I travelled to Kinshasa with my family on the 6th of August 2011 for four weeks. The trip was a mixture of emotions (holiday is too kind of a word when I think about my travels to DR congo), hence why I have taken two months to recover from it all before sharing it all here with you *apologises* . Primarily, we went because my brother was getting married, but nonetheless, it is always nice to get away from mundane London life as I know it. A mixture of emotions because Kinshasa drains me! As much as I love-to hate it-to love it-nicely (yes I made that up), it is much easier to appreciate it from a distance that way I am not so emotionally attached nor drained.
Where do I begin? That was the connundrum – the very reason I have not written about it. There is just too much to say and only one of me to put fingers to laptop. I will start from the beginning, I hear that is always the best place to commence…
On the day of our flights we all went to do our ‘last minute buys’ , you would think that our suitcases were not already full! – my mother, my sister and myself; all in different directions, armed with our lists and mobile phones in hand with an agreed meeting point and time of return
which of course none of us abided to I laugh at the thought of this now as I type because that always happens; why we do not learn our lessons is beyond explanation. I even had my bff, who very kindly offered to tackle shop A for me while I hurriedly scoured the various shop B – we basically had team work on lock!
When you travel to DR Congo; and I presume to most African countries, you pack everything! From bleach, to coffee; random things that you would not usually take with you on a holiday to Greece for instance (although with their current economic status I may just have to pack bleach there too!). This is because most products are priced extortionatly. Items which are for everyday uses are considered luxury goods. To add salt to wound, my five years old son accompanied us, very thrilled to go to Africa and DRC for the first time; so you can imagine what was in his suitcase: Paint brushes, Nintendo Wii, colouring books, homework- yes even on holiday – crisps, conrflakes – which he didn’t even eat because we only bought powdered milk, Baby Jack the baby elephant he has owned since birth and so forth. In total we spent £4500 on four plane tickets, added cost of vaccinations, holiday purchases, wedding costs, entertainment etc this trip was indeed costly.
We leave the shopping malls and get home to make our way to the airport by taxi -because getting the bus by the time we regrouped was now out of the question. We eventually got in the car after numerous attempts of un-packings and re-packings as well as shouts coming from different rooms and directions at mum’s house – basically it was mayhem! The craziest thing though, was that my younger sister, whose decision to join us on this trip was not planned, just took a bundle of clothes from her wardrobe and threw them all in a suitcase – her graduation present from all of us. Needless to say my MR Man who was driving us to the airport was fuming and not impressed at all! I had to do some MAJOR sucking up and sweet-talking and cajoling for redemption on our journey from South London to Heathrow airport!
Kinshasa here we come
Turbulences on the plane passed, height hours of flying later, we make it to Kin. (Kinshasa). When the plane landed, my son raised his hands in the air and shouted with joy mimicking the lyrics “Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Kinshasa” which he had heard from the film Viva Riva trailer at home. He pretty much summed it up for us all: We all were pretty much elated and content.
Embracing the city
The heat is the first thing that hits you. The pulsating rays of the sun pierce through your flesh like a sharp razor blade. It is no wonder that people walk so slowly, a contrast from what I am accustomed to seeing from fast-paced Londonners who are haunted by the evil spirit named British Weather! Often my son would ask and say: “mummy, when is the sun going to stop? I’m sweating like a turkey in Novemver” but then I would just ignore him after the last comment!
Kinshasa is a vibrant sprawling city, full of life, hustlers and bustling with energy. It is overpopulated in my opinion with little infrastructure to cater to the needs of the masses. Nonetheless, the Congolese people by nature, have learnt to live and get by with little contribution from the state, not concerned about what is happening around them; each to their own – which they refer to as the constitutional code “Article 15: Debrouillez-vous”; a mockery to the government’s lack of responsibility towards its citizens. That is the fighting spirit which Kinshasa exudes; from side-walk merchants to the Peloustore supermarkets sprouting around the city, to the various banks and ATM /cash points submerging here and there. A clear reminder of the social class differences yet cohesion between the rich and the poor and the emergence of a new breed of opportunists.
One thing that residents of Kinshasa know how to do is party! There are numerous nightclubs in the city to suit your tastes and requirements. From salsa nights and happy hour at the Black and White, rumba dances at Mambo or a more classier feel at Atmosphere night club in Grand Hotel to name but a few. There is a submergence of new night clubs since my time there in 2008, very classy too; restaurants, supermarkets and even comedy clubs; a message from the new Congolese entrepreneurs whose desire to bring eloquence and modernise the city is apparent.
Prostitutes are a common attraction in these places, an accepted social norm. Young females in their late teens, scouring for their next clients around bistros and ngandas (similar to open air winebars). They are often dressed in very
cheap seductive clothes yet look like your average female clubber on a night out. Often in groups, they walked up and down very randomly, while others would sit at the bar often without a drink while making suggestive advances and eye contacts to the various men who, more often than not would be there to take a pick from the bunch; Europeans, Africans, Congolese diapora, Asians, Arabs…
It is disheartening to witness, especially since I know that the young females are sexually exploiting themselves due to hardship and difficult socio-economic circumstance they find themselves in. Some would stare at my sister and I while we sat at one of the tables with a male friend. But all the while, as I sat there, I wondered what they were thinking about us. We did, however get some ‘bitch-get-out-of-my-turf’ stares which I found quite amusing…………. girls will be girls!
So yes; we partied and soaked up the city one day at a time……………. Congo-Kinshasa.
Let me know what you think. If you have been to Kinshasa, Africa or a new city, what stood out the most the first time to you?