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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Barely Made It Back

Sorry about not keeping you informed, but internet access was lousy in Congo. Last time I could use someone’s high-bandwidth connection, but this time I was restricted to the use of Cybercafés that generally had lousy computers and an even less trustworthy connection to cyberspace. So I’ll give you a brief report:

While we’re queuing for the umpteenth time to get into the plane on Tuesday, I notice a message on a screen that asks Mr and Mrs. Kaping to contact the boarding staff immediately. ‘Kaping’ in Dutch means high-jacking. Luckily they never show up. A couple of days later we see the news in a local restaurant and learn all about the mayhem in European and US airports. Apparently, the panic started after the secret services found a couple of people in Pakistan with plans to blow up explosives by using tooth paste and Eau de Cologne. Just great, this means even more delays, queuing and frisking in the future. And I really don’t understand the panic, more than three quarters of the population in Pakistan has concrete plans to bomb us.

Arrival in Kinshasa airport was smooth. In fact during arrival and departure a week later, only two people asked for a bribe to pass the check-points. And this improvement is not limited to the airport alone. The general atmosphere is much more relaxed. Maybe it has something to do with the presence of an international military force – EUFOR – but it can also just be a coincidence. Things can turn ugly here rather quickly, but so far so good. It’s been two weeks now since the general and presidential elections. The results are still not known, because of the logistic difficulties. Ballot boxes have to be brought in by bike, donkey, foot, pirogue, etc. and then everything has to be counted and recounted manually. And that in a country that is huge but has a general lack of roads that are worthy of that name. The radio gives the intermediate results of each district that has finished counting, and so far the main contenders are Joseph Kabila, the son of the old revolutionary Laurent Désiré Kabila who overthrew the Mobutu regime, and Jean-Pierre Bemba. Supporters of both parties already claim victory, while other less popular candidates claim that the elections were not fair, despite being monitored by the international community and being deemed fair. It seems possible that a second round will have to be organised with the main contenders. The question is: how will the losers react? As a precautionary measure, Angola sent its military to strengthen the border region, so that gives you a clue as to what might happen.

We stayed in rooms that are let by one of our partner organisations. There was no warm water in the shower – or a shower head – but it was clean. There was also a mosquito net, something I foolishly forgot while packing. In my defence, it was difficult to pack in a house that’s still filled to the rim with boxes. Electricity was only available now and then (more then than now). Generally there’s none in the evening while you need it, so we spent most of our evenings in one of the two restaurants nearby. We couldn’t risk walking much further at night, we’d been dead meat.

We had a busy week, with loads of interesting meetings, discussions and so on that would bore your head off, so let’s skip that part. We also spent much of our ‘free’ Saturday to look for a decent second hand car. Unfortunately prices are soaring at the moment, with all those new organisations coming in to re-launch the development process in this country. We only have half the budget we need, but by sheer luck we manage to find a decent Mitsubishi Pajero jeep, without a leaky engine, rotting chassis or body work that has more holes in it than an Emmenthal cheese. This is the second car I buy in two weeks; I’m getting good at this. I manage to pretend that I know all about cars, looking at the engine and poking and pulling at things, looking with a sceptical look to the suspension and exhaust pipe, looking for rust and rot on the body work. My colleagues are duly impressed.

On Sunday, we have most of the day off and we drive to a place next to the river, near the rapids west of the city. It’s a nice spot without any garbage – you have to pay to get in. I took some very nice pictures, if I may so myself, but you may never see them since my luggage has gone missing with my camera in it. At the moment I’m waiting anxiously on a phone call from Air France…

Posted by Bart at 8:47 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

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