Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leaving Before Leaving


The tall older man in glasses almost lazily suggested I might need a cab at the Lubumbashi airport. He motioned to his sedan, which was a right-hand drive car even though DRC is a right-hand drive country. Ah, so the cars come here from South Africa. Of course. Because there's no road to get them here from Kinshasa.



"Er...La Procure."

"La Procure?" A procure is a church guesthouse. It's not entirely uncommon for foreigners to stay in them—and for budget travelers, it's often the best option—but Lubumbashi is a prosperous mining town on a panhandle that juts into Zambia's "Copperbelt" region. Most foreigners who come here are on business. Hotels aren't cheap in Lubumbashi. Even the church guesthouse is $40 a night.

I had a map that Michael Kraiger had scanned in from my Bradt Congo guidebook, and unfortunately it was a really half-assed map, so I have no idea if I was in the right church guesthouse or not. Is there more than one? I'll never know. But my taxi driver took me along pleasant, paved roads through a lovely tree-lined city to a huge cathedral, then turned into a dirt alley across the street from it.

I never would have found this on my own, I thought. La Procure was invisible from the street.

He parked in a courtyard and pointed me to Reception, where it was no problem to acquire a room and (included!) dinner ticket for the night. I arranged for the driver to return at 5 a.m.—argh—to take me back to the airport for the hour-long jump to Lusaka.

I made an effort to see Lubumbashi but couldn't even find the center of town with my map. I walked along the road past mobile phone credit stores, internet cafes, and small department stores. But DRC still scares me—as soon as the sun started to go down, I scurried back to my simple room, where I packed all of my clothes into my plastic zippered bag and stuffed all of my souvenirs into my backpack, covering them with a few shirts.

Would I manage to smuggle out my Tintin souvenirs in the morning? What would I do if someone tried to extract a bribe for these supposed "antiques?"

I had an idea...maybe I'd just pay it.

I tried the church dinner--chicken and rice. Nice. Simple. The other procure residents sat in silence, eating together but alone.

The procure's shower block didn't really do it for me...bucket showers and mosquitoes. I could make it to Zambia tomorrow night.


I pulled down the mosquito net over my bed and thought about Zambia. Wonderful place. Green, easy, friendly. Me? I was tired. I do this to myself on purpose, take local transport in some of the world's toughest countries. I firmly believe it's the best way to instantly immerse yourself into an area, to deliberately put yourself into an exhausting, taxing stew with the local people. You learn. You sweat. You get dirty. You see what extremes people must go to for simple things, like selling their goats. But it doesn't take long before you start think about how much nicer your own bed can be than the back of a cramped mini-bus.

Zambia. I love Zambia. I want to marry Zambia. 


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