“I know what you’re thinking about,” said Tweedledum: “but it isn’t so, nohow.” “Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be: but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carrol
What a crazy just-over-a-week we’ve had!
Hubby and I went to the DRC (République démocratique du Congo) on business last week. We travelled there to attend a vessel christening ceremony for a Belgian-owned dredger based in Argentina, which we sold to the DRC. It’s been a long, difficult 3 year deal which I’ve alluded to in previous blogs. But, PRAISE GOD, it’s now sold and we’ve earned our commission. This is no small thing to celebrate.
The DRC is a country alive with colour, bustle, people, bananas, pot holes, palm trees and the big, beautiful Congo River running all the way through it.
It is also, as it transpires, heaving with COVID-19 – but that’s another story.
What have I learnt about the DRC?
- It is the second largest country in Africa, and the 11th largest in the world.
- It borders nine countries: Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
- There are over 200 ethnic people groups represented in the DRC, with nearly 250 languages and dialects spoken throughout the country.
- Kinshasa, the capital, is the second largest French-speaking city in the world.
- Since the 1960s, the Congolese have endured over two decades of armed conflict with over 5.4 million people dead due to war-related causes, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.
- Congolese armed groups and elements of the army have a long, brutal history of recruiting child soldiers.
- The oldest national park in Africa is the Congo’s Virunga National Park. It is home to rare mountain gorillas, lions, and elephants.
- In the DRC, only 1.8% of existing roads are tarred and less than 10% of the population has access to electricity today.
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo hosts the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping mission in the world, with over 21,000 soldiers from approximately 50 different countries.
- Due mainly to the ongoing instability in the eastern part of the country, about 450,000 refugees from the DRC remain in neighbouring countries, particularly Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda (we were not in that part of the country).
- The DRC is among the most resource-rich countries on the planet, with an abundance of gold, tantalum, tungsten, and tin – yet it continues to have an extremely poor population. Tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold have been dubbed “conflict minerals.” – Source.
- DR Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa, is located on the Congo River opposite Brazzaville, the capital of Congo (Republic of Congo). The two cities are less than a mile (1.6km) apart, making them the closest capital cities in the world. (Source: Condé Nast Traveller)
- DR Congo and the Congo Basin countries are home to the ethnic group of Pygmy people, known for their short stature – typically under five feet tall. The word “Pygmy” comes from the Greek for “dwarfish”, although Pygmys are conventionally proportioned. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
- The DR Congo is home to the endangered okapi. Known as the “forest giraffe,” the okapi looks more like a cross between a deer and a zebra. The okapi is native to the Ituri Rainforest in DR Congo, the only place where it can be found in the wild. (Source: National Geographic)
- The Congo Basin spans six countries including DR Congo. It is one of 17 ‘Megadiverse Countries’. The Congo Basin makes up one of the most important wilderness areas on Earth and is home to approximately 10,000 plant species, 400 mammal species, 1,000 bird species and 700 fish species. (WWF)
For our part, everywhere we went in the DRC, Hubby and I were transported in a Government escorted vehicle convoy – with flashy hazard lights, sirens, the whole tout! We were VIP’s (or at least people thought we were VIPs … we were behind tinted windows). As we passed by, people saluted us and we were waved through every péage with the driver shouting the words “Délégation de Première Ministre“!
A shout out to our dedicated driver, Éric and our Protocol Manager Jean-Claude – both of whom were assigned to look after us and took us successfully though some of the worst traffic (6 vehicles using 4 lanes, plus motorbikes and vendors weaving through on the way to the airport), ordered our food, managed our airport checks, and problem-solved every eventuality of our entire trip. They were also very patient with my middling French.
Trying to take photos of overloaded vehicles, people carrying large loads on their heads, stunning flamboyant trees and the DRC landscape, from a moving vehicle, sometimes at 150km per hour, through tinted windows, does not yield much, but I did it anyway. Here are some of my snaps:
Everything is for sale in the DRC and everything has a cost. On arrival, it cost us $45 per person to have a COVID-19 test (for which we never received a result). Les entreprises are many – roadside vendors sell everything from home made breeze blocks, coffins, walking sticks and crutches sold outside a hospital, a prevalence of red and brown velvet sofas, bails of mixed recycling, bananas, bananas and more bananas.
This is the dredger we sold – with the crowds and press in the foreground – isn’t she a beauty?!
Our visit took us the closest we have ever been to the centre of Africa. It was an adventure. It was sensory overload. It was worth it (even considering the consequences) to see that grand lady welcomed into her new home.
But I’m sorry to say that I brought back with me an unwelcome guest – on Saturday we heard that 6 out of 8 of the crew and several of the officials around us tested positive for COVID-19. Yesterday we were tested and unfortunately my test came back positive – so, yes, I have the dreaded COVID-19. Hubby is negative. But we are both now isolating – and, poor guy, it’s his 50th birthday tomorrow.
The only other ‘positive’ is that I am completely asymptomatic and so where most of the crew who were tested.
Now, though I feel well, I also feel like I a leper and no-one in my house will come near me.
P.s. On the drive to Boma Port, Hubby managed to get at least an hour’s sleep despite the bumps, breaking and overtaking, but 90% of the time we were eyes-open-and-alert for the whole 8hour journey there and back – DRC was a feast for the eyes.
P.p.s. Many of the overloaded vehicles were carrying more than double their height in wares, with an additional load of bananas on top, some people and often a goat. No ‘elf & safety in the DRC.
P.p.p.s. Friends, I really was very careful in the DRC. I hand sanitised A LOT! I wore my mask 90% of the time, only not when eating and a member of the crew on the vessel gave me a coffee to drink. Some of the crew handled our luggage and obviously I used toilets on the vessel, in the plane and at the hotels. Where those little virus critters were lying in wait for me, I don’t know, but I’m convinced that stats coming out of the emerging world cannot be trusted, if in fact stats anywhere are accurate.