Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kinshasa 11 September

It’s still dark outside but the birds are already chorusing. At 5.30 am in Kinshasa it is relaxing and cool. I have fallen asleep while watching a DVD again. When I woke up just now, I realized it would have taken my one small final push for my laptop to crash down on the floor of the room. Good I woke up before that happened.

Yesterday I finally made it to the Congo. While flying across the country, there wasn’t much to see – clouds were covering most of it and when the plane started descending over the capital there was even a little lighting that struck the wing. Obviously if didn’t do anything, there was just this flash and an odd metallic smacking noise.

The airport was more or less crazy as usual but I was saved the immense hassle of picking up my luggage in a room full of anxious porters trying to grab anything they can get their hand on so they earn some money. Outside it was drizzling and soon it was raining torrentially. Everything got wet.

Kinshasa is a surprisingly large place. From the airport it took us probably more than half an hour to get to the office of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, where I met Sally Coxe. She had just arrived to the country the day before from the US. While driving around the streets I was shown some of the ‘landmarks’ of the city – the office buildings and residences of the two main presidential candidates and the tomb of the former president Laurent Kabila, shot some years ago (after which his son took over). On the streets there were places where UN armored personnel vehicles stood on guard, soldiers on and around them, some of them younger then myself, looking decidedly bored. Sundays seem to be slow, calm and peaceful days here. And everyone speaks French. Even the menus in the restaurants are in French (naturally). It certainly makes ordering food for myself a tiny bit more hazardous endeavor.

Today there is some shopping to be done. Then if we keep to the schedule, tomorrow we fly on a commercial flight to Mbandaka. Which hopefully means I will be able to take the entire luggage, that I dearly paid for in Entebbe airport, all the way to the forest with the bonobos. It wouldn’t have been that easy if we were using one of those tiny little planes. There they even make you stand on a weighing scale before you board.

My nearly non-existent French speaking skills and sort of basic Lingala ones are slowly coming back. I am still a bit jumpy in traffic though, since cars here drive on the right side and in the past few months I got used to the left-side roads in Uganda.

Other than that, all is well, and although there is a large number of men with guns around the place, none of them are actively using them at this point. Which is so much better than what apparently happened here a few weeks ago…