A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

House on the River Congo

storm 15 °C

In 1883 Stanley arrived in Mbandaka and placed a rock on the South bank where he believed the Equator crossed the river, he was about 6km out. The heat when I arrived here was quite incredible, I could really feel the difference in just 393km between here and Gemena, but what surprised me the most were the beautiful old colonial buildings that remain intact and in use. This country does not have a good track record of preserving buildings, war and neglect can have that effect, but here in Mbandaka you can still see evidence of the Belgians; large square houses surrounded by wide terraces with fenced gardens lining a grid network of paved roads.

I am here for two weeks, staying in an old house on the river and enjoying so far bi-polar weather [two days of broiling in intense 12hr sunshine, and 1 day swimming around town wearing every layer of clothing I brought with me]. I have not been feeling so good in the last 2 weeks, I thought it was just a bug but it has stayed with me so I decided to visit the Centre de Sante yesterday, recommended to me by colleagues as one of the best outside Kinshasa. I walked into an unlit reception room with a nurse in grey-blue scrubs and gave her my basic symptoms in my best French, which she jotted down carefully in a school notebook with a picture of Samuel Eto’o on the front while sticking a dirty, smelly thermometer into my arm-pit [well at least it wasn’t in my mouth]. ‘It’s 6,000CF to see the doctor’, and she held out her hand. Ok, I can live with $7. I jumped the queue [in front of babies and elderly men – so uncomfortable], and went straight through to the doctor’s office which was equally unlit although he was impeccably dressed. He thought I have amoebas in my intestine, same as a colleague of mine and exactly what I was expecting, but would like me to take blood tests anyway [15,000CF]. He gave me pills for my amoebas and I debated just going home and taking a nap, but just to be sure I agreed to the blood tests. I was led into another unlit room, a kitchen, with a broken window and two lab assistants dressed in oversized white coats. There are two chairs, barely any equipment, and when one assistant asks if I want a new needle and syringe [2,000CF] I start to have reservations. After my blood is spilt a sample is added to a chipped piece of glass and left to dry on a filthy window sill under a grey, decaying curtain.

This is the best medical centre in Mbandaka, the provincial capital just a 40 minute flight from the capital, certainly the most expensive, at 23,000CF its out of reach for almost everyone, and I am absolutely terrified. I refuse a drip and am promised test results by the afternoon. When I return the place is deserted aside from a few live-in patients in their rooms; the doctors don’t work afternoons which essentially means nobody does – 20 minutes after he left so did everyone else. I went back this morning feeling better after 24 hours of amoeba pills and expecting nothing exciting………just typhoid fever and malaria to add to the amoebas, merde!

Posted by hobbit1 08:36 Archived in Democratic Republic of Congo Comments (0)

Cheese please!

sunny 38 °C

One of my boyfriend’s cousins is visiting Kinshasa at the moment. He was born here but left when he was 3 years old to live in Europe, 32 years ago. Last week they were leaving a terrace at 1am and an 8 year old street kid approached him and asked him for 500CF [less than 50 cents] to buy food. He burst into tears, gave the kid $10, jumped into the car and fled for the hotel. My initial reaction was fury; ‘how ridiculous, he was born here and yet he knows so little about the place and has taken so little interest that he is shocked by street kids’. The average person’s lack of knowledge about the world south of the Mediterranean Sea is enough to send me on a rant, but someone who is actually Congolese?! I was apoplectic.

On reflection, and after a bit of an ear-bashing from my other half, I think maybe this was a little harsh. Reading articles and watching 30 second news clips can only go so far to preparing you for a midnight encounter with a primary school child, not quite dressed in old grey charity clothes, asking you for pocket change to avoid picking through the gutters to survive. But it also made me think that perhaps I have become de-sensitised to the things I see and hear and do everyday, and I am not sure it’s a good thing. It enables me to do my job without losing my mind and I will never ‘accept the reality’ of street kids or widespread rape, but I have started to understand how and why – nothing is inexplicable or unimaginable anymore.

I am back in Gemena, and on arrival I was greeted by news from the 3 teams I left behind in Dongo that rebels were on the move and the town was on ‘yellow alert’ [which means absolutely nothing], but as I said rumour is King in RDC so nobody really knows what is happening. Fingers crossed. I also work in South Equateur and tomorrow I leave for our base in Mbandaka [there is talk of a pizzeria and I have been dreaming about cheese for days]. In April 70 young men with machetes took over the town, captured the airport and generally created widespread panic among politicians in Kinshasa. Our teams have been doing Battle Area Clearance in and around the town ever since. Between 1998 and 2001 this whole area was the scene of intense fighting; one of our technical teams is currently in Ikela Territory which was bombarded and Ikela Town was largely destroyed so the level of pollution in the area is huge, 275 UXOs for a population of 15,000. But a local NGO and the local authorities have been encouraging the local population to ‘hide’ items and to refuse to give vital information to de-mining teams. One man was found to be hiding a live rocket under his bed. We often get asked for money in exchange for information, but this is something else. I will be spending the next two weeks finding out lots more about Equateur south of the river, meeting the flood of NGOs that installed themselves here after events in April, and sampling the local riverside restaurants and bars [including the infamous 222 nightclub]........

Posted by hobbit1 23:52 Archived in Democratic Republic of Congo Comments (0)

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