Visits around Kinshasa

Trip Start Sep 05, 2007
Trip End Oct 07, 2007

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Flag of Congo - The Dem. Repub.  ,
Saturday, September 8, 2007

Today I slept in a bit since I hadn't slept much during my 24-hour travel day. The last part of the morning I spent the morning getting organized for the next few days and catching up on e-mail. I was able to connect my laptop by cable in the Business Center, but the speed was so slow I gave up after downloading my messages. I'd try back later.

Right after lunch Jacob came with Justin, Eméry, and a driver named Henri. A local church member had loaned us a car, a very old BMW that died at every stoplight. Apparently only Henri is able to nurse it along and keep it going, so the owner said if Henri would drive we could borrow the car otherwise, no. We put 7500 Francs (15 dollars) worth of gas in, and set out.

The first stop was the Memling Hotel. The Grand Hotel Kinshasa is way overpriced, but it was the only one I could be sure of without ever having been there. This time I wanted to check out a hotel that would cost less for my future visits. The Memling is just across the street from the French embassy. That's always a good neighborhood in French-speaking countries; the French are good about evacuating nationals of other countries in the event of trouble. The US embassy is father but it would still be possible to get there on foot in a pinch. The lobby was clean and modern and there were enough other Westerners about that I decided I'd try it next time.

Our next stop was out toward the airport at the conference center where they hoped to hold the Feast of Tabernacles this year.

To try to escape the heavy traffic on the main road to the airport, we took a road that paralleled the Congo River. Even though we were barely a hundred meters from the river, I never saw it, because the river banks are completely full of businesses, factories and the like surrounded by high walls. As we progressed slowly, we discussed the UN presence in Congo. It's not favorably seen in Kinshasa. The "blue helmets" as they're sometimes called here are trying to make and keep the peace in the war-torn East of the country, over near the Rwandan border. Many of the troops come from Muslim countries. "They not supposed to drink and they won't touch a drop at home" Jacob said "but here they drink all the time, and because they're paid more than anyone else around and the poverty is so hard here women sell themselves to the soldiers; they're taking all the girls that way. They drive big white 4x4s and they drive fast. Since they have diplomatic immunity, when they hit someone on the road, they can't even be arrested." He went on with other examples of how locals feel the UN has just come in and taken over. It took over part of the airport strictly for UN use, it has several large building compounds surrounded by walls, barbed wire, with machine gun-armed watch towers manned 24/7. I could understand the frustration.

At the conference center I found the rooms were typical of this kind of establishment in Africa, not overly clean, but acceptable by local standards. Most had showers, though

the bucket full of water in each shower stall indicated the water wasn't working or at least didn't work all the time. There was a decent meeting room with electricity, and we could rent the use of the kitchen. The cost was four dollars per bed per night, ten dollars to rent the kitchen for the whole eight days, and they'd throw the meeting room in for free. And children stay free. Not a bad deal. I said we needed to discuss it among ourselves, but that we'd give an answer very soon.

We moved slowly through the erratic traffic back toward the center of the city. We passed several gigantic concrete monuments commemorating past events. They weren't well maintained; weeds were growing out of cracks in the structures sometimes quite high up the structures. A brand new sports car roared past. Jacob said "that's part of why our country is poor. As soon as someone somehow makes some money he spends it on a fancy expensive sports car or some other useless thing to show off!" [The French have an interesting expression for this; it's called m'a tu vu?: literally "did you see me?"]. Jacob explained further: "They could spend the money on something constructive, start a business that would employ people it would help build the country instead of keeping it poor. Pride is keeping our country poor!" I couldn't but agree.

We stopped at Victor's house. Victor is another of the leaders in this small congregation. As we entered the home and greeted Victor's wife Généreuse, and the younger children, we were told Victor probably wouldn't make it. The business where he works is involved in some legal wrangling betweens share holders and the State (which also owns capital). Someone tried to pull a fast one and take over the building so the police had sealed it off with a cordon and wouldn't let anyone in or out. Victor was stuck inside until the dispute could be resolved. I spoke to him briefly on a cell phone and he welcomed me to his home, and said he thought he would be able to see me the next day at Church services.

Généreuse had prepared a meal for us, so we sat around the table and ate: foo foo (a sort of dough made essentially of cornmeal and manioc - it is the staple here), rice, fish, potatoes, several sauces included one made of egg plant, and a few vegetables.

I ate lightly partly because I'd only been in country a day and I didn't want to take too big a health risk, and partly because they needed the food more than I did. After dinner Généreuse asked if I would pray for the family, so we all knelt in the living room and prayed, especially asking that Victor be released quickly and without incident. (He did make it home later in the afternoon.)

Back in the car we drove on to Eméry's house, where he introduced me to his wife Véronique. They showed me around quickly and once again they asked if we could pray together, and I was happy to oblige. By the time our short visit had ended the sun was sinking in the sky, and in Kinshasa it's best to be in by dark. We drove back to the hotel, and agreed to meet the next morning at 9:30 to go to services which would be held at Jacob's house.

The Internet was a little more fluid in the early evening and I was able to do my due diligence.

For dinner I had a pizza out in the straw-roofed pizza restaurant in courtyard of the hotel. Behind a canvas wall, there was a big formal event going on around the pool: live band, cocktails, a catered meal, a mix of expats and Congolese. What a difference from all the grinding poverty we'd been driving though all day. I felt a little indignant at the disparity, especially since the locals who have enough money to come to gigs like this almost certainly didn't come by their money ethically. It's the way of the third world.
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