Kinshasa: A City of Surprises

As our trip was about to begin, most of us confessed to harboring a few worries about what could potentially go wrong. Some of us were petrified of snakes, while others (namely, our herpetologist-slash-doctor) were worried about not seeing enough of them. Some of us were afraid of warlords or other madmen; others were afraid of catching a new malady that would come to be named after them. Personally, my number one fear came from my Bradt guidebook: “People new to exotic travel often worry about tropical diseases, but it is accidents that are most likely to carry you off. Road accidents are very common in many parts of the Congos so be aware and do what you can to reduce risks: try to travel during daylight hours, always wear a seatbelt, and refuse to be driven by anyone who has been drinking.”

We’ve seen our fair share of road accidents already, and we know that drinking and driving is extremely common here. A Congolese mentor once told me that it’s normal for professional bus drivers to be at least a little drunk, and that passengers encourage the driver to drink more because they think the alcohol will make him braver and able to go faster.

So it wasn’t new news to me but still, this passage stuck with me. It turned me into the seatbelt nazi of our trip. But on par with my worries about road transportation, were my worries about air transportation. Continue reading

Rollin’ on the Congo River (A Story of Silver Linings)

There’s a reason we’ve been living in Congo this long but haven’t taken any major vacations here. We’ve read nearly every book about this place we could get our hands on over the years, and every single one of them tells crazy stories about corruption and danger, sorcery and poisonings, exotic diseases and dramatic plane accidents. At the very least, and by far the most common, travelers suffer failed plans while they part with lots of cash to get moving, or to get past the authorities who notoriously mis-stamp passports so their compatriots down the road can collect fines.

Then there’s this lovely warning from the US State Department: Continue reading