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.
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