Sunday, October 14, 2012

Trip to Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo

This is "The Beach"... or landing/departure area for all boats.
Because of suspicion and non-cooperation between
the DR Congo & Rep of Congo, the public transit boats cannot do 2-way.
They go back to their home port empty and pick up another load.

But, you can pay more and go on private boats and that is what we did.
We can see the Congo River from 2 or 3 vantage points outside our apartment,

but large groups of trees block our view of this part.

The outer area, where we waited has been substantially cleaned up.
Up to a month ago, this picture would have been filled with vendors,
pousse-pousse (not sure of the plural of that.. pousse-pousses?)
money-changers and policemen, as well as travelers.
The government wanted a better impression for the visitors who were

coming for the "Sommet de la Francophonie" Oct 12th-15th  (this weekend).

I thought the amoebas on this cap were colorful and cute.

Not ALL the vendors were banished.
I saw this man, who was diligently making himself available
for anyone who was thirsty.  I thought he had "sparkles" on his hat.

But, when he came by the truck, I realized they were studs.
Don't try a "head bump" with THIS guy!

How often doe you get to see a train car this old...
AND is actually MOVING and being USED?

Later, we saw another come along.. just as old.
The main train station is just a block away and now features a large sign
showing a lovely new blue & yellow (Congo flag colors) train,
an "artist's conception" more than a real version of what we really see every day.

Unfortunately some of the prettiest women & their lovely dresses
are only captured at the last moment, when I finally get my camera focused.
All of the front bodice and back of the top was beautifully smocked.

Got this one in time.  A very different looking Congolese outfit.
More of a Chinese appearance in style.

Taking pictures of the darling Congolese children never gets old.
I realized later that this picture also included the policeman
whom we had observed performing "shake downs".
(If I'm found dead under suspicious circumstances,
be sure to put him on the list of suspects...
after you have checked out George's alibi)

I got a kick out of this guy's zebra cowboy hat.. Yee Haw!

As we were led through one gate to walk to another,
we could see the Congo River ahead.
Finally, we were led through the inner gate.
We had waited a total of THREE hours as Thierry
(walking with George) patiently took care of "formalities".
I teased Pascal about his colorful shirt,
but it's actually pretty tame compared to most Congo clothes.
Waiting for those on the just-arrived boat to disembark.
Observe the degree of tilt & the large gap in the walkway.
Can you say, "Lawsuit!" (in the USA).
I really wanted to sit on the upper rear deck so as to enjoy the ride
 & take pictures... rather than be in the crowded and stuffy lower area.
Happily there were JUST enough seats left topside for the three of us.

As we left the dock, we saw our dear Thierry, 
smiling as ALWAYS and waiting to make sure we took off safely

In the distance, we could see the skyline of Brazzaville
 with the Nabemba Tower outlined distinctively.
It's said to be the only building in Africa taller than 100 meters
(about 31 stories)
This is a view of the Gombé area, where we live.
It juts out into the Congo River and just to the left is the tip.
It is considered the best part of Kinshasa.
The building we call "New York, New York" is to the right.
Our apartment building is hidden behind the green & yellow trees to the left.
This will be a five-star hotel & will feature an outside
elevator at the tip (far left) of the oval-shaped structure.
It is only a couple blocks from us
(I'm looking at it out my window as I type)
 and we enjoy watching the construction progress,
but wonder how many people traveling to Kinshasa
will want (or be able to afford) 5-star prices.
One more panoramic, traveling northwest & looking back (l-r)
Our apartment building, visible only to us,behind other buildings;
the Gov't. Transportation Bldg, which is almost across from us;
New York, New York; a few random office buildings;
and finally the 2 leveled five-star hotel.
Getting closer to Brazzaville, you could see other (smaller) boats
carrying passengers.  These are usually rented by the well off.

I hoped that this motor boat didn't swamp
the two fishermen in the pirogue.
I suppose these dug-outs would float if they capsized,
but that would be small comfort
if you are heading toward the "Falls".
Almost there!
At last, we can see the landing area.
The boat to the left is the public ferry, which is
 crowded but cheaper transportation.
The large old boats to the right are actually
living quarters for many people.
Stairs on the bank in between (the tan section) take you up
to where passports are checked, etc.
Our destination is to pull into that space to disembark.
Please note the rusty metal cylinder in the water mid-way.
So far, so good.  But, I'm thinking, "It seems as if we are coming in fast."
Please note the rusty metal cylinder in the water to the right.

