Thursday, March 3, 2011

By the Seat of Your Pants

Hotel Sultani Hall, Gombe, Kinshasa

As we pull out of Douala International Airport in Cameroon, the mist clinging heavily to the plane windows, I cannot help but notice how empty the plane is, and what exactly will befall me once I arrive in the town many expats "lovingly" refer to as Poubelleville. AKA TRASH TOWN.

The last time I came through Kinshasa, my pickup completely garbled my name and desperately followed me around the airport, shaking a sign at me that read "M. Roland" -- I of course only learned of the error much later in the day when I was already $200 poorer, between bribes to the customs officials and the cab ride.

The air is wet and smells of burning corn when I get off the plane. It's so humid, especially in stark contrast to the plane's frozen and arid interior. It's such a familiar smell, especially once I make it down the metal stairs and the heavy wet air is mingled with the smell of pungent and thick body odor.

I don't have any problems at customs, and imagine my relief when I enter the baggage area and there is a friendly-looking gent earnestly holding a chalkboard that says "Mme. Laura"

He greets me, and I head over to the baggage carousel. The good news keeps on acomin'! Both my bags arrive after about fifteen minutes, and Jolly Mr Chalkboard escorts me into a lovely waiting room that is wood-paneled and replete with wrinkled and waterlogged magazines about global economy and world finance from 2005.

I get to chatting with a cool Portuguese business guy and when the van is finally ready to go, we've struck up a nice friendship. It's his first time ever in Congo, and it reminds me a lot of some of my first experiences. Having never before seen some of the slums and ghettos of urbanized Africa, he's shocked and horrified, and I try not to alarm him while I watch a pair of military guys shake down a matatu minibus next to us.

The main driver asks me where I'm going, and I remind him that he's got the information from my friend already, and he assures me that he's got it and everything is under control. Surprisingly, forty-five minutes later, his boss is sure that he doesn't have the address, and my poor friend is MIA, and where exactly am I going to end up?

So... I'm at a hotel. Not in my budget, but I will make due and scrimp on some other things later, I think. I ended up staying in Sergio's hotel, a funny little place in the main business district.

My first room seems to have no lights -- and, upon examination, I discovered that none of the lamps have BULBS. I asked the bellhop, a slight woman who has trouble even lifting my purse, if she could bring me some lightbulbs, so imagine my surprise when she came up twenty minutes later with a new lamp.

The bathroom was still completely dark though, and instead of just bringing me some lightbulbs, they had me change rooms.

Finally parked in one place, I am relaxing and digesting the day. Heather came by, sad to have had our meetup plans go so terribly askew, but I reassured her that if I wasn't homeless and lightbulbless, it wouldn't quite feel like Congo. I will confess to having eaten most of the peppermint patties I brought for two months in a single evening, in light of the bar being closed upon arrival.

But I am happy to be here, and safe, and will likely spend tomorrow writing emails and getting a local sim card.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rue Romeo Vachon N,Dorval,Canada

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