So it all started with a plane to Kigali, well, it started about half a year before that, but the actual trip started with the plane. I was quite nervous and cried quite a bit while saying goodbye to my loving new husband at the airport – but then once through security, I shed the puppy mode and took on a lioness mode. The flight was uneventful. I was sitting at a window right above the stupid wing so there wasn’t so much of a view. But I had a cool young woman from Rwanda sitting beside me and we talked a lot! She was super proud of her country and of being African. We spoke for hours about ‘the west and its assumptions’ and about living in so called dangerous countries and about culture and marriage. She told me about her childhood, growing up in Rwanda and about her children and her family.
Then we landed at Kigali – the airport is super small – the security check, passport control and baggage pick up is all in the same room. It was all done pretty quickly and then I went out to look for my pick up. Once I stepped out, I saw that there were at least 50 men waiting at the departure area holding up boards with names on them. I went around, squinting my eyes (it was kinda dark) looking for my name, but to no avail. Finally on my third round, I spotted a sheet with the name of the hotel I was supposed to go to and saw my name on a list with 10 other names! The driver said we were waiting for the others but I could go sit in the car. I went to the car and saw that there was an old American couple already sitting inside so I joined them. They were missionaries who had been coming to/living in Africa for the past 26 years. They asked me where I was going and when I told them DRC, they seemed a little shocked – ” First time in Africa, and directly to DRC? That’s pretty hardcore, my child’ were their exact words! 😀 They then went on to give me advice about how to be safe – trust your instinct, never let your guard down etc. ” The people here are very corrupt, they just want to rob you all the time”. They exchanged some concerned glances with each other.
Luckily by then, two more travelling companions came to the car. They were opposites of each other – one of them – ‘A’ an American woman who was super enthusiastic in life, bubbling with enthusiasm and things to say. And the other, an older German man – ‘L’, with a stern expression, the most cynical, negative man I’ve met in my life. These two were also the ones I spent my time in Kigali with, as they were going to DRC as well.
So while we were exchanging ‘our stories’ in the car we got to the hotel. It was quite a chic hotel with a lot of foreigners buzzing around everywhere. I was shown to my room – with a huge bed, a balcony, a bathtub and all that jazz. I was honestly not expecting this (will introspect on this point) but I was not going to complain.
‘A’ was staying in the room right beside me. We called some dinner and spent the evening chatting away in my room. She is from the U.S., but has been living in the UK for a few years. A professor at a certain prestigious University, she has been doing research in the Congo for years. This was her 6th time to DRC and she absolutely loves it. She travels all by herself (without the support/protection of any organization) and she even spends a lot of her time in the rural areas. She said that the Congolese are very fun people but stay away from the ‘authorities’ they are not very nice. I was quite encouraged with this information and felt much better about the next day.
The next morning we went for a run in Kigali at 6am! Because according to ‘A’ that was the best time to see the city and I thought – yeah why not, otherwise when again I’m I going to see the city (I was leaving for Kamembe at 11). So we went for a run – Kigali is beautiful!! So so scenic. And one of the cleanest cities I’ve seen in my life! It has hills and valleys all around it and a breathtaking view from every part of the city. I was running with my phone on camera mode and stopping to take pictures every 2 mins! Then we came back to the hotel and went for breakfast, the sun was shinning beautifully and despite having a lovely terrace all the breakfast tables were set inside a gloomy room. In true ‘ firang style’ ‘A’ and me asked for a table to be shifted outside. The waiters were not very happy and told us to wait while they asked the managers! A few minutes later, a guy in suit came and asked how he could help us? blah blah.. 10 minutes later we had a table in the sun! 😀
After breakfast we went out again to see an old library, A didn’t want to take a taxi as it was too expensive and instead we took ‘moto-taxis’. These are motorbikes that serve as taxis. You get a helmet and for about 2 dollars a ride to any part of the city! I was a bit hesitant as I had heard stories from the missionaries that the bikes are not so safe, they go very fast etc. but I had a helmet and A said that when they have a ‘muzungu’ (foreigner) on the back they go slow. Also you can tell them to go slow, so I was like what the hell – let’s do this!!
It was super fun! We got a little lost at some point and after asking around a few times found our way to library. Then we got back super quick coz we had to leave for Kamembe.
Next, I went to the airport with A and L, we checked in our stuff, and sat down to have coffee. L finally began talking and soon I wished he hadn’t. He works for a company that sets up big factories (like coca cola, heineken etc) in different countries around the world. This time he was going to Bukavu for a week to set up another Heineken factory. Every sentence he said ended with ” and that was a disaster”. He was quite racist, hated Africa, especially the ‘dangerous’ parts and made jokes with a stern expression that you could never be sure if he was joking. He kept saying telling me ‘ you are in for a disaster’ ‘ what the hell are you doing here?’ ‘ how did your husband let you go’ etc etc. I was like.. uhh.. Shut up L.
We boarded the plane, and according to L it was a horrible plane. And this time I was not so sure if he was wrong. The plane was tinnnnyy, with propeller fans in the front. We got in and lo and behold, my seat was beside the great cynic L! And thus began the worst 30 minutes of my life! That flight was scaaaryy. It started with making very weird rumbling sounds and the turbulence, oh my god it was so bad that they couldn’t even serve any drinks! The plane was bobbing up and down and gliding from side to side like a leaf in the wind. It was like being on a roller coaster. And if this was not enough, L was sighing, pursing his lips, nodding his head like basically – this is it. I was pretty damn freaked out. Sweaty palms, lump in my throat, praying hard and all the works. The view was magnifique though. We were flying above a valley and there were pretty lakes and mountains below.
When the pilot announced, ‘ cabin crew prepare for landing’ I was so thankful I could cry!
Kamembe was an even smaller airport. There was no baggage belt – we were all waiting in a room and the bags were being picked up from the plane and brought to the room by 3 strong men. I found my bag soon, said ‘see you again’ to A, told L to stay the hell away from me and went outside to find my next pick up.