Retour à la Terre Natale
Return to The Motherland
For the first time in 11 years I was finally back in Congo (DRC). The trip was awful as my flight was delayed for over 5 hours at Gatwick, arriving at Kinshasa’s Ndjili Airport at 3.30 am.
As I stepped out the cabin door, I was bracing myself for a tropical heat wave welcoming me. Surprisingly enough the temperature was only 19˚C. Small drops of rain felt from the sky with a soft breeze welcoming us home. Africa was being good to us. Everyone was so excited to be back home on time for the Christmas celebrations; many like me having not been home for years, some even going for the first time. After years of wondering what is it really like out there and hearing mixed report of progress and decay, I was finally there to see it for myself. Home sweet home, I was finally Home.
As we where waiting for our buss on the tarmac I looked around at the dark surrounding, of the airport listening the ambient sound of a thousands hidden insects and birds. People talking French and Lingala all around me, the laughter and the jokes being passed around from passengers to passengers. It is then that I noticed the African communal spirit that united us all. Event though we came from the four corners of the world, Israel, Norway, Belgium, UK, France, etc… on that plane we where all children of the land going home. It didn’t matter that u didn’t know who the person next to you was; you could just talked to them and added your bit of salt at whatever “public” conversation you wanted to get into. There was a sense of “feel free to interrupt if you got something interesting to add”.
As we where waiting I pschyqued myself up for the check in. My dad’s order were clear no matter what they say do not give them a penny. Your papers are in check, if they cause you any trouble just tell them to deal with me… This was the topic of discussion on the plane just before we landed. To each their strategy; some used their local influence to make sure they checked-in without problem others prefer paying the welcoming tax and slide in the dollar note with the passport others like me will just have to argue their way through. Whichever way, one thing was for sure we would all get through.
The bus finally arrived and dropped us near the check-in. Some people are welcome by members of the military or people of influence who I was surprise to see having access to us before we even reached custom. I remember hearing a funny girl talking to her friend saying in a joking way “Don’t forget about your friends just now”. I laughed, it was every man for himself now. So I took my bag and looked up for a guy holding my name as my dad said someone will be waiting for me either there or on the other side. I couldn’t see my name anywhere, there was no one holding name signs but people asking are Mr such n such. So I headed to the check in officer and just before I reached him I heard my name and turned to see a man in a plane white T-shirt calling me. (Big smile on my face)
My hook up was there just as I asked if my dad sent him I heard a familiar voice calling me. It was my father standing by he door behind me. I wonder how on earth did I passed him when I was looking out for him.
It took less than 5 min for us to clear the cusom and as we crossed I was looking for Natacha my friend from London who just happened to be in the same flight too. My dad said he saw her go through with her mum. We headed to the car and there something all too familiar came across. The republican guards surrounding my father’s car like vultures on a carcass. Some were armed with their AK47, one of them called me out. “Excusez moi patron, Bonne Année” he said. This is polite greeting as he nods with the head bowing forward is a code for can I have a tip sir. This can seem intimidating for the unfamiliar person and whilst you are under no obligation to cash out, one has to be always cautious of how to respond to an armed man in uniform. The outcome of a disrespectful response and it would not be pretty. We explained that we had no change and they let us be.
Couple of hours passed as we waited in the car and still no sign of the my luggage. We went back to meet my father’s friend and find out why they were still not there? What we found was a chaotic scene, with people arguing in all directions in the airport. I asked a guy from my flight what was happening and he told us that the luggage from London did not make the transit at Tripoli. They would arrive on the next flight. This would be in 3 days on Saturday 25th at 11pm. This means we’ll have to visit the airport on Christmas Day!! Needless to mention the distressed that caused to so many who’s families where relying on their gifts to celebrate this year… A lady was coming for a funeral and had a brought with her the dresses for her mother’s burial. She was infuriated at the news and was holding up one of the luggage handlers of the airport commending him to go find her luggage. I felt so sorry hearing her cry wondering what she was to do now… The members of the company had long fled the scene and the only one to feel the full wrath of Londoners was the airport staff who had nothing to do what is so ever with the Libyan airline company.
