May 30, 2007
In all my years recycling air on this blue ball, never did I ever imagine I'd get a chance to go to the heart of Africa, the dark jungles of hot and humid Congo. Images of dense forestation, populous streets, poor infrastructure, guns, bullets, diseases and so on and so on filled me a couple of days before. I also heard that Congo B was ranked last in a survey of the quality of life among places in the world. Now they are 2nd last thanks to events in Baghdad. I was even wary whether the plane would get there...
Congo Brazzaville and its people had other ideas. The SA-financed 737 landed precariously on the tarred tarmac of the Mayo Mayo airport in Brazzaville after giving us passengers a view of the mighty Congo river that separates the two Congo countries (DRC & Congo B). The river was spectacular - clear sparking water as the sunlight reflected on the massive surface - and the vegetation and houses surrounding the river resembled the Google Earth map of Kerala, India.
Its the first time I've been greeted outside the plane by someone (no idea how he managed to get access to the plane). He quickly ushered us into the VIP lounge suite and took out passports for visas etc. He is generally known as the Protocol Man by people who've visited Congo B before. The casual tourist apparantly takes a couple of hours to get out of the airport with customs and officials taking turns at prying into belongings and looking for inroads into a potential bribe. We were done in half an hour and taken from there to our hotel - the Le Meridian.
I was there for work purposes (as you may have guessed). Node design of a client's network for GPRS functionality. Ok, that was the last of the techie stuff...
I was struck by the cleanliness of the streets of Brazzaville. Very neat and tidy. I heard the government actually employs people to clean the streets at midnight. Ok, so the city is nice. The people speak french, very friendly. Check. The food there is typically french - unique yet spiceless. Not too bad. Check. Apparently its possible to walk the streets of Brazzaville late at night (with a laptop) and not worry about getting stopped. (I saw this later in the week, so its true...). Check. Thats 2 basic necessities sorted (according to Manslow).
Its the health part thats not too great. We were warned of malaria, and were given tablets and lotions for protection. But, when I got there, it became apparent that there weren't really many mossies. Infact, I don't remember seeing any. But colleagues were catching malaria around me like it was the new IN thing. Feeling fluish today...? Malaria. Feeling weakly..? Malaria. It got all too scary towards the end of the week. Ok, so I'm being a bit Bourgeoise (excuse the pun)... but one type of malaria affects the cerebellum, and the other is lethal. So sue me for being paranoid.
The price of stuff (esp. food) was very European, but a week wasn't long enough to start feeling the hole in my pocket.
Unforgettable experience include the supper of fried fish on a resturant facing the mighty Congo river, the view from the top floor of the Tour Namimbu (from where one can see most of Brazzaville, the Congo river and parts of Kinshasa), the Lebanese resturant, the 'Park n Pay' shop that suddenly started playing Bollywood songs after I had entered. I heard there is an island a couple of hours away from Brazzaville where Gorillas are protected. The port city of Pointe-Noire I heard is also quite a good place to visit.
All in all, Congo B is pleasant enough to visit for a short period, but not too great if you've been assigned to be there long.