Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A classic Congolese departure.

Hard to believe my time in Congo is already at an end. It went by so quickly. I did look into the possibility to extend my stay (and cancel my flight to Mali), but it would have cost far too much; the tickets were non-refundable. In retrospect, I’m glad I kept with the original itinerary. Two and a half weeks is hardly long – especially when you’re trying to learn a dance – but I was beginning to feel the need to move on. Have a change of scenery. Perhaps it was the lack of electricity. Perhaps it was the less-than-ideal control over my diet. Perhaps it was the nuances of cultural clashes (read below) that had exhausted my patience and understanding.

Still, I would miss Congo.

Manasset was kind enough to accompany me to the airport. We woke up at 4am. Catching a taxi is a bit challenging at this hour. There is no such thing as a radio taxi, and consigning one in advance would have been a fortune. So, we stood in the relatively empty streets of Bakongo at 4:30am, waving at every taxi that flew by. Most were loaded with people, bleary-eyed and heading to work. (Taxi’s in Congo, you see, often operate as buses. They follow a certain route and you can get on and off as you please for about 100 CFA.) Finally, we caught a lucky break with an empty taxi that was cruising around, looking for more passengers.

For breakfast, we briefly stopped in an alley populated with people. The area, as it turns out, was where bread was made. Distributors had already arrived to pick up their daily supply. Women spread out blankets on the sidewalk and piled them high with avocados and oranges. I grabbed a loaf and an avocado, then we resumed our progress to the airport.

Manasset and I said our goodbyes in the mostly empty airport. It’s a new facility, which made it seem all the more cavernous at 5am.

Security was amusing. The people were nice enough, but I was solicited twice for bribes. One simply asked if I had any Congo CFA. This was within the realm of normalcy, since it is apparently illegal to export the currency. I had already given the last of my bills to Manasset.

The second encounter gave me a chuckle. A guard who spoke English reasonably well started the conversation by asking where I stayed, what did I do, where am I from, etc. He said he hoped I had a nice stay in Congo and that I am welcome. And then: “So… do you have anything for me?”

“Any what?” I played dumb.

“Any … you know… appreciation. Some money, maybe?”

“Oh. No.” I smiled.

This was my favorite part: the look of surprise on his face. He was genuinely taken aback. “Really? Nothing at all? Are you sure?

“Quite sure,” I returned with a laugh.

“Okay... Well, uh, good day.”

It remains unclear if he didn’t expect me to defy his nominal authority so directly, or if he simply had not been denied before. Or he was trying on asking for bribes and was simply new to the whole process. My guess would be the last, given his overt friendliness and meek request for a payoff. He needs to work on his intimidation factor. Actually, he shouldn’t, because I don’t condone corruption. It gets old, real fast.

At least I can check off being asked for a bribe from my list of Essential Things To Do In Africa.

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