It was 5 am and my dad and I decided to leave rather than waste a minute more waiting. We got on the car and started driving through the city. The road was pretty smooth I have to say, I expected pot wholes every 5 min but we drove non stop through Massina the 1st area you visit as you enter Kin. It was still dark yet I could see a multitude of people walking in the dark heading toward the city centre. I asked my dad why was there so many up before sunrise? This isn’t London where people never sleep? Even in London you wouldn’t see such masses before 7 am usually.
These where people heading out to set up the market stool in various part of the city. They had to get up early to be able to find a good spot but also because transportation is difficult and can take hours to get them from A to B. it made me think of London’s tube network at rush hour. A signal failure on the Jubilee line could make you cry.
As we got closer to town eventually the pot whole started appearing filled with water from the heavy rain that preceded my arrival. I saw a couple of mini buss who fell victim of their traps. Stock and unable to move out the muddy sand. This is why people ride in 4×4 here, to avoid these kind of situations. Having said so I was surprised by the calibre of luxurious cars we saw on our way. Hammers, Bentleys Dodges and other American imports which was very surprising to me considering I didn’t see many of those a decade ago when I left. You haven’t seen nothing yet my dad said. Here any luxury car get shipped in soon as it get released in Europe or the States. The roads may not all be suitable but people got cash to burn in here.
As we drove near the stadium I saw massive advertising banners surrounding it. A new road was built with 4 lanes looking very modern. Its been named the shortest motorway in the world apparently. It measures about 4 miles and we are in the process of building another one of 12 miles to lead to the airport and it would be 12 lanes wide. I was impressed I had to say it was a work in progress still but it looked great. As we got nearer to town I noticed various tall building that did not exist when I left. Those were hotels built for tourists, flats for rental built by returning Congolese but also by the Lebanese who seem to have a ridiculous amount of cash at their disposal. The country is currently being investigated for being used in money laundering for terrorist groups such as the Hezbollah or Al-Qaida. Whilst the rest of the developed world is seeing bank closure Congo is booming with new bank opening own by the Arabs and Asian companies. Tower blocks are rising in the city where the price of land has risen to incredible amounts competing to those of European cities in some areas. Surprisingly enough those aren’t all build my multinational; many are owned by individuals. Individual who’s profession is not really clear but who are able to put enough cash on the table to make Bill Gate blink twice.
After a long journey, we finally got home, the gate opened and we parked in. I took a glass of cold drink and my dad gave me the keys to my room and my copy of the house keys. As I walked in I was kind of surprised cos there was no duvet? I thought, how am I suppose to keep myself warm using just bed sheets? We use to have duvet before I left. I loved to going under them when I switched on the air conditioning. How am I gonna do this now…? After I took a shower and laid in bed. I realised how I actually did NOT need a duvet to keep warm. The temperature was just PERFECT and I slept like a baby.
I was so glad to be back, to hear the sounds of choirs in the distance singing Christmas song in the morning. The melodious chant of the birds waking you up dawn with a sound of a rooster in a neighbouring house announcing the beginning of the day. Everything here seems so organic. It’s the best way I can describe it. Natures still plays a big role in the daily activities. Sunrise equal working time sunset , home time unless of course you going to hit the bars and the clubs. Some part have become non-stop areas my cousin told me. With bars opening until sunrise, when stores start opening up.
There is no hard water here my skin doesn’t get attacked by the high level of limestone as I wash. I sweat a lot, but my tan is nice a glow with a healthy shine. All the fruits are organics and they don’t cost you a fortune. I picked up Mangosteens from the garden that I ate with my breakfast miummmy… As for snow and winter, it’s something that only exist on TV screens here. But most of all no one calls me a stranger, even after 11 years away all they say when they see me is Welcome Home…