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One week in Congo


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Ronan's report

Thursday 11th April, 2013

My sister moved to the Congo approximately five years ago and now works for MAG - Mine Action Group - where they lift landmines and other unexploded bombs. In the meantime she has married a Congolese chap named Deui Merci. So when my mum stated she was coming over for a visit, and after having read the Internet, I decided that someone had to join her and it should be me!

I'll admit to being extremely hesitant about the entire trip, what with armed robberies reports, continual requests for bribes from corrupt police and so forth. But the Congo - thankfully - hasn't lived up to its name in this regard. And apart from a few instances I felt entirely comfortable. OK maybe it helps having just come from the north end of Malaysia, where being a white man is unusual to the extent that I didn't see another for over a month, but there are many here, and yes Central Africa is at times complete and total mayhem, especially the roads and the way events just happen. But on the most part it's rather similar to everywhere else.

However I've met many marginally dishonest people and it appears that virtually everyone tries to make an extra dollar here or there as a way of life, and while that's obviously part of the culture, and completely understandable when you look around you, it also makes it extremely difficult to know if someone is genuinely friendly, or on the take, and if so then by how much.

It's generally just a few dollars here or there, some "miscounted change", inflated prices and so on. But here's the interesting thing: the Congo is very expensive. 80 US dollars for a cheap hotel room, beer anywhere from 3-6 dollars a bottle, a swim in a pool, 10 dollars, restaurant meals at over 30 dollars per main meal per person, 10 dollars for a breakfast omelette with nothing apart from eggs and a slice of white bread - and this in a country where a good salary is between 100 and 200 US dollars per month.

Consequently the poor are very poor and it's a significant jump to become anywhere near comfortable. There is very poor infrastructure, many buildings are a shambles and - of course - I'm sure that there are a very few extremely wealthy people indeed. So while I don't like the slight dishonesty that I've encountered many times, I'm not going to argue about it too much. A couple of dollars missing here and there keeps the place functioning.

However, I think what happens as a result, is that if small dishonesties become a way of life at a root level, then if follows that there is corruption at every level. When a police woman rubs her stomach on the same day that a child rubs his stomach, both saying their hungry and asking for some money, then you know you really are in a very different world.

Fishing-wise I have really no idea. After a long week of exploring Congo life and family gatherings, I finally got to fish with a recommended fishing party on the Congo River. It was a relatively expensive Goliath Tiger fishing trip, for me, costing 300 USD for the day. I were told to arrive there at 8.30 am - rather late in the day for predatory fish, as you'll no doubt know, which surprised me too, but I figured this meant we'd be fishing late. So, after an epic drive we arrived on time, but then had to wait one hour for anyone else to turn up, in a rather uncomfortable place - poor, chaotic, slightly edgy, with a few of the army, who are always around somewhere - and finally when one of the guides turned up, we wait yet another half an hour for the fishing boat to come, which wasn't.

The party obviously knew nothing about fishing! It was a river touring boat with poor access for casting, and they didn't know the spots and we just blind fished a few places. And then four hours later - at 14.30 - I had booked the day - we were back at the dock. I think they've missed out there, certainly I won't be rebooking or recommending them.

But this wasn't a fishing trip - thankfully! - that will be the next one when I return for a couple of weeks. This one was about meeting Debbie's husband's family - and now my extended one. I was made to feel extremely welcome and have met some smart and quite proper family people. There are few cultural differences for me - they dance a bit funny, but I think they'd be quite shocked if they saw me dance! - and they're very International, most having spent time in the US, and so it's been very nice to meet my extended family.

Their mother put on a welcoming party on Thursday, with African dancers, singers and drumming which was simply fantastic. I only wish I wasn't feeling so poorly - having eaten anti-malaria tablets on an empty stomach! I don't know what will happen next, but I believe in friendships, life making opportunities and running with both. So this week could be quite life changing - I hope so - and I look forward to meeting them again, either there, here or anywhere else. In this respect it's been a fantastic week.

Now that I'm back in Hungary, I appear to have two cats. I think they would make good Zonkers. Photos of this and the trip will follow this week.


Pic Of Day



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