Notes from the Congo

Kinshasa Planes

I’d like to take a lot of photographs in Kinshasa, as it is a place that looks completely different from what I imagined. However, there are three reasons I have not taken very many photos in Kinshasa. Firstly, the whole time I have been here the sky has been completely overcast – I’m told it can be like this for months, with no glimpse of blue sky.

The second reason is that I have been incredibly busy with work – the usual routine of hotel, office, restaraunt and hotel again every day. This normally leads to me taking many photos from whatever vehicle ferries me between these locations.

But I haven’t even done much of that this trip, for the third reason – apparently it is very easy to get in trouble for taking photographs in Kinshasa and DRC in general. The military and police are always concerned about photographs being taken of personnel, equipment and locations, perhaps for security reasons, but often for the opportunities that catching someone presents, e.g. cause enough trouble for that person that they feel inclined to make it worthwhile for the policeman/soldier to forget they saw it happen.

So I’m sad that I haven’t many photos. Ironically, today whilst stuck in traffic, I watched a man stand in the very middle of the road, in front of a policeman, taking photographs for several minutes, and no one said anything. I guess it is ok for Congolese to take photos – or perhaps I am over cautious.

Kinshasa Pool

On my first drive into the office the traffic stopped suddenly and there were loud sirens and horns approaching. We stopped at a junction as a police pickup truck swerved widely from one side of the road to the other, throwing the six armed cops around in the back. This was shortly followed by a number of police cars in formation, before a shiny pick up truck zoomed by – I caught a glimpse of giant african men in sharp suits and sharp sunglasses looking out in all directions from the vehicle – body guards. After this, hurtling with urgency was a limousine with blackened windows which I am told carried the prime minister. After this a couple more Land Cruisers, more police cars, and at the tail end of the motorcade another pick up carrying six police armed with rocket launchers. The body guards stuck in my head.

Needless to say I didn’t take any photos.

Kinshasa Street

Today I flew from Kinshasa to Bukavu – from the extreme west of DRC to its extreme East. The area around Bukavu is crawling with soldiers – this is the part of DRC that has experienced the worst fighting during the counties decade plus of disturbances. There have been rumblings about Rwanda becoming involved again, which could throw the country back into war – however at the moment troops are not amassing at the border, and I am told we will have good warning before anything might start.

Apparently this is the most dangerous place I have visited with Christian Aid – despite the presence of all the soldiers and police, so far I feel quite safe. The scariest thing to happen to me till now was last night.

I woke up at about 2:30 and suddenly realised I had an odd pain in my upper lip. I reached up to it and found it swelling. I switched the light on and rushed to the bathroom, and actually watched my top lip swell up further. I briefly panicked and searched my bed for a poisonous spider, recalling how I had seen a guy in Ethiopia whose nose had been used by a spider for laying its eggs, and had been rudely awakened by the hatching. He had to paint his nose with a special pink medicine for a week.

So far no hatching to report from my lip. The swelling is going down.


4 thoughts on “Notes from the Congo

  1. Hi there,

    you were not over cautious or insane. You were just realistic. Photos can get you in deep troubles, that may include jail. Believe me. Western guys that take pictures in Kinshasa are just asking for problems no matter if you have seen a bunch of guys taking pictures with no problems at all…..

  2. Well, im leaving to Kinshasa next week, so I wanted to check whats Kinshasa like for western guys like us. I can say that everything that I’ve learned about it, its that Kinshasa its no country to take vacations or anything. My dad works there and I’m going to visit him (i’m 17) and well, yes, you can say that i’m going on vacation to Congo.
    I had hopes that I could take a lot of pictures… well, your’e not the only one who says that, the councelor of Congo in Buenos Aires aslo told me that when I went to take my visa.

    Excuse my english.

    “Send me to the Congo I’m free to leave!” (Genesis’ song)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s