I had forgotten the chill of the air in the morning, as it rolls off the river, fat and moist and cold.
I had forgotten the hazy glow of a cavernous room, lit from above by a single bulb
I had forgotten the thick woody smell of Kisangani, where most still cook by fire, and bricks are made in towering mounds that pulsate with heat.
I'd forgotten the angry hum of the generator, constantly buzzing in the background, eager not to be forgotten because it is your only source of electricity or light as the night enters Kisangani and permeates every room of the house.
I had forgotten too the hot stickiness on the back of my neck, sleeping against a foam mattress in the stagnant heat of the night and sweating through my hair.
Yet I imagine most people in Kinshasa never experience these things, for while this is the Congo that I love most, the morning clattering with birds and rustling and cocks crowing, it is nothing like the capital city, hot and dry and brown.
Our trip to Kisangani yesterday felt long. We woke up at 5 to get things done before we left, and the airplane at noon was delayed because pilots were missing, and they kept piling us onto and off of the bus that only went 200 meters to the plane and back to the hollow lounge. The airport itself is chaotic, as men scream at each other and it reverberates in the huge cement room, and everyone is keen to "help" as they surround you. Official workers are not always in official uniforms, and I find that, to preserve my sanity, I tend to outright ignore about 90% of what is said to me.
Travelers in the US complain of body scans, but flying in Congo is far more invasive. There is a security check at every door, and at least 4 doors before you even reach the lounge. Each check wants not only your passport and ticket, but your Ordre de Mission, your visa, your profession, your origin, how long you are staying, and each man eyeballs you as though you couldn't possibly be flying for any reason but SIN! Or anti-government treachery.
Even just to leave the airport on your flight, you need a "Go Pass". For domestic flights, it costs $15 for the privilege of leaving Kinshasa, but for international flights, it costs $50.
Can you imagine traveling anywhere in the US where they needed your stated purpose for traveling, written by your employer, stamped and signed and sealed? And had to pay just to leave??
My bags were searched twice by white-gloved "agents" who, unlike their counterparts in the Western world, scoured even the bottom of my bag with a hungry, eager look in their eyes. It's hard to believe that something is forbidden on the plane when the first question they ask is "what is this?"
After much scowling and arguing, they walked away with only my Tom's toothpaste and 2 batteries, so, if you're in Kinshasa and want some Tom's, check the markets near N'jili today.
It's about a 2 hour flight between Kinshasa and Kisangani, but it feels a world away. Kinshasa has few trees left, but Kisangani has them in abundance, surrounding the airport, flanking the roads. Kisangani is a relatively big town, but it still feels quiet and wild. Though it is considered one of the "big" cities of Congo, we have no electricity right now because there hasn't been any for 2 weeks.
Along the river from the front stoop where I sit, surrounded by verdant green, I can see an old street lamp and birds flying into it, as it may no longer work to provide light but can still provide shelter. Just over the wall of the compound is a tall pole with tattered remnants of a Congolese flag, fluttering in the cool morning breeze.
I wish I got to spend more time here, but I know I will be able to next time.
Until we meet again, Kisangani
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Location:Kisangani, à coté de fleuve