We landed in Kinshasa a day later than we had hoped to, as we missed our connection in Istanbul. To our great surprise, both our suitcases, as well as our third suitcase full of rice and soy sauce for the Sushi party (see sushi party blog) arrived safely with us. We had been warned how airport personnel may insist that our visas and vaccination papers were out of order and ask for bribes, but they only seemed to want to know if Kaori and I were sisters, and if we were Japanese or Chinese. Dusting off the French I learned in High School over 10 years ago I attempted to say we were friends, but I eventually gave up and settled on simply smiling and repeating “Oui, Monsieur” or “Non, Monsieur.” They laughed and told us “Konnichiwa!” Beginner’s luck I wonder??
Our driver, Martin, met us at the baggage claim, so the police officers and various other “airport personnel” looking to make some money off visitors left us alone. Perhaps they thought it best to find an easier target – someone without a local driver who obviously knew the system here inside and out.
We landed around 8pm, but compared to NYC at 8pm, it was much, much darker. Kaori and I had excitedly peered out of our airplane window as we descended, taken aback by the lack of lights that could be seen from above. There were only a few clusters of light here and there, while much of the land below remained completely dark. As our driver expertly whizzed through the dark streets of Kinshasa, he told us that on roads where there are no dividers, when one lane begins to jam up, drivers will often jump to the other side of the road in opposing traffic, driving right up to the moment they can no longer continue to drive. This is why, he explained, a simple 30-minute drive can turn into a 5-hour traffic jam at times.
Luckily, we arrived at our home in less than 30 minutes, and we unpacked our duty free items, including some Dior mascara (my favorite!). Our driver seemed amused, remarking, “Oh wow, you guys walked in with duty free bags and they didn’t claim it as airport tax? That’s great!” It was a proud moment for us. We had safely walked through airport security with all our duty free purchases. It didn’t even occur to us that these could be taken away, but we were certainly glad they weren’t. What we didn’t know at that time was that much to our surprise, we would have an even more pleasant experience at the airport on our way out of the country! (More on that another time.)