DRC: The Not So Fun Bits
The Democratic Republic of Congo. What a beautiful country. I've written quite a few stories now about the dark heart of Africa; about how adventurous and different it is. I've been in places that most people won't see when they visit Congo, or Africa for that matter.
But we have to be real here: it's not all sunshine and rainbows. This country has problems. There's corruption everywhere and the East of the country is still very volatile. Rebel groups roam around and just a few days ago I heard that they attacked the army again.
And while most parts of Congo are safe to visit, there are a few things you might not like...
Most people just try to survive and they use tools for that, of course. One of those tools is the machete and if you travel to the DRC you will see men with machetes, women with machetes, kids playing with machetes... heck, probably even dogs or apes swinging machetes.
Now, I'm still OK with all that but the problem is that while I was there, I experienced a few times how an everyday argument escalated into a situation where people were yelling at each other while swinging a machete. I can tell you; it almost made me shit my pants, even if I was just observing everything from a distance.
This happens in other countries too; people notice that you're a foreigner and they think you're interesting and they come closer to take a look. That's OK most of the times but a few times in Congo, it was just too much.
When I was on an assignment there, we decided to get something to drink in a local bar. As we were having some drinks, a few people were, as usual, standing around us because they wanted to see the weird white people having their beer. The only problem was that after ten or fifteen minutes, a few people turned into a few dozen and later even a hundred or more.
Now, you might think it's a funny situation, and it is, at the beginning. Until a few people that wanted to “protect” us started pushing people away from us and the whole crowd turned into an angry mob. There was pushing and yelling; which attracted even more people and in the end we had to flee the scene because it was out of control.
Being stuck in your hotel in Kinshasa
Kinshasa is an interesting city to say the least and chances are you will start you trip here. The problem here is that it's just too damn dangerous to explore on your own, especially if you're photographer sporting some fancy camera like me.
You'll probably end up in a hotel, surrounded by walls and barbed wire and the only way to get around in the city is with a driver or guide who will probably tell you that, in some parts of the city, if he would accidentely run someone over, he wouldn't stop because it's too dangerous.
One time, when we entered Kinshasa again after dark and some punks jumped on the back of our pickup truck trying to steal our luggage. Solution from our driver? Putting the pedal to the metal and watch them fall off the truck in the rear view mirror. No, it's better to get out of Kinshasa as soon as you can, to see the real Congo.
Again, something that happens all over the world and I know that often, not all the time, people who ask for bribes are underpaid and just trying to make some extra money but it is annoying as hell.
Some kind of security guard approached me once when I was taking pictures of the landscape. He told me that I couldn't do that unless I paid him. I showed him my written permission from the government that allowed me to take pictures and after a little discussion he gave up.
Sadly, that wasn't the only time that happened and some times, you just feel you have to pay your way out of a tricky situations. What do you think about that? To pay or not to pay?