"Arriving in Kinshasa 1995" Ville de Kinshasa by francish7
Ville de Kinshasa Travel Guide: 22 reviews and 24 photos
As with my arrival in 1992, there were lots of people milling around - hangers-on, opportunists and even airport officials. No one had a uniform, or badge, to identify them, except the soldiers, who, it seems, add whatever they want to make themselves look even more menacing. Everybody tells you that they are in charge of this or that. Basically it's a mob.
In the surge moving from the plane to the airport building a man said, (in French) "Are you English?" I was expecting to be met by somebody from the procure, the central mission in Kinshasa, and so it was reasonable to assume that he was my contact.
He took my passport and handed it to a young man who went off to get it stamped. The first man asked me to go with him to collect my bag. He introduced me to the commandant of the soldiers, who was "in charge of all the security at the airport." He welcomed me in gushing terms with a toothy smile and mirror sunglasses, while idly fingering his machine gun. I changed from my poor French to Lingala in which I am fairly competent.
We crowded around the small carousel when the young man came back with my passport. The first man came close and said in hushed tones, "Give him a little something for bringing your passport back so quickly." Now I was beginning to doubt whether or not he was from the procure, but at the same time I had put a little money ready for such eventualities. The salary for a manual worker at this time was equivalent to about two American dollars. I had $2,000 in my socks but I had $20 in $1 bills down the front of my trousers. I produced this envelope and asked cautiously, "How much shall I give him . . . a dollar? . . . two dollars?" thinking at the same time that I probably wasn't talking to a representative of the mission but instead a con-man. He scooped up the money and spread it out on his hand searching through the dollar bills for something more substantial. "Ah, what's this?" he said, "Where's your money? Give me $100 dollars!"
So then I knew. Not the mission rep. A con-man.
The money, of course, was pocketed; five dollars being given to the boy who'd brought my passport back and it was pointless making a fuss about it. He now set about trying to find my bag for me. After a long wait, the first bags started to emerge. There were angry shouts as the militia beat people down from the carousel with sticks. We all crowded round and guarded our pockets. The man came back. I'd earlier let him take my baggage ticket and he was still looking for my bag. I took it from his hand.
"I'll find my own bag; I don't need your help," I said.
"Look," he said, "Give me $100 and I'll find your bag quickly for you." He obviously thought that $100 was small change for a European.
"Go away and stop bothering me!" I shouted.
After a few more minutes he came back.
"They will make you open your bags at customs," he said, "And you will have to pay a lot."
It brought to mind all the stories I'd heard of other people passing through the airport, officials asking huge amounts because somebody had a radio in their bag, or officials rummaging through a nun's underwear to embarrass her into paying something.
"Bide your time," I thought, "You'll get through this all right."
"I have nothing to hide," I replied, "They can open anything they want. Now, go away!"
It wasn't long before he came back again. This time he told me I should give him $100 because there were so many soldiers with guns and they would take everything off me. He could get me out of the airport without any bother. It was at this point that I saw my bag, a large green backpack amid the heaving crowd of my fellow travellers who were all leaning eagerly over the carousel to catch sight of their luggage. Somebody else approached me. It was someone from the procure, come to collect me. Good. I seized my bag and headed to the exit. First I had to pass the trestle table of the customs officials.
"Have you anything to declare?" a woman demanded.
"No, nothing," I answered.
"What about presents for the friends you're visiting?" she ventured.
"No, no presents," I said.
"Monsieur, open the green bag!" she ordered.
"What for?" I said, my voice raised, "It's only clothes!"
She quietened a little and tried a softer approach, "Aren't you going to pay me anything?"
Now although it was true that my green bag contained mostly clothes, the sports bag slung over my shoulder, which I'd carried as cabin baggage, had a bottle of whisky, a radio-cassette player, some packs of tobacco and several other things that could have provoked interest.
One man came right up to me, his face only inches from mine. "Give her something for the transport!" he growled - meaning, " Just give her some money as a tip." Thinking that the best thing now would be to maintain my assertive stance I was determined to give as good as I got.
"I gave all my money to that man over there!" I snapped, pointing back into the crowd; they could see I was angry, "And I'm not giving anybody anything else! So you can all stop bothering me!"
With that I got hold of my bag, slung it onto my shoulder and strode towards the exit, which was guarded by a small group of soldiers. They didn't know what to do.
"Monsieur, monsieur!" they pleaded, gesturing in panic for me to stop - but nothing could stop me now, I'd had enough.
I marched straight towards the middle of them, as they moved across the doorway to bar my way. I put on my most determined look, pointed with outstretched arm and shouted,
"Open the door!"
Just as I got to them they sprang back out of my way, standing to attention - and I was out.
So now someone had met me and there was a driver waiting in a minibus. As we approached the minibus some soldiers came up to us saying that they were the security for the car park. They didn't really pester us and I just smiled said hello and then ignored them. The young man who had come to meet me let the young couple get into the minibus with me. I assumed that they were also going to the procure and he was giving them a lift. I collapsed, relieved, into the seat behind the driver. " Let's go! Let's go!" I said. We moved forward a bit and then stopped.
"Come on, let's go!" I said again.
The driver seemed unwilling to go he kept on edging forward a bit and then stopping. I had visions of officials or soldiers coming and asking for money or to see papers. I wanted to get away from the airport as fast as possible. Then I realised what was happening. The couple who had got in with me were waiting to be paid. They'd told the driver that they had helped me in the airport. It is true that they'd said hello to me, but that was hardly enough to get paid!
Eventually, I fished in my pocket and pulled out a few pounds worth of Belgian francs. It was actually more than I wanted to give but I wasn't in the right frame of mind to calculate the exchange rate. They started demanding 1,000 Belgian francs; I quickly ushered them out of the minibus and we were off.
I relaxed for the first time since arriving. I giggled quietly to myself, spreading myself out on the wide seat behind the driver. The driver and his escort laughed with me.
"Ah, monsieur!" he said, "You know how to talk to those airport people! It's terrible there and it's getting worse."
We drove down the wide, main road leading to the centre of Kinshasa, passing other cars, military jeeps, open backed lorries bulging with passengers, market traders - the world.
I'd made it.
I'd got through the airport by myself; I was here and I was very, very happy.
Zaire today . . .
After the fall of the Mobutu regime the victorious army of Laurent Desire Kabila took power with popular support.
Unfortunately, President Kabila's partners in the war against the corrupt government of the previous 30 years
wanted more than they received in the New Congo.
During my visit in 1998,
on August 2nd,
a bloody rebellion was launched.
This continues even now, even amid the internationally declared ceasefire.
Laurent Kabila was assassinated
and his son (he's about 30 years old) has been appointed
President of the Republic.
And so the country stands divided
- divided by blood stained lines
across a bewildered and grieving populace.
- Pros:Since the new government, the airport is much improved!
- Cons:You need to be assertive to avoid getting fleeced.
- In a nutshell:Wonderful people, wonderful country!
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