, and I got a series of sms's like "They are running through the streets firing automatic rifles right now," and "which direction is the airport?" The surreality of it all was that the incidents that there were, were so contained to a specific street or goal, like burning down one of the candidates TV station that life could and did continue fairly normally. At this point I have to point out that using the word 'normal' comes with a huge disclaimer, but you have to be here to know what I mean.

So, if I wanted to be afraid and paranoid about my impending trip I could be, but being me I shouldn't be so what's going on. Early the next morning on my way to the airport, feeling just fine, it dawned on me that I had taken my malaria medicine a little while before the paranoia set in. Silly me. I was just having a bad trip.

I arrived very late at the airport to a very full plane and had to take a middle seat which did my head in. So when I boarded the plane and sat down in my middle seat I instantly had the intention that somebody was not going to show and I was going to get my isle seat. I asked the flight attendandt if they could move me if an isle seat presented itself and all he could say was "the flight is very full" and roll his eyes. SAA truly knows how to pick them. I ignored his attitude and repeated myself. He rolled his eyes again and did a funny thing with his wrists which reinforced the stereotype that all male flight attendandts are gay.
As I sat down I marveled at how sure I was that I would get my isle seat, that somehow the fabric of reality, "the plane is full" would get off it's point of view and I'd get my seat. Not 10 minutes later another lovely attendant asked me if I was the gentleman who wanted the isle seat and promptly escorted me to my new seat. I ended up with french woman sitting in the window seat and the middle seat open next to us and I promptly decided that nobody was going to sit there either. Wonderful stuff, the power of intention. So, needless to say, the plane filled up and nobody sat in the middle seat and I had a very relaxing flight. The french woman and I made a silent agreement not to bother each other with our respective stories and we listened to our ipod's and read the whole way to Kinshasa.

The airport at Kin is a textbook case. I have to admit that since my last visit the whole checking in procedure has drastically improved. The first time I arrived (May 2005) I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of an experience business man I met on the plane. He had a handler who took us immediately to a special waiting lounge for VIP's where we sat in airconditioned comfort sipping cold drinks while it took the handlers the better part of an hour to get our luggage. This cost my business man friend $100, which I soon came to realise was the costs of efficiency in this part of the world.

This time round I was through passport control and had my luggage within 30 minutes. I was dumbstruck. I then had to wait 30min for my lift to arrive.

Where have you seen a bus like this before. Seeing one in Kinshasa is the equivalent of going forward while moving back. Or put another way, even thinking that you are in America for one second could damage your brain here.

the market en route from the airport.

Day 1 ends with a swim at Kris's house and some supper and bed. I switched the aircon off, thinking I'll aclimatise while I slept. Woke up at some stage in the night swimming in my sheets but too out of it to turn it back on.

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