I am the third person through customs and for the first time ever, it is the easiest process. I virtually fly through the system, handing over my passport, answering questions, getting my now infamous visa checked, and hearing the wonderful words, “welcome back to Congo”!. I practically skip through the health check, with my yellow card and necessary paperwork checked and approved. I can’t believe how easy things are going as I stand at the carousel waiting for the three large totes I brought with me. My carryon is a ridiculous weight and so is my backpack, but I feel lighter than I have ever felt here in the airport of Kinshasa.
I am trying desperately to tell the men who want to help me with my bags that I am ok on my own, when I hear my name being called and, as a dream, Trois Cents appears, ready to help. Three bumps of our foreheads while shaking hands and we are done with the formal greeting. As we wait for the baggage to arrive, Trois Cents casually tells me that Congo Airways has run out of diesel and, isn’t it a bummer that all the people who had tickets with them will have to forfeit them.
I stare at him in horror and he laughs, not understanding. When it dawns on him that I had every intention of going to Gemena on that airline and that I purchased tickets for the Saturday flight a month ago, he stops laughing in mid-laugh and adopts a concerned look. I fear my face mirrors his as we gather my totes and he wishes me good luck, offering the help of his many contacts should my flight, indeed, be cancelled.
Mandaba, his son Joseph and Emmanuel, the wonderful driver, meet us outside and we push our way past all the men desperate for work, hands reaching to push the carts full of totes, my carry on bag and backpack. Over and over again, I hear the guys around me telling the workers that we don’t need their help and the instant we arrive at Emmanuel’s car, they push me in, like some famous actress accosted by groping hands. I feel so badly for these desperate men, all willing to work for a few dollars, but whose help we don’t need.
Our guesthouse is small but comfortable and I am absolutely enchanted by the fact that we have hot water for showers. Nothing’s feels quite as good as a hot shower after a long flight and this is no exception. That feeling of joy dissipates in the morning when I find the water is no longer running (neither hot nor cold) and we are down to a small bottle of water, thinking that we’d have plenty of tap water to filter today. Heating up the 2 cups of water, I make oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, wondering how long our dry spell will last.
Emmanuel comes for us and we make our way to the Congo Airways office to find out a bit more about our upcoming flight, riding a taxi and later, crossing eight lanes (plus the others that have been created by motorcycles and tuk-tuks) on foot, watching my life flash before my eyes, so grateful to arrive at the other side in one piece. We are told to sit and wait our turn once we are in the office, but without a numbering system and without ever asking our names, we sit for a long time without anyone ever looking our way. Finally, i approach a lady behind a window, asking if Saturday’s flight is still scheduled. She actually looks amused as she confirms it has been cancelled and without blinking an eye, let’s me know that if I want to be reimbursed, I need a letter from the person who made payment, requesting the funds and, yeah, it might take two weeks. Mandaba gets involved and suddenly, we might get the funds tomorrow. But, a letter is necessary, as is a photocopy of said letter and no, a letter scribbled on my notebook paper won’t suffice. A letter scribbled on copy paper, though…THAT will do.
We leave the office after handing over a letter and a photocopy, leaving a phone number behind, in hopes that we’ll receive a call so we can return for my money. Meanwhile, calls go unanswered to Trois Cents and to someone else who works at an airline. Or at the airport. Or with planes. Or is it motors?
As we cross the insane lanes of traffic to the other side so we can buy some groceries for the next few days, I think to myself, “Congo never fails to give me a story”. I am hoping for a happy ending with a flight to Gemena on Saturday and a return flight to Kinshasa on the 18th, but at this point, at the writing of these memories down, the other airline that popped out of nowhere once it was obvious that Congo Airways was failing, has no spaces available on its 50-person plane on Saturday. Miracles happen, though, so here’s hoping for one!
Back at the ranch, so to say, the water is running once again for an hour. We capture as much as we can, filling every bowl and pot available, not knowing how long it will be before it gets turned back on.