As the apparently inexperienced pilot tried to make a 90° turn on a dime,
while going too fast & with the strong Congo River current to make it worse,
he succeeded only in turning the boat sideways as we fast approached the metal cylinder.
Drawing upon my knowledge of geometry, algebra and trig, I did a quick calculation of...
 the speed of the boat, the strength of the current
and the angle of the boat relative to the immovable object rapidly becoming larger.
I also reached a conclusion about MY location on the boat
in relationship to the anticipated impact point and came up with one quick conclusion.
I was about to die.
One of my daughters had urged me to get a waterproof camera before the trip
(in case our boat stalled & we got swept down to the "Falls", she wanted a good picture)
so, I thought, "The least I can do is get picture of the last thing I see in this life"
Instead, we were jolted quite hard,and heard the sound
of breaking wood and fiberglass.
I actually saw the boat "cave in" as we hit...
but no one was hurt except the boat.
As the pilot attempted to back out, AGAIN hitting the cyclinder, 
my seat mate, Peter Melling of Liverpool, couldn't believe it!
He is CFO of the British company which is 
clearing out both exploded & live ammunition 
from the Brazzaville ammo dump explosions of Mar. 4th.
Meanwhile, while our pilot seemed determined
to hit everything around us, the captain of another, smaller boat
came unknowingly into our range.
The passengers on the other boat look with disbelief
as we hit THAT boat pretty hard.
The crew tried desperately
 to get out of our crazy captain's way,
but it was too late... he hit them AGAIN!
By this time, the other captain came out on his foreward deck,
speaking loudly with words that are probably best left untranslated.
Finally, with disgust, he backed out and took our turn in line
to unload his passengers.
And, the public ferry decides they should make a hasty departure
before our pilot hits THEM too.
Notice anything different between this picture & the preceding one?
When I took the picture, I didn't even see what was happening
on the left side of the departing ferry.
But, as I took another picture,
I saw something through the lens...
a little bobbing black head out in the water.
Imagine the shock of suddenly realizing that
I was seeing, first one and then two, little boys
swimming out in that water!
At first I was worried, but they were good swimmers
 and did just fine.
What we don't know is whether they had permission
 to be on board and jumped off that ferry voluntarily...
 or were thrown off for being stowaways.
When we finally made landfall and began to disembark,
there was such a crowd of people on all sides.
Two strange men began trying, with determination,
to take our luggage.
They were saying, "I will help you" while grabbing it.  I thought,
"I'll be danged if you are gonna get MY luggage
on the pretext of helping!"
So, we had a little tug-of-war going on, when suddenly,
in the midst of the noiseand cacophony of French and English,
I heard one familiar word... "Gaetan".
Sheepishly, I gave up my luggage to the poor man
 who had been trying so valiantly to take us to Bishop Gaetan,
(the local priesthood leader who was waiting for us
and was to be our guide for the next two days.)  
Only momentarily distracted though, I still had the presence of mind
to take a surreptitious picture of a purple suited man.
He actually looked quite nice, but you probably wouldn't see it in purple back home.
It was pretty neat to look back and see all of our Gombé area
and know just where we live (since it is at the end of the tip)
I kind of felt, to a very tiny degree,
what the first men on the moon
felt when seeing earth from the vantage of the sit
which they had only been able to look up to at all their lives.
The US Embassy is in a lovely area and has a nice appearance.
This was just one of the MANY, MANY well built, neat and pleasant looking
hospitals that we saw everywhere.  The shocking thing is that Brazzaville has the
better physical facilities, but for some reason, Kinshasa has better medical care.
No matter... I've told friends, especially in regards to the life-threatening traffic...
 "I do not fear death.  But I pray I will never have to be taken to a local hospital."
A building the Church has rented to use as a chapel.
These trees were in full bloom all over... they looked like crepe myrtle.
I LOVED this great elephant, just sorry I couldn't get a better picture.
Brazzaville has statues EVERYWHERE.
The prettiest boulevard in the city.  It holds several government buildings.
How we loved the fact that the city itself has lots of nicely paved roads.
(Though once you got out of the city, it was much like most of Kinshasa)

The main reason we went over to Brazzaville was so that George could
inspect the various missionary apartments & make sure all was well with them.
Our first stop was to see the apartment where these six Sister Missionaries live.
They are all so sweet and we had a fun time blending our French & English.
The last two on the right are Sister "Razi" which has been
shortened because she is Malagasy & her long full name won't fit on a badge...
and Sister Mutunda, for whom I am making English word lists to help her learn.
A roadside rattan-weaving furniture business.
Does it seem strange to take a picture of a water tower?
Not when it's the first one you've seen in eight months.
Bishop Gaetan was our driver and guide.
This was a very narrow, rain-rutted road to one apartment.
Priesthood leaders are often called by their title & 1st name,
much like we do in the South for members (e.g.,Brother Bill)
The road went steeply downhill, and we had to dodge lots of chickens.
But, we finally reached our destination and were joined by "Santee"
(next to George) who is a part-time helper for Bishop Gaetan.
Since it was "Preparation Day", some were dressed casually.
These young men were concerned because
they had killed two garden snakes in some dense bushes on the property.
They didn't seem to understand the concept of a "good" snake.

