Going pear-shaped

It feels like I should stay longer in Brazzaville. It calls to me – the European feel of the city. There is really nothing more to keep me. The only reason I can think of for not going to Kinshasa immediately is that it involves going to Kinshasa.

Brazzaville’s port is perhaps precisely the opposite of chaos. Everything has its place, and everyone knows where to go, except me. There are no signs to help. It turns out a canot rapide (speedboat) requires quite a lot of slow and confused.

The port of Kinshasa lives up to its reputation of noise, hustle and confusion. I’m ushered from one person and one place to another, before being taken to the immigration office. The officer and I fill out a form. I remember thinking it was friendly but laborious. After 40 minutes he disappears for 30 more:

“I’m sorry, but, the chief is sending you back. He says your visa from Libreville is not valid because you are not a resident of Gabon.” I’m taken back to the pontoon, and there we wait for a long time, in full sun, having not eaten or drunk anything for hours.

I begin to sense a scam when I’m not pushed onto the first boat back. From then on I don’t really know what is going on for the rest of the day: no one would talk to me for long enough to get the full story. After more time an English-speaking porter begins talking to me. He seems to think “the situation can be resolved”, and a while a boat is organised to send me back to Brazzaville. “Then in one, maybe two hours you come back and we’ll get you through”. I don’t know who’s in on the scam, seemingly everyone, I don’t know who to trust.

I’m kept waiting between 3 and 4 o’clock by the Brazzaville official for my passport, having first said he would send me back to Gabon! While waiting, a man approaches me saying:

“Its your first time to Kinshasa? You give $200 in an envelope with your passport and you get the stamp. Its easy.”

By now I feel like its all spiralling out of control, both sides of the Congo playing me. I know it, and can do nothing about it. If I do cross again there is nothing to stop Kinshasa returning me whether I pay them a bribe or not. Then I’m back in Brazzaville being told my visa is now invalid again. And I have no real desire to return to the DRC and risk all this again. I don’t believe they deserve my money until they grow up and behave like me rather then bullies. The Brazzaville official tells me to buy another boat ticket, and cross, giving back my passport.

On the other bank, across a choppier Congo and duller sky, I’m hustled off the pontoon, my passport taken, and hustled back onto the pontoon. I’m grabbed and moved onto a boat, my passport handed to the captain. I have to ask him if we’re going back to Brazzaville.

The official in Brazzaville you had returned my passport shows me the DRC visa now. It has ‘annule’ stamped across it three times. He annuls my Brazzaville exit stamp, saying:

“What hotel are you staying at?”

“I don’t have one. I thought I was going to Kinshasa. Yesterday I was at the hotel Siringo.”

“Okay. Go to the hotel tonight. Then tomorrow, you go to the airport and leave. No Kinshasa; Kinshasa is finished.”
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