Kinshasa in December was hot and humid. It was our first time experiencing the wet season, and there were fantastic thunderstorms that were loud and powerful. The dirt roads were bumpier, and the heavy rainfall had greatly increased the water level of the Congo River. But the streets remained crowded with people balancing things on their head, children selling the strangest things, and lots of run-down vehicles either carrying or being pushed by many men and women. The city still didn’t accept my old $20 bills, or even the newer US dollars if there was even the tiniest rip in them, and in return, I received my change in wads of their currency that smelled like rotten fish.
The aggressive nature of the drivers there, who zoomed down the streets without an ounce of hesitation even at large intersections without traffic lights, or on dark roads where pedestrians are trying to cross the street, still frightened me to my core, but the city seemed “normal.” I did notice that the billboard, which had previously advertised the Samsung Note 3, was now replaced with an ad for the Samsung S5, and I wondered if this made a difference to 99.99% of the population here.
Even though 80% of the population of 8 million in Kinshasa is Christian, unlike December in NY, bustling with holiday shoppers and decorations all over town, not much Christmas could be spotted, with the exception of a few plastic Christmas trees seen at cafes frequented by foreigners.
Landing into Kinshasa, the town was just as dark as last time, with hardly any lights illuminating the city. We still had to follow the same insane procedure of getting off the plane, loading a bus, waiting 10 minutes for the bus to start, driving 100 seconds in the bus, getting off the bus, and walking a few more feet into the airport. Immigration was long, but we again succeeded in entering the country without paying a single bribe.
Our fantastic driver Emmanuel, who had dropped us off at the airport on our last trip, came to pick us up. Up until the moment he spotted us, I was tense, wondering if one of the many locals scouring the airport for wealthy visitors would try to make/take a profit from us. But the minute I heard him calling my name, I knew I was fine. An invisible shield was around me now, and I knew everybody would leave me alone.
“I’m back! I actually made it back!”
Even though my head was spinning with all the sudden adjustments I had to make, not just to the language but to the lack of order & security, the backwards protocols, and the obvious lack of resources everywhere, I was just so glad to be back. We had set out on a goal 5 months ago, to get ourselves incorporated, fundraise, and go back to Kinshasa as a proper non-profit. And somehow we had done that! I had simply landed in DR Congo, and already it felt like a milestone. I was back, and there was even a familiar face waiting for me at the airport.
I guess wherever you are, when you’re in a sea of instability, it’s nice to have some stability. So while I learned a lot of new things and made new discoveries, this trip was made exponentially better because of all the people that welcomed us back from last time, who were like our anchors. In a country where returning visitors are rare, we all celebrated the chance to further develop these relationships, and this allowed me to take a closer look at the city, the people, and what Kaori and I will do here.