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Published: September 1st 2012
Crossing into our fourteenth country today, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the lovely roads of Angola ended at the border with sandy roads greeting us the minute we crossed.
There were several villages that we passed through and then a larger town where adults and children alike asked us for food, water, cigarettes and money. I find myself getting annoyed sometimes but am working on the 'if you don't ask, you don't know' theory. They're not necessarily expecting us to give them anything but if they don't ask, they don't know. For the most part we just wave and when it gets too much, I lie down on the seat so I can't be seen. Hearing them calling is enough to make me feel guilty though.
Along the sandy road is remnants of the war that ravaged the country. Tanks are still sitting where they were left and the majority of the land is bare. Conditions were pretty good though they came at a cost: a road toll charged foreigners in trucks $USD100. Ouch. But, what can you do. There wasn't another route to take so it was paid, the police checked our truck papers and
we were let through the barrier.
I didn't drink much water today and was started to get a headache so I lay down until we reached our free camp for the night. We drew a crowd early on but they stayed at a distance and eventually left. We obviously even bore the locals. A fire was started and the charcoal lit in the cookers and soon both were blazing. Having bought food items two days ago meant the tomatoes were almost all rotten and for a short time I thought our yams were cassava but it all worked out and we ate pasta with a vegetable sauce under a cloudy sky.
I sat up the front for the drive to Matadi that would take us across a suspension bridge spanning the wide Congo river. First though, we drove through Boma with its narrow streets where carts, motorbikes, minibuses, cars and pedestrians all vie for space.
Rounding mountains, the river came into view and we drove parallel to it for several miles, losing sight of it as we passed through villages until it reappeared on our other side. Counting out a ridiculous amount of notes for
the toll (the exchange rate is approx. 930 francs to the dollar and we had to count out $12 worth in 500 franc notes), we crossed the bridge slowly, everyone at their windows minus their cameras. We'd been warned. The bridge is a huge strategic point during conflict and is usually teeming with soldiers and police. Photos are forbidden and people have had their cameras smashed on the ground before their eyes. Although we saw locals taking photos of each other with their phones, none of us were willing to take the risk.
Arriving in Matadi with easy to follow directions, we pulled up outside the Catholic Mission and after putting up tents in a row along the wall, took off for the now standard mission in each country: the search for a football jersey. DRC's flag is my current favourite (pale blue with a red slash and yellow star in the top left corner) and I'd love to find one. Today's search was fruitless but tomorrow's a new day.
I skipped breakfast and lazed in my sleeping bag for a couple hours, watching people coming and going past the front of the tent. Once
I rallied, Suse and I went across to the internet cafe where I spent a lot of time updating the blog, sorting out insurance details and playing on FB. Meeting some of the others back at base for lunch, we sat for a rather expensive steak and chips, figuring it was worth it for a treat. But when we called for the bill, we saw that the prices had been bumped up. And then when we asked for the menu to double check, all of a sudden pages missing from it. It made for a really disappointing end to the meal.
I finished sorting out my life outside of Africa and was walking back when I met Albert who had stopped us earlier. He knows one of the previous drivers and had asked Suse to pass on a letter. Joining us for a drink at the end of our street, it was hard to chat as I felt like every question I asked was wrong. He isn't married because he doesn't have a job and therefore no money to support a family. He speaks english, french and the local dialect kikongo but there's just no work. We asked about the
local cinema where we could hear singing and were told that as a little boy, he used to see films there. Now under the current president, there's no films and it's become another church. He pointed out a hill that overlooks the centre of town which is where his house is and after giving him some books to practice his english reading plus a french/english dictionary, I gave him the money for a taxi ride home and we parted ways.
Dinner was ready as we walked up the driveway and after a quick shower (I've forgotten what warm showers feel like, having not had one since... Ghana?), we sat and talked on the steps of the mission until we were ready for bed.
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