Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ENG: Kinshasa – Kin la Belle

8 hours Air Franc flight from Paris took us to the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The airport was surprisingly clean and organized at our arrival. Our local contact at the airport, Dede, took care of everything. Glen (Melains boss) knew him from a previous visit. Seemingly that is how things get done in a country whose government seems inefficient and chaotic, and most of the wealth is looted by a few elites (national and international) who are sharing only with family member and good friends. Paying the rest of the civil servant seems difficult to impossible. Dede however was on top of things like nobody else and all of our bags (Melaine and mine) arrived that evening (there was also a long list of passengers whose luggage was left behind.

Unsurprisingly the taxi that was hired to pick us up was also a familiar face for Glen. However very surprisingly were the extremely good road conditions. The Chinese just finished a four lane highway straight into the city. Parts of the main road that leads through the center of town are 8 lines. Not very pedestrian friendly, but really nice when you just arrive and want to get to your hotel.

Staying in the fancy part of town (Gome) we had electricity, running water (even warm water!) and a AC unit (very handy at 30 degrees Celsius every day all year around – no 4 seasons at the equator : ) I was glad to arrive with the team, even if I was not really part of it. Arriving in a new country is always nerve-racking for me – every time. This was much easier as others have arranged places to stay… and a place to have food. Don’t be missed by the plastic chairs, the food is high class (even though the prices are not far behind either, with was a big surprise. Fufu (Cornpast), rice, plantains(cooked or fried bananas), fish, turtle (with its feet still showing!- Melaine’s choice of course), goat, manjok and spinach plants. We all had a local beer – Primus. Average meal price this evening $20 per person.

No stop lights (or any other traffic regulation, besides a handful of guy in the middle of 8 lane intersections) and in general electricity supply is a problem – but you can see the stars much better, even in the capital that houses en estimated 10 million people. Of course it has an enormous amount of poverty and many do not know if they can have more than a black tea for breakfast tomorrow, but juxtapose to this army of the poor is a (filthy) rich elite, sporting their Jaguars  (cars) and alligator shoes. The DR Congo is rich; very rich. Only that the wealth seems stuck with a few….

The next day the guys had to take care of business: bank and lawyer visits, and I was able to come along and see more of the city:

Kinshasa was once touted as Kin la Belle (beautiful Kinshasa), locals have long since redubbed their chaotic capital ‘Kin la Poubelle’(Kinshasa the trashcan). Sprawling seemingly forever from the banks of the Congo River, ‘Kin’ has the same maniacal drivers, dismaying poverty, mounds of trash, belching black tailpipes and persistent street hawkers that you’ve seen in many other African cities, but here it’s all bigger, faster and louder than you’ve probably experienced before.

The stores have everything your heart desires, pasta, juice, deodorant, electronics… but more expensive than in the west (a pack of noodles was $6). 90% of the food is imported, probably 100% of consumer goods. Manufacturing things themselves is not possible yet in this country overflowing with resources. Hopefully that will change …. Soon.

Only one day and two night before we headed what is supposed to be our new home: Mbandaka. 

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