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Published: March 17th 2010
As I have explained ... Lynn and James are here visiting the DRG currently ... bringing encouragement while we show them the communities we are working in and the communities we are moving to. With every visit from Zambia ... comes ... a trip to Lubumbashi. And with the vehicle being so important this week ... we elected not to take it on our journey to gather our visitors from Zambia. This can only mean one thing ... public transit to ... AND from ... Lubumbashi. There is always a good side to travelling with public transit ... and that is ... the stories.
I hope you laugh ... because I always do.
Early Monday morning I wake to my alarm ... it seems fitting that I use the “Snoopy theme song” from Charlie Brown ... because that is exactly how I feel at 6:30 in the morning ... I slowly move from my bed to the bathroom ... walking while brushing my teeth is about as close I can get to multi-tasking in this state. Coffee and buttered bread in hand I find a comfortable place on the couch to “wake-up”.
Erick stumbles in at about 6:50 and says, “Oh good ... you’re up.” I know he feels the same way I do ... we have a +2 hour trip on a packed-way-over-capacity bus on some of the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced ... not a lot to look forward to. Something will be different today however ... while Erick continues on from Lubumbashi to Kasumbalesa, the Congolese city on the border, I get to stay in Lubumbashi to extend my visa for my final 2 months in the DRG.
The sky is cloudless and blue ... it will be hot in Lubumbashi come 1:00pm.
We finish our coffee and bread and head for the bus station. I’m getting flash-backs of knee cramps in a mini-bus ... and as we walk into the chaos of the Likasi bus station its time to choose our ride.
Choosing which bus to take is more difficult than you would think. A mental checklist is kept and is the most important part of the selection process. The type of bus is the first to be considered ... now the exterior of each bus is the same ... white, dented, worn-out, old mini-bus ... but the interior is the key. There is the driver and passenger’s seat in the front followed by a bench seat or 2 directly behind ... these are always the same ... but the very back is where you have to look. With the back 2 benches you have 2 set-ups ... either they run perpendicular to the front 2 and you sit facing the other passengers ... or ... they’re normal and you sit facing the front of the bus. The latter set-up is the one to use.
Next ... the driver. Does he look “responsible”? Does it look like he would have a real drivers licence or did he just buy it off the street? How old is he? Does Erick recognize him? If the answer to the last one is “yes” then all the other questions are excluded.
But the most important question is how full is the bus? This plays the largest role because you don’t leave until its packed ... way passed capacity. If it looks like no one else will fit in it ... that’s the bus you should head for because they can ALWAYS fit more.
So just as we ready the mental checklists we see it ... our ride ... without question ... a school bus. Erick looks at me and says, “What do you think?” I nod and say, “Let’s do it!” So Erick jumps on board to see how full it is ... which also answers when it will leave. I jump on and see it’s packed ... perfect ... 2 people to a seat ... 4 per row ... but then come the home made modifications ... benches that go in the aisles ... that makes 6 per row ... 72 per school bus ... the bus maximum capacity is written at the front ... it’s 48.
Off we go!
I’m sitting with a family of 4 on my left and 3 others on my right ... I’m half in the aisle half on the seat ... the mother of the family is sitting next to me ... she begins to breast feed ... I stare straight ahead.
We arrive in Lubumbashi 3 hours later ... now Erick is in a rush. He is supposed to meet Lynn and James at the border in 30 minutes but the trip from Lubumbashi is at least 1 hour. He introduces me to his friend Junior and he’s off.
Junior and I head to the bank ... the ATM ... I have $200 but I need $235 for the visa. ATM out of order ... perfect ... the first of our problems.
I think the reason we dread going to Lubumbashi so much is because we always have something go wrong ... always.
After a small panic attack and at least 20 minutes of trying to find someone who can tell us how to get money Erick calls and tells us to go to the DGM without the $35 and see what we can do about the visa. So we hop in a taxi and I hear Junior ask the driver how much it will cost ... the driver answers that it will be 2000Fc and we’re on our way ... we arrive ... I hand the driver 2000Fc for each of us ... Junior grabs it ... counts it ... and hands 2000Fc TOTAL back to the driver. “You give me the money first ... I’ll count it ... then I’ll pay.” Check.
A big DGM officer is standing outside the gate and sees us coming ... aaaand stares me down. He and Junior talk for some time and the officer makes several motions with his arm towards me ... I hear the word “pants” several times as well ... I’m wearing shorts ... and shoes that the kids in Toyota laugh at ... and a headband. They finish talking and I get the verdict ... I can’t enter the office in shorts ... so Junior takes my passport and my $200 and heads in alone ... I wish him good luck as he disappears around the corner and I wait on the other side of the street with all the other people that weren’t allowed into the office ... I hang my head and try to fit in.
20 minutes pass and Junior emerges from the building with a “Visiteur” tag around his neck ... he tells me that they are willing to accept my $200 and the visa should be done by tomorrow ... we have to leave tonight for Likasi ... not good ... Junior disappears inside the building again ... this time to speak to the head secretary.
To get anything done in the DRG you have to have contacts ... luckily Erick has the phone number for the head secretary and we can deal directly with him.
Another 20 minutes on the rejected side of the road and Junior emerges again ... without a tag this time ... visa will be ready at 4:00pm today! SUCCESS!
It’s 12:00 now and we have nothing to do for 4 hours ... to Junior’s house! Junior lives in an area of Lubumbashi called Bellaire ... it means “fresh air” ... and now I call Junior the “Fresh Prince”. We grab some food along the way and when we reach his house his younger brother prepares lunch for us ... take note Thom.
We sit and chat about all kinds of things ... skiing happens to be on the list ... as well as Billy Graham.
3:00 rolls around and we’re full of bukari and beans ... ready for a long bus ride home. Phone call from Erick ... they’re in Lubumbashi ... alive ... and he’s going to pick up my passport ... perfect.
Taxi ... we meet Lynn and James in a restaurant owned by the Methodists ... “don’t order meat ... they over cook all of it” - Erick
Erick’s back ... with passports ... taxi ... Lubumbashi bus station ... surprisingly less chaotic than Likasi’s ... and then we see it ... again ... the same bus we took in the morning. Room for 3 left ... there’s 4 of us ... we try it anyway.
Lynn, James, and Erick get seats and I find myself sitting on the engine cover beside the driver ... more leg room than last time ... let’s keep things positive. So as we leave Lubumbashi I have one of the those famous “Wow ... I’m in Africa!” moments. Sitting on the floor of the bus and staring out the front window as we honk at the Traffic Cops and swerve to avoid them ... as the Pastor stands beside me and preaches/yells followed by “Amen’s” and “Hallelujahs” and then song.
On the way back we share stories with Lynn and James about life in the DRG and they tell us about their journey to get here ... they give us updates on friends in Zambia and all over Africa. We laugh lots.
The trip seems to pass quickly and before we know it we’re back in Likasi ... “home sweet home” Lynn says as we arrive at the house ... it’s true ... 17 Lubumbashi Road has become home for me ... never could I have imagined before I came to Africa that I would be living in the DRG. Love it!
We head back to Lubumbashi on Saturday ... another story? Most likely.
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