While waiting for our return "formalities" to be taken care of,
we watched the world go by, Congo-style.
One man, without a wheelchair to help him, had to navigate the crowds
by pushing himself on the floor.
Republic of Congo has MANY more men in pajamas, so this is
just a small representation.
A gorgeous, sophisticated woman in white & lavender.
My beautiful Nabemba Tower, which I love to look at
from our side of the river, up close.
George & Bishop Gaetan getting ready to enter our hotel.
The president of Republic of Congo.
Not sure about his character or capabilities,
but this country believes in paying teachers & policemen well
so that bodes well for the country.
A nice hotel, but NO elevators, so we carried our luggage up...
bumpety, bumpety, bump.
They started to put us in Pascal's room by mistake,
but we ended up in the room at the end, which was more of a suite.

A couple more missionaries at their apartment.
These typically looked far nicer on the outside but this one
was very pleasant inside, as well.
None are perfect, but most of these missionaries are such good young men.
Many of the next several pictures are of the damage from the ammunition explosions.
(There will be a few pictures at the end that feature more pleasant subjects.)
But, I am not going to comment on several here
except to say that there is a two mile radius of "ground zero"
for the ammunition explosions which police will not allow people to enter.
The following are pictures outside that area... in some cases FAR outside.
Many people were killed by roofs collapsing or blast debris.
There were some places (e.g., a church, a large home) were everyone inside died.
A very large hospital was totally destroyed.
The government has never released an official count of the dead.
Many bodies were just picked up and buried many miles away in a mass grave.
Bishop Gaetan became the liason to provide the information to the Church
for Humanitarian Funds to be used and helped coordinate relief efforts
of food, foam mattresses and supplies.
The government provided tents for the thousands whose homes were
destroyed or unlivable and you can see that people are still living in them.
It was a tragic day for so many poor people and a traumatic day for
those of us who felt the incredible sound and power of them shake
our buildings and do damage even in Kinshasa.
A barricade on the road and a police sign warning not to go further.

All the members in what was the large house behind this wall were killed.

Another LDS chapel we passed.
This beautiful hilly region is the area over which Bishop Gaetan presides.
Beautiful, neat gardens with some crops protected by thatched covers.
When we got to their apartment, the two missionaries were not home.
But we soon saw them coming down the street
looking just like missionaries should.. happy!
That night, we asked Bishop Gaetan where we could eat
and he suggested this riverfront restaurant.
It was just beginning to sprinkle as we arrived.
For those with culinary interests... this was a salmon crepe.  Very good.
Pascal got a fish and chips.  He offered to let me take a bite,
but I've said before... I don't like to eat something that is looking at me.
George ordered something that didn't quite turn out as he thought.
Raw, marinated meat is "not his dish", so to speak.
I guess he needs to brush up on his high school French,
because something obviously got lost in the translation from the menu.
This was taken after our dinner,
but while we ate, a terrific storm broke over Kinshasa.
The lightening, thunder and rain were amazing
and at one point, after some powerful lightening, all the city's lights went out.
Lovely restaurant, but the service was excruciatingly slow.
The next morning, Gaetan came to the hotel to have breakfast with us.
As beautiful as this outside dining area was, I let the guys stay outside
while I went in to eat without the company of a hundred flies.
I must say that, although as is typical in either DRC or Rep. of Congo,
the orders got messed up & mixed up, my omelet (actually George's that I got)
was the best I've ever had.  Probably because of good cheese in it.
On the other hand, the bread in all our meals didn't come close to DRC's.
On the OTHER hand... it was a tiring, but very enjoyable trip
and one we are thankful to have had the opportunity to take.


  1. I'm so glad there was no need for the water proof camera. It also nice that you got the chance to experience another place in Africa. I don't have much time for chit-chat. We have depositopns Friday and I have so much work that needs to be done. Love you and George!

  2. Loved this post. Hope that you don't mind if I stole a few pictures of "the beach." You're much braver than I am about taking pictures. You well captured the experience. Unforgettable, and really quite explainable,but you did a good job! Glad that you went along and documented it so well.