Travel to the Congo

Trip Start Apr 18, 2016
Trip End May 15, 2016

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Flag of Congo - The Dem. Repub.  ,
Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I've started what will be, if all goes as planned, a four-week trip through several countries in Africa and Europe. The preparations have been going on for about two months with some arrangements still ongoing.

To prepare for such a trip, I start roughing in an itinerary about 6-8 weeks in advance. We take into account local needs, most recent visits, and safety concerns on the ground. As to the latter, I would very much like to visit Burundi, it's been over a year since Daniel Harper and I have been there, but it still is not safe. The ongoing violence continues in Bujumbura especially, which is where we would need to be based.

By early March we were working with a travel agent to decide on flights, based on where we need to go, available flights and prices. The first price quoted is usually quite a bit higher than what we’ll pay in the end. We will juggle days and airlines until we can get a price that seems reasonable for a workable itinerary. This takes several days and many e-mails.

As departure day gets closer other arrangements are made. Packing lists are checked. What can I hand carry, to whom, within our baggage weight limits? I weigh the suitcase and adjust the contents. A few extra pounds in the States are not much of a problem. In much of rest of the world, they will cost quite a lot each time we check in for a flight.

Before this trip I had to renew my yellow fever vaccination, which is required to receive visas in much of Africa. There is a major outbreak of this mosquito borne illness in Angola. The vaccination is good for 10 years, and this was my third shot, which means I’ve been going to Africa for 20 years now. I also had boosters against a few other diseases. It’s important to keep tetanus coverage up to date, and so I also had a Tdap (against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), a dead polio vaccine, one for meningitis, and one against typhoid fever (taken orally this provides longer protection. Those are the higher risk diseases. A few of the more exotic vaccinations I don’t get, such as rabies which costs $750-1000. The risks are small and they are quite expensive. I pack a malarial remedy, in case I come down with that disease. This time, I also sprayed my clothing with permethrin, very effective in preventing mosquito bites. The chemical will stay in the clothing for six washes, which should be enough to get me in and out of Africa.

I try to get ahead of the curve in editorial matters, so I don’t get behind while traveling. And I try to have a sermon or two ready in advance of needs.

Finally D-day arrives. Monday, I called an Uber car just before 10:00 Monday for the drive to DFW. I kissed my wife for the last time for four weeks, and we talked through the next month one more time. The driver arrived in 7 minutes, an affable older fellow named Joseph, originally from Iran. He came west through Turkey on his way to the US, so we discuss our favorite places in Istanbul.

The first flight leaves on time at 10:25. We fly to Cincinnati. Taking this route a day earlier than originally planned, saved $1000 over other itineraries, but it makes for a longer journey. CVG is an airport where I started about 5 years’ worth of trips, so this is a stroll down memory lane. The next flight was to Paris. I received a free upgrade to economy comfort, which means a little larger seat and a slightly better menu for dinner. I slept about two hours during the six-hour flight,and woke to a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic.

This morning I had two hours to make my connection in Paris. That could mean cutting it close, but things went smoothly and I had time for coffee in the Air France lounge before boarding for the seven-hour flight to Kinshasa. Again I received an upgrade to economy comfort but in the middle of three seats, something I try to avoid. Still the seats were wider and it was an advantageous change.

After lunch, I dozed, read, and flipped through the movies. There was nothing good that I had not already seen. I have started an interesting book about the Congolese wars that started after the genocide in Rwanda. It’s called Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, a quote taken from Laurent Kabila about how people in the region are easily willing to put up with brutal dictators as long as they get a slice of the pie. It’s been quite riveting up until now, in part because of my travel in areas affected. I also followed our progress on the flight maps that I could pull up on my little electronic screen. It’s always interesting to me to think of the places over which we’re flying.

We landed in Kinsahsa, on time at 17:30, and I was thankful to have been seated toward the front of the plane. We were toward the front of the considerable line to clear arrival formalities. I answered a few questions, had my passport stamped, showed my vaccination card at the health desk, and by the time I arrived at baggage claim my suitcase was already on the belt. Justin, Victor and André were waiting outside with a taxi. Several luggage handlers walked along next to us as we carried and rolled my suitcase and carry-on to the car. Though they hadn’t carried my bags, since they had walked with us, they asked for tip…. When I gently said no, one complained, "but we waited for you!" It’s hard to make a living here.

The sun was setting as we drove toward Kinshasa. This is the rainy season and as we neared the city, we drove toward and under an abnormally dark sky, caused not only by the setting sun, but by menacing black thunderheads. Bolts of lightning cut through the sky, in strange colors: orange tinged with green, yellow edged in blue. I didn’t remember seeing such colored lightning before. I thought for a moment this was an image for entering many parts of Africa where I go: a vague sense of menace, a darkness of corruption, violence and suffering, and many sights one doesn’t see elsewhere. I felt the continent was welcoming me with a warning.

At the hotel I paid the driver 40 dollars and received the equivalent of 10 dollars change in Congolese francs. After filling in a very intrusive check-in form, I was given the key to my room on the second floor. I thanked the men for coming and we agreed to meet tomorrow to discuss the next days’ events.

I sprayed on some mosquito repellent, walked out to the restaurant in the gardens and ordered a plate of spaghetti and a glass of red wine for dinner. There are many foreign visitors here now, more than I’ve ever seen before at this hotel. Just as I arrived back in my room, the sky split open and rain poured down in heavy sheets. The rain seemed to close us up in a cocoon, insulate us from the presence of other people. And it insulated us from the rest of the world by cutting off our internet access. I will hope to post this account tomorrow when the connection can be reestablished. 

 And now after only a few hours’ sleep last night, this night is welcome.
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Mom on

We're looking forward to our arm-chair travels with you, sans the shots and super-duper mosquito repellent. May your Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread be rich and fulfilling, and the members inspired to meet the challenges of difficult places in difficult times.


Thank you Mr. Meeker! Much appreciated your travel blog! I could appreciate the planning that you put in for this trip or any other trips you've made in the past. May you have a wonderful Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread whichever countries you'll end up at these times together with our brethrens!

Kathy Treybig on

I appreciated your sharing the detailed planning that goes into each of these trips and will be adding your health along to your safety in my prayers as you travel. (We don't have to have multiple vaccines and spray our clothes when we visit the brethren we serve!) We're looking forward to reading about your interactions with our French-speaking brethren!

Beverly Lofty on

Thank you so much for your wonderful posts. You write in such a way that I truly feel I am with you on these journeys. My prayers will be with you on this trip. I will also pray for your wife as this has to be very hard on her nerves as well. Have a wonder Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread wherever you are :-) May God be beside you every step of the way.

Clyde Kilough on

You will be in our prayers as always for this journey. The "vague sense of menace, a darkness of corruption, violence and suffering, and [feeling that] the continent was welcoming me with a warning," is always a bit unsettling, I'm sure, but your blog helps us remember that is the daily reality for our brethren in those areas. Your time spent with the members there surely brings them a ray of light, though. Travel well!

Carol Froedge on

Wanted to add my prayers for your health and safety while traveling. I always look forward to hearing updates about the brethren in Africa and Europe! Thank you for your sacrifice in serving the brethren in these far away places.

mary hendren on

We will keep you in our prayers during this long trip. Thanks for taking time to describe your journey and the brethren there. Already you've mentioned something new--colored lightning. What a welcome! We trust that your days will be productive and gratifying.

Jim & Barbara Chapman on

Joel, Your comments and trips are so interesting and helpful. We appreciate all you and your family do to serve and to keep us informed of our scattered brethren. Keep up the good work and ours hearts and prayers are with you.

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