Monday, December 10, 2007
Back In Belgium
Yes, I made it back alive. After two weeks of hard work – one on the road and one spent in meetings – we were let off the hook for a couple of hours on Saturday morning. We visited Lola Ya Bonobo, a refugee centre for Bonobos that are liberated from captivity. Bush meat is very popular in Congo, and when the hunters kill the adult Bonobos, they often take the babies and try to sell them on the market. This is highly illegal, but to the Congolese, 'law' is something like the moon landing: they've heard people talk about it but for the rest it doesn't have any practical consequences for their everyday life.
The sanctuary is only a two hour drive from Kinshasa. For us this meant that we were packed like sardines in the back of a jeep, all eight of us (plus someone in the front). We could only spend an hour-and-a-half in the centre, but we got to see quite a lot of Bonobos, some from a close distance. I took a heap of pictures for my brother, who is a Bonobo specialist and will be green with envy when I show them to him.
After a quick lunch – meaning we barely had the time to gulp everything down once we'd finally gotten our meal (I had Cosa Cosa or giant shrimp) – it was time for other monkey business: checking in our luggage. Every time this is an exercise in trying to remain calm despite the typical Congolese – erm – discipline: people climbing over your luggage, people fighting (not just with words), people trying to get in front of others leading to the previous activity, etcetera and so on.
Once we checked in our luggage in the city, we drove to the airport to check ourselves in. Although I must admit that it is easier than two years ago, taking a flight in Kinshasa's Ndjili airport still is a wild and slightly worrying experience.
Our flight was a night flight, with a stop in Youanda (Cameroon). As usual, I had to spent it in Toilet Class – a special class for people whose organisations can't afford an Economy Class ticket. It means your seat is located right next to the bussiest toilet in the plane, with your head right next to the flushing mechanism. So instead of dozing off into 30 minute bouts of sleep, I veered up ever single time I almost fell asleep because some clown or another flushed the toilet. Add to that the many interuptions for obligatory meals (don't pretend to sleep, they'll just shout at you until you confirm in words that you don't want to eat) and loud messages about tax free shopping, and you'll understand why I felt like I spent three weeks in Guantanamo when we finally arrived.
Mrs.B and little Wolf were waiting for me at the airport, so we had a huge hugging session while my colleagues waved their goodbyes. The little guy was very glad to see me, and I was suprised to see how much he'd grown in two weeks time. Back home, my first task was to take a shower, because I smelled like a two-week-old dead elephant. And then to bed...